" May 2013 "

Thursday, May 30, 2013

 

Editor’s note: Since this episode begins the trip to Tanzania for part of the team, it’s tagged “Tanzania.” You can follow the different squads’ adventures by selecting the appropriate tag.

So, I’ve mentioned the roosters, right? The ones the nice folks at Siriyiri gave us? That are stationed right outside my bedroom window?

Well, they go off at 5:30. And they crow every 10 seconds for roughly an hour, and they don’t quit then, though they do slow down some.

We get up.

When the guys arrive for breakfast, they let Brita in. She’s agitated. She’s been doing this for a day or so: very affectionate, tail wagging, seeking to be petted, very protective of a few of us who are her favorites; growling and snapping at anybody who leans in our direction. She paces the house, sniffing at specific locations, whining.

I’m no dog psychiatrist, but I think she knows we’re leaving, and she apparently doesn’t like it. Well, that might explain everything. She has trouble forming relationships with men, and when she finally gets comfortable with one, he leaves her. I’d be psycho too.

We have toast and homemade mango jam, and a tub of margarine has showed up—the walkers must have picked it up on their second trip into town yesterday. We’re quieter than usual.

Soon enough it’s 7 am, pickup time, and we assemble our luggage and load the bus. Not surprisingly, everybody goes to the bus station for the goodbyes. We unload our luggage in the middle of the dirt parking lot and wait awkwardly in a circle for the bus to start loading. And wait. And wait.

At 8:15—after scheduled departure—Timothy reports that they have sold only 14 of 31 seats, and they don’t want to go with that few. Now, in the States we’d say, “You sold the tickets, you need to honor your commitments and get us there. This is not our problem, it’s your problem.” But saying that here would make things worse, not better. So we review our options. We can wait for the 5 pm bus, which is sure to go, and arrive in Accra at 4 am, if nothing goes wrong. (Really, now; what’s the likelihood that nothing will go wrong?) That leaves us 8 hours to get from the bus station to the airport, check in, get through security, and get to the gate. That should be plenty in ordinary circumstances, but in Africa standing around is pretty commonplace, and I’m not comfortable with the margin.

Do we have another option? How many seats do they need to sell for the bus to go now? He wants to sell all 30, but he’ll go with 25. That’s 11 more than he has. What if I buy 10? Deal. That’s an extra 300 bucks, but the total is still considerably less than we paid for that fraction of the trip up (8 of our 14). That’s what coming in under budget will do for you; it gives you options. 🙂

Luggage under the bus, people beside it. Hugs all around. I look Jordan and Robert in the eye and tell them to protect the women. They look me in the eye and tell me they will. I believe them.

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Lots of room on the bus—we’ve paid for more than 2 seats apiece. I hope the other 6 passengers appreciate what we’ve done for them. 🙂

Oh. And the bus—is—air conditioned!!

It’s the same company we rented from on the way up; they do both public bus routes and charters. So it’s the same kind of bus we had before: high, spacious, comfortable. But no toilet in the back. They really should fix that.

Heading south out of Wa, the countryside is fairly flat, well forested, red “Georgia” soil. After a while it all looks the same, punctuated by villages with rectangular mud-brick buildings with corrugated steel or thatched roofs. As we continue south, the land gets noticeably more hilly.

They show movies to pass the time, using a couple of digital video screens that hang from the ceiling. They start with African music videos, then move into several African-produced English-language movies. They finish the day with an American film, and I note with some amusement that they subtitle it in English, presumably because the Africans have trouble understanding the American accent. (What? Do we have an accent?!)

The roads are alternately pretty good and terrible, and surprisingly they get worse as we approach Accra. Overuse, I guess.

Catherine, Will, and Katie have made enough sandwiches for 4 for everyone. I hold off on my first one until one-third of the way through, at 1 pm. Shouldn’t have worried; the sandwiches are substantial, and just two last me the rest of the day.

The kids mostly doze, read, or talk. Really, folks, this was pretty boring day. 🙂

We make only one stop for fuel and a bathroom break: Kumasi, the same place we stopped last time. We’re ready for the simple bathroom “technology” this time, and the stop is routine. But it was after 8 hours of driving, and I was glad it came when it did.

It takes us two hours to get through Kumasi’s heavy traffic, and we get into Accra’s bus terminal right at 10 pm, 3 hours late. That confirms to me that paying extra to go today was a good idea. If we had been three hours late tomorrow morning, it would have been mildly hectic getting to the airport.

James and one of the local pastors and his two assistants meet us; James tells me, when I ask, that he’s been waiting for an hour and a half. It’s a short drive to the guest house; nice to be home. We move in, have brief devotions, and head to bed.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Editor’s note: Now that the Tanzania squad has left Wa, Joy, the leader of the Cameroon squad, will be writing the Ghana entries for the week her squad remains there. Then she’ll be writing the Cameroon entries. We’re mildly uncertain of the reliability of computer hardware for her, so there may be some hiatuses. Thanks for your patience.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Mission teams come and go, leaving behind new friends, church planters, missionaries, and fellow Christians. There’s a spiritual and emotional high that comes with being part of a large group serving the Lord in new and exciting places. But the day always comes for goodbyes. The team normally returns to the comforts of home with new stories and photos of friends. But we’ve been left behind. We continue the work when others leave for fresh fields. There are empty chairs at empty tables, rooms lacking laughter, Uno cards lying idle, laundry needing to be done, and fewer faces to smile at. While our perseverance is short lived in the grand scheme of God’s work here in Ghana, we have a taste of post-mission-team mission work: smiling memories of departed friends, frantic searches for game equipment that left with the group, and exclamations of “I wish…”

As the call to prayer, humming of diesel engines, and bleating of livestock echo through Wa, I’m reminded that harvest is truly plenteous, and we’re here to labor in it. While God has opened the door for most of the team to labor in Tanzanian fields, we have set our hands to plow Ghanaian soil, and we’re not turning back. However, we were facing a decrease in workforce and the guarantee of over a hundred kids (the real number bounced around 150 depending on whether you count the babies tied to the backs of their sisters as participants). To step in the gap, two of the teenage boys, Amos and Josiah (Simon’s younger brother) from Faith joined our remnant. Without the block class to worry about, we embraced the timeless culture that typifies most of Africa. Clocks are so overrated. They just stress you out about what you have to do rather then let you enjoy where you are. Now, I’m sure several of my readers who have run a VBS in the States are wondering how any semblance of order could be achieved without precise time slots for each activity. The key is flexibility in the game time. You see, as Robert was teaching the older kids the lesson on the Philippian jailer, Elly was masterfully leading the small tykes in energy-burning games. Games can stretch out as long as songs, questions, and stories last. When the older kids come marching out as soldiers in the Lord’s army, the little kids’ game time is over. The reverse is just as true. (I’ll name drop here to appease the parents and clarify the concept for the overly time-centered.) When Auria and Elly finish song time with the little kids, Jordan tells the story. More songs followed by the grand march to field to join the older kids that Joy and Heather had been leading in game time. So as you can now see there’s no need to  wear a watch.

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Embracing the Ghanaian time schedules stretched the VBS out for an extra 45 minutes and helped to break down barriers between the team and our Ghanaian counterparts. On the bus ride back, we burst into song and even learned a new Waali song. (I believe we will be tested over it tomorrow, so we’ve been practicing in the team house.) We finished the ride with learning some direction commands that should help during game time tomorrow. Back at the house Mama J had prepared another delicious meal of fried chicken, deviled eggs, and a Mexican-tasting rice. Yeah, we might like not having to share Mama J’s cooking with eight other people.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today being our last day together in Wa, nothing is scheduled until prayer meeting tonight at Faith. We were originally planning to put the Tanzania squad on the 5 pm bus out of town, arriving in Accra around 4 am; but we’ve decided to have mercy on those who are picking us up, and to give ourselves a night’s sleep, by catching the 8 am bus tomorrow morning. That will limit, or maybe eliminate, our chance to buy knickknacks in Accra, but there will be opportunities in our other locations.

So anyway, just a day to hang out together. I’m surprised at the emotional toll the prospect of separation is taking on us; we’re all going to feel a little disjointed.

One of the pastors in my class has asked if he can come see me this morning at 9; breakfast isn’t until 9:45, so I figure that’ll work. Of course, this is Africa, so he shows up at 9:45. He and I sit in the living room while the team eats. He tells me his testimony of salvation, education, and pastoral ministry over many decades. God has been good to him.

A small group walks into town to buy a few things, but they’re back sooner than expected, with not much to show for the walk; the bakery said they wouldn’t have bread until 1:30. But they got some exercise.

Leftovers for lunch; we’re getting good at that. We learn that salted yam fries taste really good dipped in mango sauce. I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever tried that before.

The morning walk group tries again in the afternoon, going back for bread and eggs. And carries them—7 hot loaves of bread and 18 eggs—all the way back to the compound. Will is the egg-man. Then Catherine, Will, Angel, and Katie make the sandwiches for the bus ride tomorrow, and Angel and Katie roast some peanuts.

There’s a knock at the door and Timothy brings us a present from the church at Siriyiri. Two roosters. We’re turning into quite the ranchers. We put ‘em out in the yard. I don’t think the folks at the airport will let ‘em go in our carry-ons.

I manage to catch a little mac and cheese, since it’s delivered just before I leave for class. Tonight is the final exam, and a little, ahem, discussion about the evils of plagiarism. They do pretty well on the final—the guy with the lowest score on Test 1 raises his score 10 points out of 50—and we get them graded and entered pretty efficiently. Pastor Timothy shows up just as I begin to discuss the papers. I describe the plagiarism and talk about why it’s a problem. Timothy reinforces what I’ve said. I note that 7 of them, who are students in the college and know better, will be expected to rewrite the paper and submit it to me by email for grading. The others will receive a penalty of 1 letter grade—pretty light for plagiarism. Timothy hands out the certificates to those who passed the course, and we’re done.

Back to the empty house—the team is at prayer meeting—and I get organized, clean up a bit, and pack. Wistful.

When the kids get back, we have devotions earlier than usual. The singing has an extra energy about it tonight, and someone notes it. Good testimonies, comments, and prayer. Then a business meeting to take care of the logistics of turning one team into two. Joy, Jordan, Robert, Auria, Ellie, and Heather will stay here for a week and then head to Cameroon; Joy will direct the team as they work with Walter and Carol Loescher in Foumban. I hate to miss that; my church supports the Loeschers, and I know him as well from his doctoral work at BJU Seminary. They’ll have a good time.

The rest of us will catch that 8 am bus to Accra, spend the night at the BMM guest house, then fly out tomorrow to Ethiopia (?!) en route to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where we’ll spend most of tomorrow night hanging around the airport for a flight to Mwanza midday Saturday. At Mwanza, and maybe at Dar, we’ll meet up with Joslyn, a member of the 2010 team who’ll be joining us for the Tanzania and South Africa segments. Looking forward to having her back on board.

Now that all the girls have their dresses, and all the guys have their shirts, we decide to have a little photo session to recreate—kinda—the official team picture. We head up to the guys’ house, where the light’s better, and execute the shoot. For your viewing pleasure:

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Now 7 of us have to pack (I already did, remember?) and squeeze the last few hours of fellowship in before we leave. The Cameroon group isn’t going to see Abbie again until she rejoins us in Johannesburg on the flight home, so this feels a little like the end of The Team. But we’ll be OK.

Sniff.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If I remember correctly, I think this would be my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary, if they were still with us.

Because of the late night last night, and because there’s nothing scheduled this morning, I had proclaimed this a sleep-in day. Everyone obliges. I wander out at 8 something, and the place is quiet. Time for a nice shower—it’s so cool this morning that the cold shower feels, well, cold, uncomfortably so. When I’m done, there’s still nobody up.

The power is out. I run into Simon outside, who tells me it’s city-wide, not just at the house or on the compound. I find that oddly comforting; maybe the city has taken the system down to deal with the wild voltage instability. It’s really been crazy the last few days; I’ve never seen anything like it. You can see the lights brightening and dimming as much as 20 to 30 times a minute; the voltage regulator that filters the power to the refrigerator is constantly clicking as it adjusts to the changes. The ceiling fans will cycle down, then go to turboprop so we think they’re going to lift the ceiling. My laptop power indicator flashes back and forth between “plugged in” and “battery” at the same rate as the lights’ dimming cycles. It’s plugged into a 110V circuit, and like all laptops it will handle 220V as well; I figure the spikes in the 110V aren’t exceeding 220V, so maybe the thing will survive.

Morning study time. Eventually people start appearing, but oddly, none of the guys. I say “oddly,” because two or three of them had said last night that they’d come down to fix themselves some breakfast. Around 10 Matthew comes by to report that the boys are locked in their house. They’ve made a practice of padlocking the porch entrance for security—not that we really think they need to—and the padlock key is nowhere to be found. (They don’t need to use it to lock up at night.) I saw it yesterday afternoon while doing some laundry there; they check all over where I saw it last, but no key. I have a rack of keys in my room, and the keyway in the padlock is quite distinctive, but none of my keys matches. Well, I guess we’ll just wait until Mama J shows up with the spare. They have a bathroom, and water, and we can always take ‘em some food and pass it through the bars of their cage. Come to think of it, this might be the ideal habitat for them. 🙂

Less than an hour later they’ve been freed.

And then the power comes back. Two nice things in the space of a few minutes. But the irregular voltage is still there.

The church where Will preach on Sunday gave him 3 or 4 yams in appreciation. You may know that what American southerners sometimes call yams—sweet potatoes—aren’t. Yams are big—you see them in the markets here more than 2 feet long and maybe 4 inches in diameter—and the insides are white, like a potato. The girls decide to make fries out of them: salt, garlic salt, pepper, and broiled in the oven. They’re the hit at lunch. Simon comes by at 1 to say goodbye to the 8 of us who are leaving. He tells us how much he’s enjoyed the fellowship, and he gives each of the guys a pair of sandals and each of the girls a bracelet. We have prayer together.

It’s poignant.

The kids head off to VBS, and Timothy and I sit down to zero out the books for our stay in Ghana. The numbers come out good; we’ve spent less than I budgeted—and I make sure he has enough of our money to pay the bills for the week after TZ leaves, while the Cameroon squad is still here. We even kick in for half a month of internet access. The students at the college combine their funds to pay for the wireless access in the classroom / chapel, and since we’ve been using it for a month or so, it seems right to split that month with them.

A bit of rest before class, and then it’s time for the final night of instruction. I begin by collecting the papers; one student doesn’t have his done, and I give him until tomorrow at noon, with a late penalty, of course. Then we wrap up the course content with some discussion of church discipline and some membership issues: I tell them I’d like to know about marriage customs in Ghana, and about polygamy. In the former case, there are, as I suspected, multiple marriage ceremonies here: a traditional / tribal ceremony, a civil one, and a religious one. I ask which one makes the couple actually married; they say the traditional one. The civil one merely registers the marriage in the official records, and the religious one is simply a public testimony that the couple wants to have a Christian home. I ask, “The way baptism is a public profession of conversion?” They laugh, as though they hadn’t thought of it that way before, and they agree. So there’s no confusion in Ghana about when the couple can actually consider themselves married. That helps. In some African countries there’s more uncertainly, and of course Christian sexual mores make a clear answer to the question pretty important.

On polygamy, I ask what they think a polygamist should do when he becomes a Christian. To my surprise, they agree with me that he should keep all his wives and maintain marital relations with them, since he has made covenant commitments to each one. Turns out to be less controversial than I expected.

Timothy has said that we should end the class after the second hour so we can have a little end-of-class party. The team shows up, Mama J brings grilled sandwiches, several people show up with Cokes, Sprites, and Maltas (a non-alcoholic malt soda). Since most of the students seem to prefer the Malta, I try one. Taste is a little odd, not unpleasant, but not something I’d go out of my way to get. And no, not like beer. J

We close the class with prayer, and the students and the team members hang around fellowshipping for at least an hour. I head back to the house to get going on grading the papers. They’re extremely well written (stylistically), but they don’t seem to be focused on the questions I’ve asked them to answer. That’s usually an indicator of something …. And then I find two papers that are virtually identical. Yup. Most of them have copied paragraphs of this and that from books in the library or off the internet. I’m going to need to talk with Timothy about how much instruction the students have received on proper citation of sources. That will determine the type of academic penalty I assess. In the US, of course, it’s a zero on the paper. But teaching is all about holding students accountable for their instruction, and if they haven’t been instructed on this, I can hardly beat them over the head with a shovel. Cross-cultural, and all that.

Eventually the kids come back, and we close out the night with devotions. We’re all tired, and I head off to bed shortly after, but of course they stay up. They’re well aware that these are our last days all together as a team—Abbie is spending the two weeks we’re in Cape Town with relatives in Johannesburg—and they’re treasuring every moment. That’s a good sign.

Monday, May 27, 2013

We have a special treat today. Timothy has arranged for us to drive to Baayiri, about an hour northwest of Wa, to visit the clinic of Cathy Bristol, a Baptist Mid-Missions nurse. She’s been very nice to us; she’s baked muffins and sent them over a couple of times, and we did have her look at one team member who had what turned out to be a minor insect bite. Since the Cameroon squad is generally oriented toward medical work, and since the clinic is named for Pastor Timothy’s father, we’re interested in seeing it.

It’s a long drive over worse-than-average roads, mostly dirt, with lots of washboarding and potholes and washed-out sections. We pass one section where they’ve pulled scores of truckloads of dirt from one location and piled it up on the side of the road to be distributed. One rainy seasons will reverse all of that, of course.

When we pull up to the clinic, there are 20 or so people waiting their turn, including a number of mothers with small children. There’s a mildly old-fashioned satellite dish in front of the building. Timothy takes us in to meet Cathy, but she’s consulting with a patient right now, so one of her helpers gives us a tour. There’s a waiting room, an exam room, a laboratory, a staff room with small kitchen and the refrigerator where they keep the vaccines, and a consultation room. Soon Cathy emerges from this last room and introduces herself.

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She’s small, energetic, and happy, and answers our questions for as long as we have them. She’s been in West Africa (Liberia and Ghana) for nearly 40 years; she came here after the civil war made Liberia unsafe. Her house is here on the compound; the power is solar panels. I ask about the dish; she says the government delivered it so she could tap into the mainframe to check patients’ insurance status and report results (this is nationalized health care), but they didn’t bring a power source. Her solar supply doesn’t provide enough for both the refrigerator and the dish, and she’s not going to risk the vaccines, so the dish just sits there. Looks very official, though.

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Lots of malaria, tapeworm, various other worms (from the standing water; they have wells, but a lot of people drink whatever they find when they’re in the fields working), lacerations from machetes (what the East Africans call “pangas”; I notice that she calls them “cutlasses.” Many of the locals have skin so tough that she needs unusually strong needles to give stitches.

She has a couple of staff members, a lab tech and an operations guy who handles the finances, orders supplies, and generally runs things. She also has a midwife, since the government won’t let an RN deliver babies. Sometimes, of course, it’s just time, and she does what she has to do.

I feel bad that people are waiting while we’re talking, so we let her get back to work. She represents thousands more around the world who labor, hard, in obscurity for little comfort, and who enjoys what she does. May her tribe increase.

When we get back to Wa we take a stroll through the market, seeing much more of it than we have before. It’s a rambling maze, and without Timothy I doubt whether I could have found my way out. Some of the guys buy soccer jerseys, and we get some groceries, especially ice cream for a farewell party we’re planning for tomorrow night.

Lunch is leftovers—some rice, tuna sandwiches, and for dessert some fresh pineapple. It’s true that you do without a fair amount out here—we haven’t even seen a salad since we arrived—but there’s a lot that’s good as well. Fresh fruit seems to taste sweeter here, I suppose because it tends to be tree-ripened.

The team is starting a 2-day VBS today at Siriyiri, where Jon preached on Sunday. They have about 50 kids show up today; Catherine teaches the older students, and Heather the younger. There are groups for the games, as usual,  but today they actually play some soccer with the kids, something they really haven’t done before. (By the way, I was surprised to learn that the Ghanaians prefer the term soccer to the usual football.)

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My class starts at the usual time; tonight I go over the test scores—there was a pretty good distribution, so I’m able to be encouraging. I tell them that the real key to their grade is the paper, which is due tomorrow night. I don’t tell them this, but I intend to go very easy on form and style and to focus on whether they have the key content necessary to the exercise, which is an analysis of the biblical data and opposing arguments to reach a conclusion on a controversial question. I’m hoping that the grades will be quite high.

Our discussion for the night is on the question of continuationism; I review the history and present my rationale for cessationism, along with some key points of Wayne Grudem in opposition. We have a lively discussion on the essentials, and then we spend the rest of the night evaluating claims of the miraculous that they’re familiar with, including the work of witch doctors. I demonstrate a few of the most common illusions—psychic surgery, levitation—and when I do the levitation, one of the female students gasps loudly. That nicely makes my point that at least some of what passes for the supernatural is just simple illusion. That was fun. J

The last half hour of class is accompanied with a driving rainstorm with lightning, and several students run out to take care of their motorbikes. When we finish class, the rain is still pouring down; several team members have come to the last part of class, and we decide to just walk back casually in the cool rain. The clothes will dry out eventually. I leave the laptop in the building, and we saunter over to the house in the driving rain.

When we get there, the rest of the team—pretty much—is having Water Day at the Nursery. They’re in the courtyard beside the house, standing under the downspouts, laughing, screaming, throwing water at one another. They get me with several handfuls of rainwater right through the screened window, but that’s OK, since I’m already soaked.

Play is a wonderfully restoring thing. I’m glad they’ve had this opportunity.

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A few minutes later the Seidus—Timothy, Mama J, and the three boys—show up for our scheduled ice cream party. We’ve got vanilla and chocolate, sliced bananas, pineapple chunks, and a sauce that Catherine, Keri, and Jon have made from some of the peanut butter. One of the Seidu boys has asthma and can’t have cold ice cream, so we heat some up for him.

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We all sit around the in the living room and enjoy the feast; then I express our appreciation to the family for their care of us—we really have kept them busy—and we give them a small token of our appreciation, a music CD of the WILDS men’s ensembles. That strikes me as kind of funny; the monetary unit here is the cedi, pronounced “CD,” and it’s worth about 50 cents. To give them a “CD” for all the work they’ve done seems pretty cheap. 🙂

Timothy expresses appreciation for our work, giving some history of the ministry here. His father, Samuel, was the first Waale to come to Christ (the Waale are majority Muslim); he died at 41, and now 4 of his sons are pastors. Timothy is overseeing the Baptist Mid-Mission effort, which includes the college, the Christian school, Faith Baptist in Wa, and the whole network of churches and church plants that is quickly expanding through the Upper West Region (what we would call a state) in Ghana. Timothy says that we have been very helpful in attracting community attention in the villages where the church plants are, and we have especially connected with the college-age people at Faith. I had noted in the service Sunday that those kids have been a real challenge to us with their zeal, their joy, and their energy and commitment. I’m glad to hear that they have been challenged by us as well.

By this time it’s pretty late; one of the Seidu boys is sound asleep in his chair, and Mama J looks like she’s fading fast. We wave them homeward—it’s still raining hard—and turn to a truncated devotional time. I turn in a few minutes after that. The kids, of course, aren’t done yet. 🙂