Prior to the trip – I felt anxious. I had a presentation to give the leadership of the village that was new to me. It was a proposal for the village to adopt the CHE concept of development. (see www.LifeWind.org ) I wasn’t sure how the leadership of the church and village would take to the concept. I didn’t feel that the team, composed of four women and me, was prepared or bonded. Adding to my already anxious state, the malaria medicine I was taking (Larium) had a side effect of anxiety with possible suicidal feelings. Isn’t that just peachy? Thus we begin the adventure.
On the plane – I was worried about my worrying. I was anxious about my anxiety! I had been praying about it and tried to rationalize it away. Finally, on the plane, I asked myself how a pastor dealt with rejection of his preaching. And I was struck by the fact that he probably considers his job as sowing and he lets God take care of the harvest. From that point on I had tremendous relief.
Saturday – I thought our flight went very well, and the motel we were in was basic but comfortable. But there were a couple situations that gave me concern. Soon after we checked into the hotel one lady went with a man she did not know to get something to eat. She came back with a meal of fish and tubers. I stressed my concern about leaving with someone she did not know and the safety of the food she was planning to eat. She seemed to understand. We arose early planning to conduct a three-hour children’s crusade. The four ladies had prepared a great deal for this event. But, in typical African fashion, they took a long time and we were given about 45 minutes of the three-hour crusade. The ladies did fine; they adapted well. It was a good way to start the week.
Sunday – Three of the four ladies spoke at church. They did well. They were not as flamboyant as the local pastor; he takes his style from the TV preachers. It was good for them to just get the experience. We traveled from Accra to where we would be staying, near the village of Noka. I slept most of the way. The ladies were enjoying soaking up the fact that they were in Africa.
Monday – We started the day with Read, Reflect, and Respond. (Read some Bible verses, reflect on what it means to me, and respond back to God.) The topic was Servant Attitude. I was struck by a phrase in Philippians 2:3 – “consider others better than yourselves”. I was carrying an attitude very different than that description. I reminded myself several times through the week that I was the “least of these”.
The morning training started an hour late, but that is not unusual. It was well attended but only with church people. No one from the village council was in attendance. I was disappointed by that status. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people from neighboring villages. And I was encouraged by the eagerness of the young men to learn, and their excitement gave me hope for the future of Noka. The lessons were very discussion oriented, and being allowed to discuss in class was different for them. The normal method of teaching is lecture. Actually, there isn’t much difference between teaching a class and preaching a sermon except the volume of delivery. So they really embraced the chance to voice their opinion and debate with others. The team members did a great job of being involved without being overbearing.
Some local ladies were hired to “cater” lunches for everyone. It was mostly rice with some tomato-based, spicy sauce. I’m sure it was the best meal of the week for many of those in attendance. The members of the team loved it.
The afternoon and evening was unassigned. I want to note that we had a lot of unassigned (free) time on this trip. That troubled me at first, but then I realized that some in the group could not handle the pace of last year’s trip. God arranged a trip that was just right for the people involved – last year and this year.
Tuesday – Another group is staying at the same hotel with us. They are from the Netherlands. They are members of a recently formed foundation that is attempting to create jobs in the region. We shared our philosophies and desired results and concluded that we could potentially aid each other. They are very well funded, and they pursue this as full-time jobs. We exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch.
The morning lessons went just as well as they did yesterday. Of course we started an hour late. I enjoyed the fact that the lessons were preceded by singing, dancing, and prayer. It was an energizing way to begin.
Lunch today was a green vegetable that reminded me of “greens”. We also had cooked yams and cooked plantain. It really tasted good!
Again, we had the afternoon and evening unassigned. Honestly, that really helped me because it gave time for the group to debrief and for me to prepare the next day’s lesson. My required preparation time was a little longer than if I was presenting in the USA. We were meeting under a tree. There was no board, electricity, or tables. I brought a stack of 2’x3’ paper to draw visuals, record answers given, and show how everything connected. This required me to consider what I could write the night before to use for discussion starters without giving the answers. Being outside also allowed me to use a stick to draw or write in the dirt if needed.
Wednesday – I awoke to discover that Barak Obama was elected President of the USA. The people in the village were excited and happy for his election. I had underestimated what Barak’s election meant to so many people outside of the USA. I pray that he does well, and that he and his family are kept safe.
Today is the final day of lessons. I drew the entire concept together, and this proved to be the most challenging part. I wanted to stress that this program was designed not for relief but development. Understanding the difference between the two seemed elusive for some in the group. With much debate and review everyone’s views finally seemed to align. I stressed that participation in this program was their choice. If they did not think it was good, I would take no offense. It was their village, not mine. I only asked to be informed of their decision by the end of January.
Today was the first day that Apostle Odai, the leader of the church, was in attendance. He and I still are apart on some ideas, but I believe our callings are complementary. I have much to learn from him about dedication to God, and I might have something to offer him regarding the value of taking time to build relationships.
We had an unassigned afternoon followed by a crusade in Noka that evening.
The crusade was an open-air affair with singing, dancing, testimony and a sermon. The local church took care of all the preparations and led the singing. The crowd took care of the dancing. We, the team, joined in the dancing. I’m sure the locals were quite impressed! J The team members did the testimonies and sermon. It was a wonderful, memorable experience. We returned to the hotel about 9:30pm.
Thursday – This morning we walked around the village discussing three things with people: 1) the crusade on the following two nights, 2) their opinion regarding the needs of the village, and 3) their own spiritual beliefs. Personally, I found this time incredibly interesting. On points one and three, they seemed to answer as they thought I wanted. They promised to be at the crusade (which they weren’t), and all of them believed in Jesus and went to church (which they did not). However, on point #2 the answers varied. They included: public sanitary latrines, clean water, more children attending school, more students taking classes above grade six, loans to start businesses, peace in families, and illnesses – especially malaria, “the fever”. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now with all their needs. Where does one start?
We had an unassigned afternoon followed by the crusade in Noka that evening.
It rained that night, but we waited it out and had a decent crowd. Again, the speakers did a wonderful job. I really admire their willingness to jump right in. Again, we returned to the hotel after 9:30pm.
Friday – Two members of the group took the day to visit the castle on the coast that served as the departure point for slaves being sent west. The other three returned to the village to do more door-to-door visiting. The interpreters with me that day took me through some places that I had never seen. I was taken aback by the number of homes in the area. It had to be hundreds! Not all the homes were in the village of Noka, some were technically in other villages, but I sure couldn’t tell when one village started and another stopped. There are a lot of people within a thirty minute walk of the church in Noka. The potential is enormous.
Again, we had an unassigned afternoon followed by the crusade in Noka that evening. It was the most energetic of the three crusades, a fitting conclusion to the week.
We drove back to Accra, the nation’s capital, arriving at our hotel about midnight.
Saturday – After a late breakfast, we headed to the market to gather bargains. I think everyone had a good time bargaining with the merchants. I reconnected with a merchant I had met last year. He has great English, is smart as a whip (he can name every US state as well as its motto, its capital, and several major cities in it. Then he’ll do the same thing for about any nation you can name.) But he’s trapped. He can’t afford school so he’s stuck in the little booth at the back corner of the market trying to make a couple bucks a day. Had he been born in the USA his entire life would be different. But he wasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t.
We headed to the church in Accra to be videotaped about our experiences. We enjoyed making fun of each other’s performances.
Then a quick change of clothes, a racing trip to the airport, and we were on our way home. Everything was pretty uneventfully, and we were all glad to touch down safely in Dayton.
Summary – This is the hard part. I really don’t know what we accomplished. It’s not like “We built a house for a needy family!” or “We held a Bible school for all the children.” or even “We treated 100 patients a day in a mobile medical clinic.” We did some teaching, preaching, visiting, and praying. We didn’t do anything to or for the people in Noka, but we did a lot with them. And honestly, if Noka embraces this program, that will be our story each year. We will simply go to be catalysts for the village of Noka to change itself. The focus will be on people, not projects. It’s harder to build people than to build a building. It takes longer to get the foundation done. And the job is never really done. There are always areas that need more work. But I believe that’s where God’s heart is – people. So, we’ll carry on a step at a time.