" Ghana "

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

It’s Africa Day. This is a day for honoring Africa around the world. Some call it African Union Day, some Africa Freedom Day, but it’s a pretty big deal in many countries. That’s one of the reasons we’re not planning a VBS today; another is that it’s Wednesday, and it’s simpler to get the crew to Wednesday night prayer meeting if they don’t have to run home and shower after VBS.

The crew is taking care of business, reading, doing laundry, getting some online time, practicing their Waali. Simon comes by mid-morning; he’s pretty sociable whenever we’re here. Plus, he’s about 6’6”, which makes him fun to hang around with, just for the looks we get. Jojo, Bethany, and Sarah take a short hike with Simon over to the local hospital for a tour. One of the men in my class is a physician, and he’s happy to show them around. Simon took the 2013 team over there after several of us left for TZ; the other crew left a week later for Cameroon, and they had a medical focus. This time we’re not medics, but the girls enjoy the tour. They have the opportunity to pray with some patients and their families, including a Muslim family.

Mary comes by at the usual time and gets to work mincing beef—that’s what they call grinding, and yes, they do it at the time of preparation rather than buying it already minced—for spaghetti and meat sauce. Mary’s source has an unbelievable amount of meat in it—it’s more like sloppy joe sauce in consistency. We fly through it.

The girls have been interested in having their hair braided ever since we arrived. Timothy calls during lunch to say that a couple of ladies can come over this afternoon to get started. They show up around 2, and Lora is the first to go in the chair. One of the ladies has a baby on her back; the other girls are interested in holding him, but the feeling’s not mutual, and he stays on Mom’s back. Lora’s hair is still in process when it’s time to leave for prayer meeting at Faith, so the crew leaves her behind. All told it takes about 7 hours to get the job done.

Class goes well; we’re finishing up Luke, with 2 nights (6 hours) left for John. Since Luke is structured around Jesus’ single-minded focus on getting to Jerusalem, I spend the last hour showing them the layout of Jerusalem and some CGI animations of the City of David, Solomon’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple. I think they enjoy the bit of a break.

When I get back to the house, the prayer meeting crew isn’t back yet. They arrive after half an hour or so, excited to tell me The News: Gabriel and Janet have had a baby girl.

There’s a story behind this. Gabriel is a 2013 graduate of WABC and pastors one of the village churches. He always works with us on the VBSes, and he’s one of the finest men I know. He and Janet were dating in 2013; they were married shortly after the team returned to the States. In 2014 the team didn’t go to Ghana, but during that summer the couple miscarried a baby at 7 months. In 2015 I brought another team, and Janet was pregnant again—at 7 months. She lost that baby while we were here; Gabriel left a VBS to rush Janet to the hospital.

So the team feels deeply invested in this dear couple. When I saw Janet this week at Faith, she was, ahem, visibly pregnant, and Gabriel told us she was full term. I contacted the 2013 and 2015 teams and asked them to pray for a safe delivery. And at 2:45 this afternoon, Gabriel and Janet met their healthy baby girl. Her name will be announced, as is customary, at the naming ceremony in a few days.

Rejoice with us!

After prayer meeting Carloss and Prince join us, and we sit around the kitchen table fellowshiping. We move smoothly into devotions, and several team members share what they’re learning. They’re getting discontent with the ways they have viewed the world; their horizons are broadening, not theologically, but culturally, and their hearts are responding to people in ways they haven’t before. This is a part of the trip I always enjoy. Walking with Christ is a lifelong process of change, and these changes are healthy signs of the Spirit’s sanctifying work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I have a hunch the posts are going to starting sounding the same for the rest of our time here in Wa. The schedule’s pretty simple: lunch at noon, VBS at 3.30, class at 5:30. Be where you’re supposed to be, and get your stuff done when you can. Make a lot of friends, and if something needs doing, do it.

See you tomorrow.

No, seriously, that’s how it’s going to be if things go according to plan. But that last clause is never spoken on this continent. Things never go according to plan. Military scholars say that a battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy. That’s sort of how it works here.

I have a morning tradition of First Connection to update the blog, download any emails since the previous night, and maybe get a look at some sites I visit regularly. And if I can answer all the emails at first look, that’s good too. Volume has dropped precipitously since the end of school (insert loud Hallelujah here), so sometimes I feel just a little bit bored. It’s glorious.

The kids are doing well. Health is generally good, with the expected digestive or similar issue occasionally. This group seems extraordinarily good at making friends, reaching across the cultural boundaries, and embracing the opportunities. Jojo in particular is often missing at lunch because he’s gone to some local restaurant with a college student, or alternatively, he brings a few students over to join us for our lunch. As one might expect, the girls have particularly bonded with Ivy and with Mary, as well as some of the other girls on the compound or at church. I think, frankly, that they’re much better at this than I am; they have the Waali greetings all down, while I’m pretty well stuck with saying “Thank you” (barika) to everybody regardless of the occasion. Pretty much everyone we deal with speaks English, of course, so communication is possible, but everybody loves their heart language the best, and the team’s willingness to jump into it indicates a level of respect for the people, and even a certain international sophistication, that they should be commended for.

Rice and beans and fried chicken for lunch. We don’t do rice and beans here as much as I expected—it’s pretty much the world’s everyday meal—but Mary makes a great pot of beans. She fries chicken without breading, kinda like Americans do wings, so it’s clean and direct (and delicious).

When the crew heads out to VBS—it’s at Diesi today—Carloss and Prince help Abraham fix a drain problem with the girls’ shower. While they’re digging up pipes and reconfiguring them outside the house, another wowser of a rainstorm hits—they seem to happen every day, which is unusual here at this time of year—but the guys are working mostly under an overhang, so the work goes on.

The students surprise me tonight—they’re not on time. I suppose some of it’s due to the rain, but we start half an hour late. At 8:45—15 minutes after the usual end time—I tell them I’m struggling with my conscience and could use their advice. I’ve told them, I say, that we’ll have class until 3 hours after start time, which is determined by the time most students have arrived. So tonight we need to go until 9. I cannot stop early, because they have paid for a full 3 hours of my instruction. A voice from the back calls out, “That’s all right!” And the class raucously endorses his plea for an early release. So I let them go, with profound apologies that they don’t stay around long enough to hear.

I often observe that education is the only business in which, when you give the customer less than he has paid for, he thanks you. And so it will ever be.

Back at the house I have my usual late supper of whatever the kids ate before VBS. This time it’s a Chinese fried vegetable mix over fried rice. I ask the crew how the VBS went. In Diesi they worked through the afternoon rain this time. Rachael notes that the parents seemed a little more stand-offish here; when little girls carrying their little sisters on their backs wanted to play the games, the mothers and grandmothers insisted on holding the babies rather than letting the nasala do it. Frankly, I don’t blame them. Gabriel gave an invitation after the Bible lesson, and there was some response; our Ghanaian colleagues will need to do the follow-up and determine what really happened.

Bethany, Rachael, Sarah, and Jonathan play Rummikub while I’m eating, and then I take Jonathan’s place for a game. Rachael and Bethany are especially competitive; well, come to think of it, so are Sarah and I. Seems to be a team thing.

We circle up in the living room, moving toward devotions, but talk freely about the day, the educational things, the funny things, the impactful things. Anyone sitting in the dark outside the house would see the lights and hear the loud laughter that punctuates the group’s conversation. We’ve learned that Jonathan, Lora, and I all have laughs that the others think are hilarious, so an outburst of laughter is typically followed by a second, louder one. We’re a team, in an odd sort of way.

During devotions I confer the first Donny Award of this trip. Donny Jacobs was a member of my first Africa team who distinguished himself as an others-centered, gracious servant. He died in 2012 while taking part in a medical trial; those treating him accidentally overdosed him. When occasion calls for it, I give a Donny Award to a team member who shows the same kind of focus on others that I remember Donny for. This year the award is more poignant, because Donny’s younger brother, Allen, a Greenville City police officer, died in the line of duty last March.

This season’s first Donny Award goes to Jojo Matchett, for suggesting that we make banana bread for our cook, Mary, when her mother died.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Alarm Goat wakes me about 6:30. They’re unusually noisy today, for some reason. After some study, I plod into the kitchen, where Bethany and Rachel are getting ready to go on a hike on the property just to the north; Lora will be along as well, and Carlos will lead it.

After they head off, I spend a quiet morning, posting the blog, answering email, catching up with studies that require web access. About 9:30 Rachael comes in; I ask her how the hike went. Didn’t happen, she says. Apparently someone there saw the nasala and decided that this was a tourist site and required payment of admission. They didn’t feel all that committed to hiking over some rocks, so they came back.

It’s a cultural phenomenon around the world that the price goes up when white people, especially Americans, arrive. I’m generally not one to get very upset about it. First, it’s good old free market economics, supply and demand; when the money supply rises, prices go up. Second, we Americans do have more money and are generally willing to spend it for a good time. If you want a souvenir from a place you’re not likely to return to, then you’ll be willing to get taken for a few bucks. And if the gouging is excessive, you can always say no. Third, these are people trying to make a living, and I’m happy to help them. The 10 or 12 cedis I  might win in a negotiation will mean a lot more in the long run to the Ghanaian than they will to me. If I saw a hungry man, I’d buy him a meal; why not give the price of meal to a guy who’s working hard, even though I could probably negotiate him out of it? Previous experience has taught me that winning the deal, when you’re a lot more well off than the other guy, really isn’t very emotionally rewarding. Back in my younger days I walked away from heated negotiations with a great deal and serious questions in my conscience. I’m not going to do that again.

Mary’s cooking lunch, and it smells aromalicious. Bethany and Sarah are sitting at the dining room table getting stuff ready for VBS. Other team members are scattered around the compound, engaging the locals. Lora brings me a video of one of the resident goats, with a plastic bucket hanging around his neck and Jonathan trying to get him to let him approach so he could help take it off. No luck.

What you don’t see in Africa.

The doorbell rings. It’s a man I spoke with at church last night, bringing me a handmade keychain that reads, “Wa RBC Thanks.” And a handmade bracelet for my wife. He thanks me for ministering at the church, and he wants me to have these.

Simple gifts. Worth much more than anything I could win a negotiation for.

We talk for a while. He’s the manager, as he puts it, of the Christian school at the church (you’ll recall that with the new building unfinished, we meet for church in a school classroom). There are 500 students in grades K-9 in 18 classrooms, 90% of them from Muslim homes. They’re nearly at capacity and expect to gain a few students when the new term starts in the fall. He’s a busy man, but he makes and sells the keychains and bracelets and bookmarks to supplement his income.

You find people like him all over the world: faithful believers, working hard in their corner of the vineyard, making the world a better place while expanding the kingdom, getting little or no public recognition or financial reward. The woods is full of them. In the papers you read about the religious freaks and the crooks, but of such is not the kingdom of heaven. One day this will be clear to all, and the Lamb will be all the glory.

Lunch is steamed rice with the tomato-based stew we like so much, and a pot of fried chicken. Jojo and Prince come in from painting, and Prince joins us. The food seems particularly good today; several of us comment that returning to American food might be more difficult than we thought.

Last week, when we learned that Mary’s mother had died, Jojo suggested that we make her some banana bread as a token of our thoughts and prayers. We had some bananas that were a little past prime, so last night Bethany and Jonathan put the batter together, but because they couldn’t figure out how to light the gas oven, they baked it this morning after Ivy showed them how. They make two loaves, one of which we have for dessert. It’s really good—so when Mary leaves after lunch, taking her loaf of banana bread with her, we’re confident she’ll like it.

I figure it’s about time the blog had some pictures as well as words. I always want to do a lot more of that than I do, but in the places where we go, upload speeds tend to be lackadaisical, so each picture takes quite a while. But you should be able to see a few shots in the early posts, and I’ll add more as I’m able. Maybe I’ll even be caught up before the end of the trip.

The Kids take their VBS on the road today, to the village of Gbacha. (They pronounce it “Bacha,” and they insist that they’re pronouncing the “G,” but I can’t hear it.) This village has plenty of warm memories for me; it was the site of the first VBS for the 2013 team, where Timothy took me to meet the chief and secure his permission for a church plant. This year there’s a rainstorm midway through, and they try to take the children inside a schoolroom for shelter. The door’s locked, and no one has a key, but the windows are all open, so they toss the kids through the windows and finish the VBS inside.

Welcome to Africa.

Back at the house, I sit on the front porch and take in the rainstorm. It’s almost musical as it rises and falls, crescendos and decrescendos, with the wind and the rain singing harmony. Fortunately, it stops in time for me to walk to the chapel without getting soaked.

Class goes well; we cover the Gospel of Mark. The data projector goes out, but there’s another one available, so we swap and keep going. Half an hour before we finish, there’s another rainstorm, and the noise of the metal roof is, um, noteworthy. So I shout my way through the last 30 minutes, moving up and down the aisle to be as close to the students as possible. We muddle through.

When class is over, it’s still raining pretty hard. Carloss (I’ve just learned that’s how he spells him name) brings me a hoodie and a bright light so I can find my way home without getting wet. Nice kid.

Because the last modem was fried by lightning, they disconnect this one when the storm starts, and the web is down for the rest of the night. The rain continues until well after 10.

Simon is hanging out with us at the house tonight. We enjoy conversing with him, and he with us. At devotions time, Prince and Carloss join him and the rest of us; our group is growing a little bit every night, it seems.

As is becoming the pattern, the Old Man turns in before everybody else. One of the really nice things about having a deaf ear is that you can just roll over on your good side, and you can sleep while they make as much noise as they want.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jojo puts on his funeral suit and heads off to church a little earlier than we do. We walk over to the Seidus’ house at 9.45 and ride in the two vehicles. We go first to Faith, where we talk with a number of folks until it’s time for Ivy to take us back to the Wa church. She’ll attend there with us this morning; Timothy has a business meeting after church, and he doesn’t want us to have to wait for him to pick us up.

Sunday school is on the danger of false teachers and the need to be students of the Scripture so we won’t be deceived. Like last week, the teacher plows through the class dismissal bells, and as we close in prayer we can hear the service starting up next door.

We move into the service, where a series of worship choruses is underway. I don’t know most of them, but they’re based on Scripture, so once you figure out what they’re saying, it’s pretty easy to get on board. Then announcements from the young lady who takes care of that every week. There are a number of what you might call social ones—so-and-so had a safe trip to see family in Techiman and has given a gift to the church as a token of gratitude (and everyone claps). There’s more singing and the reading of the morning’s Scripture text; then they call on me. I announce that the girls will be singing and Jonathan will play the piano; they do a good job on “Be Thou My Vision.” Then I explain why Jojo isn’t here, and I tell the story about his funeral suit. Apparently it’s not just a Twi thing; the Waala think it’s pretty funny too.

My sermon is on the church’s biblical responsibility to the pastor. I tell them that I’m glad Timothy isn’t here, because I want to talk to them about something he might not feel like preaching. And then we go through the passages in the NT on how a church should care for the pastor—honoring him, hearing him, obeying him, and so on. It’s a topical sermon, but one that demonstrates, I think, that you can preach a topical sermon and still be governed by the biblical text. I’m also careful to contrast the biblical call to obedience with the kind of blind obedience that cult leaders demand. It seems to go over well.

Back at the house, Mary is back from the funeral, and she has prepared a lunch of fufu and spicy tomato and beef sauce. We all like it.

And it apparently makes us all sleepy, since we head off for naps.

I don’t sleep much—it’s pretty hot—and eventually head up to the chapel to try to work out some problems with my internet connectivity. I work on it for quite a while, during much of which time Jonathan is giving David, the Academy principal, a piano / music lesson. David is a graduate of Wa Polytechnic Institute—his major was IT—and he has been principal of the school for this past year—and by all accounts is doing a very good job—but his first love is music. He has essentially begun a choir program at Faith from scratch, working with the young people, who are not as self-conscious about singing as their parents’ generation, hoping to use this generation to start a program that will endure and prosper. He reads music, conducts, and sings, but he can’t play the piano and desperately wants to learn. Jonathan’s been working with him every night after my class, and David does his homework, um, religiously. (I don’t know when; he’s at school all day, and in class with me all evening.) After the piano lesson he teaches Jonathan some Waali songs—Lora and Rachael join in at times—and they just do music together. It’s easy to see that David will take as much of this as he can get. And Jonathan appreciates having a dedicated student.

We’ve told Ivy we’ll do a leftovers supper tonight. The crew puts together a selection of reheated rice (both plain and fried) with a couple of sauces / soups that go well together, and we not only get plenty to eat, but we polish off a good chunk of leftovers as well.

Down the road to our last service at Wa RBC. On his regular schedule, Timothy will be back here next week, and we’ll be over at Faith, where the team has had VBSes this past week. When we arrive, there’s just one person there. He’s a man about my age, who has some sort of central nervous system disorder—perhaps cerebral palsy—and consequently can’t walk. He has limited use of his hands and arms, but enough that he can use a modified wheelchair, with a bicycle fork in the front and pedals where the handlebars would be, so he can pedal with his hands. His speech is very limited. I’ve noticed that he’s at every service, and he’s always smiling, nodding, and otherwise visually interacting during the preaching. They tell me he’s the most faithful attender. He’s the first one here tonight. I don’t know how far he pedals himself to get there. As usual, I greet him and extend my hand. He takes it firmly, smiles broadly, and welcomes me.

It’s funny how the people with the greatest obstacles are often the most faithful. At 7 he’s the only one there besides us.

About 15 or 20 more trickle in over the next several minutes. Among the first is the songleader, who has a key to the office where the switches for the ceiling fans are. We sing a number of Waali songs, including a few that I remember from previous trips. For evening services things are a lot more casual; since this is a classroom during the week, they don’t keep anything from the church services in the room permanently, and they pack up the hymnbooks after the morning service, so at night we just work from memory. After the short song service they welcome me to the pulpit. I preach on creation, a sermon that’s sort of a nod to Paul’s sermon in Acts 17, meditating on what we know about God by just looking around at what He has made. There’s a lot of science in it, and I’m constantly watching faces to see whether it’s getting too technical. Doesn’t seem to be. There’s an illustration about the symbiotic relationship between termites and flagellates, and these folks certainly know about termites; you see termite mounds all over the place. The response to the sermon is good.

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Afterwards a couple of the crew rides home with college students on motorbikes; we’re right behind one of them in the car, and the driver is very careful. And I’m not just saying that.

Simon, who pastors a church out in one of the villages, came to church at Wa tonight. (His village is far enough out that it’s not safe to ride a motorbike back afterwards, so they don’t have an evening service.) He comes by the house, and the whole group sits in a circle in the living room and talks about culture, faith, and Christian living. It’s an interesting discussion, but after an hour of it I’m pretty well out of gas and head to bed.

The rest of the evening happens while its chronicler is unconscious.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

At 6:30 am I hear Sarah, Rachael, and Bethany get into Ivy’s car and head off for the baby-naming ceremony. I hope they have a good time, and I hope they aren’t upset with me for not seeing them off. But I’m going to wait for a more decent time to rise.

A bit after 7 I roll out to do the usual morning stuff—devotions, shower, up to the chapel to post yesterday’s blog. I put on a Sunday suit for the service—seems appropriate—and walk up toward the Seidus’ house to meet them at 9:15.

We’re going out to Loggu, which is the home village of Samuel Seidu, Timothy’s father. Samuel was the first Waala convert to Christianity from Islam. He died several years ago, but all of his sons are in the ministry in one way or another. Loggu Regular Baptist Church was planted by Baptist Mid-Mission missionaries back in the 60s, and its current pastor, James Maanawmini, has been in the ministry for 50 years. He is medically trained and has worked for the Ghana National Health Service for most of his life as well. The church is holding a special service today to honor him.

The service is to start at 10. We arrive at 10.30, and they’re just getting underway. Timothy, Ivy, and I sit on the platform with a number of pastors. There’s a printed program with the order of service, with all the steps numbered. There are 26. :-)

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The congregation is singing in Waali, but I recognize the tune, and I add my tremulous voice in English:

To the regions beyond I must go, I must go,

Till the world, all the world, his salvation shall know.

Sure enough. It’s true.

There are more songs, and speeches, and introductions. Formal ceremonies like this often have an honorary chairman, who gives a speech toward the beginning and at the end. The chairman today is Daniel Seidu, Timothy’s older brother, who’s in my class. Pastor James’s family is introduced, along with other VIPs. Then Scripture, a choir number, and now it’s time for the sermon. We’re 2 hours in. Timothy preaches for an hour. He’s highly energetic, and the room is very warm, even with the occasional cross breeze through the open windows. There are no fans—I think I may donate some—and we’re in suits. It’s hoooooooooot. Young people circulate around the platform with water sachets.

After the sermon there’s the presentation of gifts from various groups in the church and others who have been touched by Pastor James’s ministry. He receives a framed photo, two smocks, a goat, and two chickens. The animals are all alive and seem a little nonplussed by their roles in the ceremony.

Pastor James shares a few memories, with large laminated photos to show the crowd of 200 or 250—there is an equal number outside the packed building. Then more congregational singing, closing remarks by the chairman, and closing prayer. We’re right at 4 hours.

They serve a meal. Everyone gets a plastic grocery bag with a takeout container of rice and a bottle of water. Timothy says we’re going to take ours and run, so we jump in the car and head home. To my surprise, he pulls into Mummy’s Kitchen, a restaurant where last year’s team ate a couple of times. I suspect he thinks the meal prepared out in the village might not be completely safe for my delicate Western digestive system. I order a meal I liked last time, fried guinea fowl with fried rice. Way too much to eat.

Back to the house, where I find out what The Kids have been up to. Laundry, phone calls home, naps, general business. They have a volleyball game with the college students just about to start. That lasts the rest of the afternoon.

Rachael wants to take a shower after the game. She steps into the girls’ bathroom and screams. Apparently the ants are back. I check it out, and the sink is covered with ants—big, black, really fast ones. I get a rag and start the genocide, using the mashing method.  They go nuts, running faster and faster, climbing up my arms. Yeccchhh. Finally the sink resembles Little Big Horn, and I move across the battlefield, dispatching any ants showing signs of life. Then it’s down the drain with the dead.

Shortly later Timothy comes by with some cases of sachets, and I tell him about the fight. He says we can put some camphor behind the sink to keep further armies from invading.

Yesterday at the market Jojo bought some fabric and had it tailored into a shirt. He pulls it out tonight to show us. It’s black with a red and yellow design and lettering, but not in English. Jojo asks Timothy what the shirt says. He examines it, begins to smile, and then laughs more heartily than I’ve ever see him laugh. It’s Twi, he says. It’s a funeral shirt. It says, “There’s a problem in the house.” And we all join in the laugh. “I’ll wear it when I preach tomorrow,” Jojo says. Yeah, that’ll go over well.

We have tuna fried rice for supper. We’re going to need to have another meal of leftovers soon; they’re piling up. Your kids are not starving.

After supper Prince and Carlos come by. Jojo shows Prince, whose first language is Twi, his shirt—and he bursts into laughter. Yep. It’s a funeral shirt.

We decide it’s high time to hold the first session of the Official Africa Team Game: Signs. Soon the room is filled with more laughter, and the bond becomes a little tighter.

Prince and Carlos join us for team devotions. As we sing, my eyes sweep the circle of young people. An Ethiopian, an Ashanti, a Guatemalan (at birth), and a bunch of Americans, in the Upper West Region of Ghana, West Africa, all united in praise. Some experiences are unforgettable.

Tomorrow both Jojo and I are preaching, in different churches. Can’t stay up too late.