Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Last full day in Wa. When I wake up, the power’s off. Not a major problem at this point.

There’s been a development in the Lamin case. I had messaged her son on Facebook, trying to arrange to get together when we pass back through Accra on Thursday. After several days he has replied, with a surprise. He and his mom are back in Wa. And she has a new shop, just across the street from the BNI office. I Google it. Bureau of National Investigation, the Ghanaian equivalent of the FBI. I ask Simon where that is. He doesn’t know. I type it into Google Maps. No hit.

Well. I need to go back into town to get those cedis I couldn’t get yesterday, and that will take me right by the police station, so I’ll just ask them. Surely they’ll know.

And then I remember something. Last year, as I was leaving for Africa, my colleague Mike Wilkie, professor of Criminal Justice at BJU and retired police chief of Acworth, Georgia, gave me three very nice award coins from the CJ program to give to police officers in Africa as the opportunity arose. There wasn’t really an opportunity to do that last year, but I brought them with me this time. I’ll take them along; can’t hurt, and might open some doors.

A few minutes out of the gate I flag down a taxi—one of those jitney-type things—and the driver says it’s 1 cedi to the police station. Great. He drops me off, and I walk up to several uniforms talking outside the station. The one in the fanciest uniform turns to me and asks if he can help me. I introduce myself as a university professor from America and explain that a fellow professor in the university’s Criminal Justice program has asked me to deliver a small gift to the police chief. Turns out I’m talking to him. Is the gift for the city police chief, or the regional commander? (Ghana calls its states regions.) I have a gift for both, I say. He brings me inside to his office—past a couple of cells that look like I’d rather not live there—and I present the coin. He receives it gratefully and asks what I’m doing in the Upper West Region. (There’s an underlying sentiment here in the UWR that no one in his right mind would come here unless he had to.) I mention Dr. Seidu at the mission on Tumu Road, and the college, and the churches in town. He thanks me for bringing help to the region. Then he says that the regional commander is not in yet this morning; I leave an extra coin with him and say that I’ll drop by again on the way back from town. Then I ask if he knows where the BNI office is. Right down the road, he says. You came by it on your way here. He calls in a lady, one of the group he was talking to when I approached the station, and asks her to take me to Lamin’s shop.

As the two of us walk the few meters, she says she remembers my coming to Lamin’s shop last year. She says she went to the States last fall to take some police training in Washington DC and Massachusetts, and I suddenly remember her telling me that last year as well.

Soon I see Lamin, sitting in a small drink and snack shop right across from a nondescript building that must be the regional HQ of the BNI. (I would think the BNI wants to be in a nondescript building.) She laughs and runs to hug me. She says, “You walked by my shop the other day, and I called you, but you didn’t hear!” “I didn’t recognize you; I expected you to be in Accra!” I tell her, but I’m ashamed of myself for not recognizing her. Her son steps up, and I thank him for getting us in touch again. He’s a recent secondary school graduate who likes to play basketball; his teammates call him “Buffalo” because he’s so strong. We get a bunch of photos, including some of me with Lamin and the DC lady. I tell them that I need to go into town, but I’ll stop by again on the way back.

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In town, the ATMs aren’t working again; apparently they haven’t been refilled from the weekend yet (it’s about 8.30 am). As I’m in line, I see Timothy walking out of the bank lobby. What are the odds? He gives me a ride down to another ATM, which is also not up yet. I wait in line for a while and then notice that a lady appears to be accessing one across the street, so I walk over and ask her if it’s working. Yep. Finally.

Money in pocket, I head back to keep my appointments. At the police station, the chief says that the regional commander is in. He walks me over to the next building, the regional HQ. I notice that even people in civilian clothes snap to attention as we walk by. (I assume that’s for him, not for me.) Inside the building, he takes me down the hall to the deputy regional commander’s office and introduces me with great deference to both of us, but especially to the deputy commander. The chief excuses himself, and my host asks me to sit down.

We have a most interesting conversation. He has a PhD from the University of Leicester in the UK and worked abroad for several years doing training of police forces for special situations—which I take means anti-terrorism. He finally decided, as he puts it, to come home. He confirms my understanding that the Upper West Region is considered something of a backwater—assignments here are seen as punishments, he says—but he enjoys the work, and his skills are needed here. I present the third coin, and we discuss development needs across Africa. He is gracious with his time.

He then takes me to see his boss, the Regional Commander. He is much more perfunctory, and our conversation is short, but he does appreciate the coin. I leave with the sense that this set of introductions was time well invested. If nothing else, I have raised their awareness about Timothy’s work here and the contribution it makes to the community.

Back up Tumu Road toward home, with a stop at Lamin’s. She gives me a bottle of cold water and won’t accept payment. We sit and talk some more. Her family is in Accra, and she’d much rather be there, but there are circumstances, both financial and otherwise, that make that impossible for the present. I ask as much as I can without prying. Frankly, if a few hundred bucks would solve her problem, I’m thinking seriously about just taking care of it. But I have to be cautious; throwing money around in developing cultures often—perhaps even usually—does more harm than good. But this isn’t a simple problem; the cost of living in Accra is considerably higher than in Wa, and the financial shortfall would be ongoing, and she doesn’t have the skills to support herself in that environment. And other factors complicate the situation as well. So I listen, and empathize, and tell her I’ll pray for her, and wish her well.

The needs are endless here, and the simple solutions are not the right ones, ever.

Just short of the compound Simon comes by and gives me a ride the rest of the way. The power’s back on at the house, and Mary’s in the kitchen preparing lunch. This one is being given us by the folks at Wa RBC as thanks for our ministry with them, and as a kind farewell.

Over to the chapel to upload yesterday’s blog entry. This is the latest I’ve posted in quite a while—10.30 am—but since it’s 6.30 am back home, I suppose there’s no harm done.

Back at the house, the kitchen is filled with African women applying their skills. A rice-and-beans mixture, with a red sauce to go over it, a sort of warm coleslaw, and some boiled and fried chicken. It smells terrific. The president of the ladies’ fellowship offers a formal thanks for our ministry with them, and we pray and eat. They’ve also brought a local herbal drink, flavored with ginger and nutmeg and who knows what else. It’s dark red and non-carbonated. Strikingly tasty, though unfamiliar. And I hope it’s OK. 🙂

Ivy and Simon join us at the dining room table, while the ladies’ fellowship sits in a circle out in the living room. In short order we’re stuffed, and the ladies do all the cleanup. We express our gratitude repeatedly.

Here’s the thing. We don’t feel like we did all that much for them. Really, just 4 Sunday sermons and some chatting afterwards; no VBS, no youth program, not much of anything. But they are glad to have met us, to have benefited from what little ministry we did, and they want to demonstrate that. So they had a meeting after church Sunday morning and collected enough money to buy some rice and beans and vegetables and a chicken or two at the market, and half a dozen ladies in the church put on their nice clothes and came over and cooked it all for us, under Mary’s direction. (Mary’s from that church.) It’s hard to imagine a more genuine gesture of appreciation.

There is joy, my friends, in serving Jesus. And the joy spreads to everyone the service touches.

As the ladies are heading home, a thought strikes me. These ladies could have a real ministry with Lamin. I speak with Ivy about it, and she agrees that something would be possible there. Then I think of Buffalo. “Simon, do you know play basketball?” Not really. Volleyball. Jeremiah plays basketball, though. I show Simon a phot of me, Lamin, and Buffalo. “I know her. I know her shop. I can meet her son.” And so we have a couple of young men who can perhaps make friends with Lamin’s son. I don’t know the spiritual condition of either Lamin or Buffalo, but I do know that they could use some believing friends. Divine appointments yield surprising results. Please pray for fruitful ministry in their lives.

After lunch Kathy Bristol comes by the house to drop off a couple of cookbooks for the library. She figures she won’t need them anymore—at least not enough to pack them back to the States. We spend some time talking about the challenges of transitioning from 40 years in the bush back to middle-class America, an America that is very different from the one she left. She has family and friends, of course, but repatriation is pretty much always a challenge, and her case is more radical than average. I invite her to live in Greenville 🙂 but she’s not sure where her choice will take her.

Soon Pastor David, her pastor in Baayiri, fires up the lorry she’s leaving behind for the clinic to use, and she walks out the front door to ride to the bus station and leave Africa for the last time.

We’re late getting off to our last VBS—a miscommunication with the bus driver—but we get away a little after 4. This is the first one I get to go on, since I was teaching at 5.30 for the last 2 weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing these kids in action.

We head south out of Wa, on the road to Accra, past Blue Hill for several kilometers, and then west on a dirt road for a kilometer or two. We’re definitely out in the boonies. There’s a small cluster of classroom buildings, with one of the classrooms already full of people waiting for us—mostly children, but a dozen or so adults, ranging from a 70-year-old woman to a 20-something young man. With Simon and Gabriel interpreting, we introduction the team and thank them for coming. We introduce the pastor of the church and then Gabriel leads them in a number of the standard children’s songs, starting with “My God Is So Big.” The old woman does the motions with gusto. Then Jonathan tells the story of creation and the fall, and Jojo follows him with the gospel story. Everyone listens attentively. Gabriel invites any with questions to come to one of the Waala pastors—several do—and we adjourn for games outside.

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Jonathan, Sarah, and Rachael, with Simon’s help, take the littler children out onto the courtyard and start “Red Light, Green Light,” and “Duck, Duck, Goose,” while the rest of us take the older children down a short path to a large football field. There are no lines on it, so the game ends up being as wide as it is long—we probably play the largest football game in history. I note the stoniness of the area in which the smaller children are playing, running freely in bare feet and showing no pain. They’ve apparently grown their own sandals.

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I see a couple of smaller children standing tentatively off to the side and ask them if they’d like to play. They pretty clearly don’t understand English—I ask, “How are you?” and don’t get the formulaic “I am fine”—but they do understand the African “come here” gesture, which resembles the American but with the palm down and all the fingers involved rather than just the index finger. I take them back up the path to where the smaller children are playing, and in a few minutes they’re right in with the others.

The team does well. They’re old hands at this now, though as I’ve mentioned, this is my first time to see them in action. They show a lot of energy and affection, drawing the children into the games and keeping them involved.

The kids really are all right.

We play until after sundown and then say our goodbyes and board the bus in the fading light. It’s dark by the time we drop the Faith folks off at the church property. This is the final goodbye for us and Gabriel, and I regret having to leave behind someone who has been such an integral part of our ministry here. I say a few encouraging words and remind him that, Lord willing, we’ll be back next year.

Back to the house and a delayed supper. Potato & beef soup with grilled sandwiches. Jonathan’s is delayed even further because he has a piano lesson with David—the last one—right after we get back.

And now we’re done. This is always hard, and it happens three times on each trip. Tears of loss, but joy for friendships gained, progress seen, and memories made.

I spend some time at devotions telling them how they’ve done. In short, they’ve been spectacular. They have embraced the culture and the people; they’ve shown no tendency to cluster together out of fear; they’ve fulfilled every part of the contract, if you can call it that, with competency and even excellence. And they’ve done it with fewer people than earlier teams had. I could not be prouder of this group of students.

I warn them that next 3+ days will probably be the most physically stressful part of the entire trip. They need to get their rest tonight; tomorrow night we’ll be on the bus, Thursday night in the Accra guest house—that won’t be stressful—and Friday night on the plane and in the Dar es Salaam airport, which is nobody’s idea of a good time.

A word about updates. I assume, since the Accra guest house had wifi when we came in, that you’ll get an update Thursday morning. But then probably nothing until at least Saturday, and maybe Monday. My phone is not functional in either Ethiopia or TZ, so the parents won’t be getting texts when we land. I’ll do the best I can to communicate, but nothing’s certain. Prayers appreciated.

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Dan Olinger

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

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