Ginghamsburg Church sent its first Ghana mission team to a village called Noka in November of 2007. I served as the team leader. We went with the intention of building a pole barn and putting in a well as the first of several construction projects to be done over a period of years. The intent was to “transform” the village through various improvements we provided for them. All went well, although not as planned. We learned that the village already had a well so the funds we provided furnished a neighboring village with a well. We also learned that four Ghanaian construction workers had the building process well in hand, and they obligingly allowed us to help – when we could do the task up to their standards. At the time of our departure, an oral agreement was made that we would return next year to help with the construction of, and provide funding for, a medical clinic – the next step in our plan for transformation.
During the winter of 2007, a missionary and friend strongly recommended that I attend a workshop sponsored by an organization called Lifewind. [www.lifewind.org] I attended the workshop, and it changed my idea of how short-term missions should work. I’ll briefly summarize the concept.
Most mission teams go to a location intending to do something “to” or “for” the local people. I would say most short-term mission groups do one of these activities: building or repairing infrastructure (buildings, roads, water, sanitation, etc) or performing a unique program (usually medical clinics, VBS, or evangelistic services). Providing these services give a strong sense of accomplishment for the teams who do them because the end-results are instantly visible.
Our efforts in the village of Noka, West Africa also will address the same issues, but our focus will be in acting as catalysts for the villagers themselves to complete the needed activities. We hope to do things “with” the villagers. Our dream is to become “unneeded” as the village develops. This usually occurs over a period of at least five years. More than development in Noka, we want Noka to be able to help other villages in the way they have been helped. Noka will be the mentor for transformation in that area. This will allow us to find another village far from Noka and repeat the process there. Hopefully we can produce villages all over Ghana that act as epicenters of change for spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual health.
I spoke at length with the instructors about what we did “to” the village in 2007. Over a period of time, it became evident that the trip in 2008 would not include the construction of a medical clinic. (We did provide funds for its construction, because we had given our word the year before to do so.) The focus of 2008 was to educate the people of Noka on what we felt God wanted to do in their village through their efforts. The training went well; the participants were entirely from the village church and reacted with a great deal of enthusiasm. I left excited about what could happen if this process spread throughout Ghana’s remote villages.
My excitement generated a grandiose plan for the November, 2009 mission trip. I thought we would do a health screening of all the children in the village, teach two village residents to perform dental work, do door-to-door visitation, and have experts in the areas of waste, water, agriculture, and business access options for future trips.
I collided with difficulties as I made plans. One painful fact was the lack of people signing up for the trip – the response was nil. I was feeling alone in this effort. I needed support. Finally I took time to solicit a group of people who prayed for wisdom in this venture. Over forty households agreed to support my journey by consistent prayer.
Even then, the greatest aggravation came in arranging the training for the village dentists. Details arranged with the trainer months prior were changed – increasing the costs and difficulty of execution. After a great deal of frustration, and a candid phone call with the trainer, I saw that I was working very hard acquiring this dental training but the village of Noka was not doing their part to make it happen. I resigned myself to not training dentists in 2009. I was greatly disappointed.
I finally admitted to myself, God, and others that I had gotten ahead of God. It was the most freeing experience to admit that I need not force things to happen. It is refreshing and easy to join God in his plans rather than try to persuade him to join me in my plans. Proverbs 16:9 is now etched in my memory. A friend counseled me, “When God works, you rest. There will come a time when you will then carry on his work – not yours.” Now I find myself in a time of rest. But that does not make me idle.
Sign-up for the November, 2009 mission trip is now going very well. It is almost exclusively medical personnel – perfect for a health screening of Noka’s children. This will provide a baseline evaluation of community health in Noka, something never done in the village’s one-hundred year history. Hopefully it will offer the village some insights into the health needs of the people and make them open to some basic preventative measures.
In addition, I led a team to Ethiopia to observe some CHE partnerships that have been in existence from one to ten years. I came away from that trip with some key lessons:
- Doing things for people who do not take ownership is not true progress.
- Progress in developing countries comes in baby steps.
- A local village, church, or community must prove their willingness to work prior to involvement from a USA church.
With that in mind, I will present to the people an assignment. I will ask them to draw a map of their village showing roads, paths, wells, latrines, houses, churches, and any other landmarks. In addition, they will visit each house in the village surveying residents regarding everything from ages of household members to religious affiliation. This is a no-expense project that will allow interaction with all members of the community, expanding the church influence and helping identify general and specific needs in the village. What happens after November, 2009 depends mostly upon the people in Noka.
That’s where it stands as of now. I’ll keep you posted.