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Lessons From the Unexpected Path

Elder Isaac K. Morrison
March 12, 2024 11:15 AM

"Let’s embrace the idea that we are not bound to remain as we are right now. Change is often seen as a threat, causing many of us to be wary and resist it without even considering its potential benefits. However, when we expect and plan for change, it can lead to incredibly fulfilling and transformative experiences in life."

Brothers and Sisters, I just love my wife. She is the sunshine of my life. And I am so grateful for the choir—what a beautiful number—thank you so much! Music speaks to the heart. And I’m grateful for what you just taught us. Through music, there is so much power that comes from singing the Restored Gospel hymns. Brothers and Sisters, it’s so good to be with you.

 In December 2019, my wife, Hannah, and I received a virtual call from President Dallin H. Oaks. He extended a call for us to serve as mission leaders. During the meeting, we mustered up the courage to ask him where our assignment would be. He calmly replied that he did not know where we would serve, but we would receive a letter from the First Presidency communicating our assignment in a few weeks. He further hinted that we would most likely serve in Africa.

 After the meeting, Hannah and I had a lengthy conversation during our one-hour drive from my office in Accra, Ghana, to our home in Tema. We speculated about which missions we might serve in and concluded it would be in Nigeria where we both served our young missions. We felt a mix of excitement and apprehension.

Finally, the long-awaited call and assignment letter arrived in our inbox. We were quite nervous and took some time before opening the email in our bedroom. When we saw our assigned area, we screamed in shock. Our two children, recognizing a possible problem, ran to our room and eagerly inquired about the news.

 “Mum, Dad, what news do you have? Should we be happy and rejoice or be sad and cry?”

 We responded with a playful “Yes!”

 We officially shared the news with them the following day. Our assignment was to serve as mission leaders in the South Carolina Columbia Mission.

Our eight-year-old son, Gilbert, asked, “Where is that?”

 We replied, “It is in the United States.”

His older brother, Kelvin, exclaimed, “That’s so cool!”

That night, as we knelt to pray, we thanked Heavenly Father for the opportunity but also expressed our initial disappointment that South Carolina was not anywhere near Africa, where we had thought of and hinted by President Oaks that we might serve. In that moment, I received a sharp rebuke from the Spirit, reminding me of whose work this is—as Isaiah recorded:

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [i]

We humbled ourselves and began preparing earnestly for the challenging assignment ahead for our family.

We spent nine months preparing for our mission in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, our children were admitted to schools in South Carolina and started making friends online with their new community. They also engaged in online youth and Primary activities with members in South Carolina, and felt belonging. We were thrilled and knew we were off to a great start. We also had several meetings with the previous mission leaders, the Inneses, and felt their love, as well as the love and anticipation of the missionaries in the South Carolina Columbia Mission.

 When it was time to leave Ghana and travel to our assigned area, we encountered an unexpected obstacle. The borders closed due to the pandemic and prevented airline travel. We were confused and disappointed. Days and weeks passed, and it became clear that we might not be able to travel as planned. Eventually, our predecessors, the Inneses, were released, and interim local mission leaders were called to hold down the fort until we could travel.

After a few more days, we received a call from the Missionary Department, informing us of a change in our assignment due to travel difficulties. Originally, mission leaders from Utah were called to serve in Ghana.

 The Monsons, from Sandy, who were initially assigned to the Ghana Accra Mission, would now be going to the South Carolina Columbia Mission.

The Youngs, from Centerville, who arrived in Ghana just after the borders were opened in September 2020 and were originally assigned to the Ghana Cape Coast Mission, would go to the Ghana Accra Mission, and the Morrisons would take the Ghana Cape Coast Mission.

 The particularly mind-blowing news was that the change was to be effective the next day. Do you recall our initial conversation with President Oaks? It was being fulfilled: our mission assignment was being communicated but not in an expected way, and we were going to serve in Africa.

My friends, that was the only time you would have seen these mission leaders murmur. But we have since repented. We had all prepared for nine or more months for our original mission assignments. We had shipped all our personal belongings to South Carolina. Those belongings had already arrived and were arranged in a mission home thousands of kilometers away and where we would never live.

Fun fact, the Ghana Cape Coast Mission boundaries encompass the places where Hannah and I were born, grew up, joined the Church, and attended seminary, high school, and college. The area is also where we left for our young missions, came back, and got married. Our parents, other family members, and close friends live there. We felt uncertain about working in such a familiar environment.

Reluctantly, yet with a sense of acceptance, we went shopping for new items and mentally prepared our boys for the new challenges they would face. While traveling from Accra to Cape Coast, which took about three hours, our sons came to understand the adjustments they would need to make, such as attending a new school and making new friends at school and church.

When we arrived at the mission home, the outgoing mission leaders, the Hillams, warmly welcomed us and passed on the baton to us. That evening, as a family, we knelt in prayer and asked God why this change had happened to us and how He wanted us to proceed. I received a strong impression in my mind in the form of this verse:

“For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” [ii]

My dear brothers and sisters, from our very first meeting with the missionaries, some of whom are present here today, we knew why the Lord had sent us to Cape Coast, Ghana. Though we were initially disappointed about not going to South Carolina, we wouldn’t trade our experiences in the Ghana Cape Coast Mission for anything. It turned out to be the best and the most rewarding thing that ever happened to us.

I intentionally and genuinely share this personal story to ensure that the principles we are discussing today resonate and feel relevant. There are several important principles and teachings that can be gleaned from this experience. I will discuss just four.

 Principle 1—Trust in the Lord’s Timing

President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

“A great scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants declares that a particular spiritual experience will come to us ‘in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will’ [Doctrine and Covenants 88:68]. This principle applies to revelation … and to all of the most important events in our lives: birth, marriage, death, and even our moves from place to place.” [iii]

Consider this true story from Ghana. John Mensah had traveled from his village to attend a session at the Accra Temple, and having arrived later than planned, he missed the session and went in to do initiatory ordinances instead. He was about 50 years of age, and a man of about 75 years sat down beside him. He introduced himself as John Mensah, and the older man said that he was John Mensah also. The older man asked where he was from, and when the village was named, the older man said, “That is my village also”. My friends, father was meeting son for the first time since his birth, when the matriarch of the village cast him out and there was no way to return without injury. They had both received the restored gospel in different parts of Ghana and were privileged to meet in the house of the Lord. Even when things may not happen according to our own plans, we can have faith that God’s timing is perfect.

Principle 2—Submit to the Lord’s Will

When we engage in good causes and align our will with God’s, we submit both our desires and our flesh, meaning our bodies and actions, to Him. Such submission helps us to progress on the covenant path and grow in our discipleship.

The Savior sets a perfect example of this submission through His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew’s account, Jesus prays three separate times, each ending with the same sentiment: “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” By submitting to and relying on God we gain strength and are equipped for the assignments ahead. For this reason, it is crucial to maintain open and regular communication with our Heavenly Father as we navigate the intricacies of life.

Consider the significance of Peter leaving his nets “straightway”? [iv] If he had not done so, he might have achieved greater success among the local fishermen.

But he could have missed the incredible experience of being on the Mount of Transfiguration and hearing the voice of God. [v] True joy and fulfillment come when we align our will with the will of our Heavenly Father.

Let us humbly submit ourselves to His guidance, trusting that He knows what is best for us. As we surrender to His will, our own will is swallowed in His, [vi] and we offer our hearts, minds, and souls as offerings to Him. [vii] We can humbly pray in our own circumstances and difficulties, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” [viii]

 Principle 3—Make the Best of Challenging Circumstances

Missionaries from North America often face cultural shock upon arriving in Ghana. They may feel uncertain, confused, or anxious due to the unfamiliar food, hot weather conditions, and language barriers.

However, miracles happen as they focus on the Savior and embrace the experience, and their attitudes shift from wanting to go home to giving it one more transfer, to finding joy, and even desiring to extend their missions if possible. In the midst of difficult circumstances, remember that we can find strength and growth through the Savior. Challenges often provide us with opportunities for personal development and increased empathy toward others. The Apostle Paul taught, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” [ix]

Let’s embrace the idea that we are not bound to remain as we are right now. Change is often seen as a threat, causing many of us to be wary and resist it without even considering its potential benefits. However, when we expect and plan for change, it can lead to incredibly fulfilling and transformative experiences in life. While change can be painful, recognizing the progress it brings can be immensely satisfying. Rather than viewing change as an adversary, we should approach it thoughtfully and be open to the rewarding and profound experiences it can offer.

Brothers and Sisters, in the valleys of life, where we step out of our comfort zones, growth tends to happen. Repentance, which involves accepting and learning from our mistakes, causes change. Unfortunately, some individuals are unwilling to change, thereby hindering their ability to truly repent. It is important to recall the words of Paul when he faced numerous challenges and afflictions: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” [x]

President Russell M. Nelson’s inspiring talk from the last general conference serves as a great motivator in this earthly experience. He taught us to make the best of our challenging circumstances when he said:

“When you are confronted with a dilemma, think celestial! When tested by temptation, think celestial! When life or loved ones let you down, think celestial! When someone dies prematurely, think celestial. When someone lingers with a devastating illness, think celestial. When the pressures of life crowd in upon you, think celestial!” [xi]

Blessings and growth have come to the three missions I mentioned previously. This summer, the South Carolina Columbia Mission will split to create the South Carolina Charleston Mission. The Ghana Accra Mission will split to create the Ghana Accra North Mission, and the Ghana Cape Coast Mission will split to create the Ghana Takoradi Mission. In addition, a temple has been announced for Ghana Cape Coast. What a blessing!

 Hannah and I consider these noble children of God (our missionaries) as literally our family too. We laugh with them, cry with them, celebrate their success together, attend their marriages where convenient, and meet together regularly. They are our reward for whatever effort we put forth.

When we choose to follow and align our will with Heavenly Father’s will and His prophets, we gain spiritual guidance and direction in our lives. This can lead to personal growth, character development, and an increase in spiritual strength. We have seen the growth that has come to our family as our teenage boys chose to follow us to serve in the pandemic. Our family has received strength and experienced greater joy, love and peace within our home.

Principle 4—Embrace Unexpected Opportunities

Change is an inevitable aspect of life. Whether they involve a new home, school, job, or relationship, these opportunities will show up at various points in your life. Some may be anticipated, while others might catch you off guard. The question is not whether new opportunities will arrive, but rather when they will come your way.

 Life often presents us with unexpected opportunities that carry the potential for growth. Let us adopt an open-minded and willing attitude, embracing these pleasant surprises, knowing that they may lead us toward extraordinary paths we could never have imagined.

My friends, when these unexpected opportunities arise, will you face them with fear or with faith? Faith is an attribute of Christ, it is a valuable gift bestowed upon us by God. However, possessing and exercising faith is a choice that requires effort. By acting on our own faith, we make righteous decisions and enhance our spiritual capacity and strength. Therefore, it is not enough to simply possess faith as belief; we must also take action, for “faith without works is dead.” [xii]

With God’s assistance, you are capable of navigating any unforeseen opportunities that cross your path. Embracing new opportunities with faith means allowing hope to guide you. Hope serves as a source of motivation, builds trust in God and His promises, enables you to perceive things in a positive light, and helps you to recognize your own positive attributes.

In closing, Brothers and Sisters, I have discovered that focusing on Jesus Christ allows us to see the bigger picture. We may not always understand why certain changes are happening in our lives, but with Christ as our center, we can have faith that every change and every blessing serves a purpose in our divine progression.

I testify that in my own journey, I have seen undeniable blessings that have come from embracing change and fixing my focus on the Savior. I have witnessed personal growth, increased faith, strengthened relationships, and an enhanced ability to recognize and follow promptings of the Spirit. These blessings have brought greater meaning and purpose to my life, and I testify that they are available to all who seek them. I testify of the Savior, whose work this is, and of the assurance that He is nearer us than we can possibly comprehend.

I invite each one of you to take a moment to reflect on the changes that have occurred in your own lives and consider how focusing on Jesus Christ has influenced your experiences. As we embrace change with faith, trust in the Lord’s plan, and anchor our lives to His teachings, we can find enduring peace, abundant blessings, and the strength to face whatever lies ahead. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[i] Isaiah 55:8–9; see also Doctrine and Covenants 1:16.

[ii] Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.

[iii] Dallin H. Oaks, “ Timing ” (Brigham Young University devotional address, Jan. 29, 2002), 3,

[iv] Mark 1:18 .

[v] See Matthew 17:4 .

[vi] See Mosiah 15:7 .

[vii] See Omni 1:26 .

[viii] Luke 22:42 .

[ix] Romans 8:28.

[x] Philippians 4:13.

[xi] Russell M. Nelson, “Think Celestial!,” Liahona, Nov. 2023, 118.

[xii] James 2:26.

About the Speaker

Elder Isaac K. Morrison

Elder Isaac K. Morrison was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 2, 2022, at age 44. At the time of his call, he had been serving as the president of the Ghana Cape Coast Mission. He served as a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy in the Africa West Area from 2018 to 2020.

Elder Morrison has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Nigeria Port Harcourt and Nigeria Uyo Mission, Gospel Doctrine teacher, seminary teacher, elders quorum president, counselor in a bishopric, bishop, counselor in a stake presidency, stake president, Area Seventy, and mission president.

Elder Morrison received Higher National Diploma (HND) in Building Construction from Takoradi Technical University (TTU) in 2000 and a bachelor of science in operations and project management from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in 2009. In 2018 he received a master of science in strategic management and leadership from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). He worked for the Church in various positions since 2004, including as a Ghana MTC instructor, meetinghouse facilities manager, Accra Ghana temple facilities manager, Africa West Area operations and maintenance manager, and Africa West Area materials management manager. Prior to his call as a mission president, he had been working for the Church Africa West Area leader and member support.

Isaac Kofi Morrison was born in Takoradi, Ghana, on November 25, 1977. He married Hannah Nyarko in 2004. They are the parents of three children, one of whom is deceased.
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