Saturday, May 16, 2015

To my surprise, I get some sleep, and it appears that everyone else does as well. I wake up around 6 to daylight outside. (Interesting geophysical fact: the closer you are to the equator, the less daylight hours change with the seasons; I believe that on the equator, it’s 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night all year long.) It’s nice to be able to see some scenery. It’s greener than most people would expect; lots of grass and trees. When there are villages, the buildings, for the most part, have changed from the concrete block of Accra to mud brick, which is much cheaper and easier to make. It holds up surprisingly well during the rainy season, though not as well as concrete, of course. In the villages people are up, lighting fires, gathering water, preparing for their day. Lots of goats, sheep, and chickens make themselves at home.

We pull into Wa just 10 minutes late. I text Timothy, who’s driving several hours behind us, that we’ve arrived, and he texts the folks at the mission compound. Soon Aquila, a young man who has just graduated from the Baptist College of Ministry in Wisconsin, arrives leading a 3-vehicle caravan. The second is driven by Ivy, Timothy’s wife; this is our first meeting. We all shake hands, and with Ivy there’s a little bowing, since she’s Chinese.

Ivy’s story is remarkable. But for our purposes, it begins with Mama J, Timothy’s first wife, Janet, who was our hostess in 2013. She was a kind and gracious woman, with whom the team, especially the girls, quickly fell in love. That September, she and Timothy and their 3 young boys came to Greenville so that Timothy could finish his doctoral dissertation at BJU. Shortly later she died of a pulmonary embolism, a providence that just knocked our collective breath out of us. Just two days later in chapel at BJU, a presentation highlighting the previous summer mission teams had already been scheduled, and Janet figured prominently in that presentation, which was already shot and edited when she died. The University kindly dedicated it to Mama J, and for that Africa team, it was a very difficult chapel service.

After Janet’s funeral at Faith Baptist Church in Greenville (at which the team sang a Ghanaian chorus), Timothy and the boys returned to Africa, and despite everything he managed to finish his dissertation and return to Greenville to defend and march in 2014.

And that brings us to Ivy. Growing up in Hong Kong, she developed an intense interest in African missions. The mission program of which her church was a part recommended that she consider working with the little-known Waala people of Ghana’s Upper West Region. She committed to a 10-year term and came to Wa, learned the language and culture, and ministered. Her 10 years expired a few days after Janet died, and she returned to Hong Kong as scheduled.

She had interacted with the Seidus in various capacities during her time here, and at an appropriate time after Janet’s death, Timothy began thinking about that. He developed a long-distance relationship with her through email and Skype, and a few months ago he flew to Hong Kong and married her. The church here already knew and loved her, as did the boys. She’s been ministering well; I suggested that she’s the COO of this operation, while Timothy’s the CEO. I don’t think that characterization fits perfectly, but it does have an element of truth to it.

So here we are in the bus terminal parking lot, shaking hands, bowing, and making acquaintance.

Wa 1 1054

We load most of the luggage onto a tricycle, or what I would call a motorcycle pickup truck; it’s a motorcycle’s front end with a pickup truck’s back end. Then we pile into the 2 SUVs and take the shortcut to the compound. I’m in Ivy’s car, and we have a mechanical problem half-way there and have to call for pickup. We happen to be right in front of a little house with several children playing out front. I get out of the car and start talking to them; at first they shy away, but eventually they warm up to me. (There are adults very nearby.) I ask them about school; one says English is her favorite. I ask her about maths (again, British usage), and she says she likes that too. After a very pleasant conversation between all of us and the children, our replacement vehicle arrives, and off we go.

So our first and last vehicles of the trip both broke down almost immediately and had to be replaced. Whaddaya know.

We drive onto the compound, and I feel as though I’m home. We move into the guest house; this time the whole team can fit. Four girls in two rooms up front, 3 girls in the big room in back, and the two guys in the other back bedroom. Two bathrooms, with showers. A/C, which we’re going to try not to use, and ceiling fans, which we’ll use pretty much all the time. We move in, unpack, some take showers (you just sweat all the time here), and we talk a little about the logistics—how the water supply will work, where the first-aid kit is, that sort of thing.

They had some breakfast sandwiches ready for us when we arrived; and a bit after noon they bring over some spaghetti with meat sauce. Ivy says they want to start with something American, and they’ll increase the Africanicity over time. Sounds like a plan.

After lunch we take a tour of the compound—the burn pit, the chapel where my class will meet (and, more importantly for the team, where the wi-fi router is), the Seidus’ house, the mango orchard, the college dorms and library; married housing, and the old Quonset building where graduation was held last year. This is a large compound, and there’s lots of room to grow. It’s also worth noting that the whole thing is surrounded by a 10-foot wall, with lots of broken glass at the top. At night hired watchmen roam the property. Break-ins are not a problem.

Ivy has arranged for our meals to be prepared for us. She has a couple of girls who help her in the house; they have helped the Seidus for years, and Timothy speaks of them as his daughters. They’ll be preparing 3 meals a day for us, so that we can concentrate on the work of the ministry. That will begin tonight, when our girls will meet with the girls from the church for a time of fellowship, testimonies, and encouragement. I’ll be preaching both services tomorrow, and I’ve told the team to be ready to be asked to do anything—teach a Sunday school class, give a testimony, whatever. Monday we’ll start an afternoon 4-day VBS (M, T, Th, F) at the church. Saturday, a week from today, will be the college graduation. The following week I’ll start 2 weeks of block courses for any area pastors who want to come, while the team will be doing village outreach for the larger church planting efforts. More details on all that as the activities unfold.

Supper is rice with a tomato sauce similar to spaghetti sauce, and fried chicken. At one point Charity asks innocently, “So did they kill this chicken?” Of course we all know what she means, but kind, gentle Sarah, without a moment’s hesitation, says, “No dear, it’s still alive.” We all crack up, and I’m overjoyed at the ease of the repartee.

We all go crazy with the food. Everyone is really pleased with how well we’re being taken care of.

One of my great concerns with short-term mission trips is that a team might be a net negative to the host ministry—more trouble to take care of than can be justified by the relatively little benefit they provide. It’s fine that the kids learn things, but teams should not be driven by self-interest; they ought to benefit their host ministries. They ought to be invited back.

We’re being well cared for. By the grace of God, we need to bring commensurate benefit to the believers in Wa and its surrounding villages.

We have an opportunity to start that tonight, with the girls’ meeting at church. Aquila and Timothy drive everybody over—Gershon and I decide to go along, even though we won’t be called on to do anything, and even though we might need to stay outside if the girls want to speak freely to one another. On the way, Aquila explains to those of us in his car the difference in time perception between American and Waala culture. (Brenda Schoolfield, you’ll be interested in this.) The Waala, like many other cultures, don’t think of time granularly; that is, they don’t really think in terms of hours or minutes, or even clocks. Their basic unit is the day, which is broken into solar-defined fragments—sunrise, morning, noon, afternoon, sundown, night. If you commit to meet someone at sunrise, any time from 6 to 8 am is fine.

You can imagine the kind of effect that has on a church service.

We start the meeting 20 minutes late.

I’ve told our folks not to give in to the natural tendency to cluster. The team should not sit together in a service; they should spread out across the room and meet those who sit near them. The girls execute that tactic perfectly this evening, and one reason we start late is that the conversations are so thick and active that it’s difficult to interrupt.

Timothy has asked our girls to encourage the church’s girls to think strategically rather than reactively—to make plans for their life, especially their spiritual life, and to work toward those plans rather than just waiting for their dreams to come true. Two of the team members, Jess and Michaela, give testimonies emphasizing the way God has directed in their lives, working out His plan. The church girls ask some questions that show they’re listening and thinking. They turn to Amber and ask for her story; unplanned, her response reinforces the theme through the circumstances of her life. They go for more than an hour, and the engagement on both sides is clear and constant.

Clutch. What a great start.

Back at the house, we have what will become our regular evening devotions session, with some singing and testimonies (in answer to my question, “Well, what have you learned so far?”). I talk briefly about a balanced approach to cultural differences: since people of every culture are both in the image of God and broken by sin, there is much in every culture both to celebrate and to use as a negative example. A couple of examples providentially arise out of the preceding testimonies, so it feels as though God is directing us all down this line of thinking in preparation for the inevitable cultural challenges that lie ahead.

After devotions we sit around the table and eat fresh pineapple. I say this every trip, but African fruit is overwhelmingly better than what we eat at home. The reason is simple; here, it’s all tree-ripened. What a difference that makes. Then we sit around the table, telling stories, learning about one another, laughing nonthreateningly at foibles, enjoying one another’s company. This group is becoming a team. I love that.

With a reminder that we leave for church at 9 am, and a little coordination of morning shower times, we all head off for our first night’s sleep in Wa. As tired as we all are, I expect the sleeps to be good and the energy in the morning to be commensurate. We’ll see.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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