This journal describes a trip to Noka, a village in Ghana, West Africa from November 6 – 15, 2009. For a background on the history with Noka, click on “Changed For The World” tab at the top of this blog. To see pictures related to Noka, click on “David Phipps photos” at the top of the right margin. Print like this is general descriptions. Print like this indicates my personal views and feelings.
Friday 6 November – Saturday 7 November
Eight of us were leaving Dayton airport for a seven-day mission trip in Ghana. We were to have nine people, but one member contracted pneumonia which was immediately was followed by pleurisy. That left myself and seven ladies. Yes, you read that correctly. I was nervous to say the least. We only had one suitcase with a weight issue, and that was quickly remedied by moving some items to an underweight bag. Our flights all went very smoothly. We had a good flight schedule with plenty of time for transfers. Personally, I can’t remember starting a trip so tired. I was asleep before the plane from of Detroit left the ground. We breezed through customs after some delay in getting all our bags. Someone had removed them from the pick-up location. One member of our group found them stacked on the other side of the room. We were greeted outside the Accra airport by some young girls from the hosting church who were dressed up in native apparel. We drove straight to the church’s very nice guesthouse where we immediately went to bed. I had never been to the guesthouse, and I was pleasantly surprised. It had individual bathrooms, a fan, tiled floor, and even A/C! Another group from Greenville, Ohio was there at the same time, so I briefly visited with them. I laid awake about an hour then fell asleep.
Sunday 8 November
We planned to skip the 6am service but would attend both the 8:30am and 10:30am services. That meant a 7am breakfast where we ate with the Greenville group. The Greenville group was doing some medical and construction projects in locations different from Noka. However I learned that they would be staying in the same “hotel” as us later in the week. In fact, I would be sharing a room with one of the men on the team. Between services, everyone was involved in some type of teaching: children, youth, or adults. Church services were unusual and challenging experiences for some of the team. This congregation is much more demonstrative than what we were used to at our church. And there was an attention to appearances that was greatly different than our church. Everyone, both groups, traveled to “Pizza Hut” for some of the best pizza I have ever eaten. The pizza is literally made in a hut. And I think it is the dough that I love. It is all handmade – none of that premade cardboard-like stuff at the pizza chains! Delicious. We made the journey to our “hotel” over some rugged roads. The roads have been under construction for three years. Progress is so slow. We grouped by roommates and went to our rooms to unpack. We were dropped off at the hotel, and our transportation returned to the capital city, Accra. Our team was alone. I kind of felt abandoned. I was pretty concerned about what tomorrow held. How do we get to Noka? Are they prepared for us? What about food? I met with all the team to explain that I planned to travel to Noka by myself to see if our arrival was expected and preparations made. I slept pretty well considering the jet lag, heat, and unknowns.
Monday 9 November
After a light breakfast, I asked the cook to use her phone to call our host pastor, Apostle Odai. He assured me that the local pastor would greet us at our hotel and two cars would arrive to take us to Noka. It all happened as he said. I was so relieved to see the local pastor, Reverend Gibson. He is a great guy and great to work with. Our project for this trip was to give a physical exam to all the children in Noka. The results of these exams would be used to accomplish our trip purpose on our last day in Noka. I’ll explain that in full in my Friday 13 November journal entry. Children were waiting when we arrived so we quickly set up and began the medical exams. We were extremely busy through 2pm. The count for that day exceeded 150 children. It was a long day. I was really impressed by how the team worked together and maintained positive attitudes in spite of the heat and hard work. We had a team debrief after we cleaned up and ate. Topics of concern ranged from how well the day went to whether they should buy local attire “off the rack” or have it tailor-made. Personally, I was not accustomed to the quantity of words spoken.
Tuesday 10 November
Breakfast was good, and it was followed by a good time of team devotions. Each member shared their insights on some verses about “faith”. The feelings shared reached into hearts and there was open, personal sharing with tears. Each morning we used the same format for devotions but with a different theme. We asked the cars to drop us off at the edge of Noka so we could walk through the village and interact with the people. This walk took longer than I expected, but I’m glad we did it. The team really seemed interested in the people and the village. Children and parents were waiting on us so we continued with the exams as soon as everyone was ready. Today we added another item to our schedule. Two of the nurses began teaching a couple villager members how to wash and bandage wounds. It seemed that most of the team understood and accepted the concept of CHE and how CHE impacted what we did. We did not want to do anything to or for the members of the village. We wanted to work with them so they could continue the work after we left. We were back to the hotel by 3pm so we could clean up and rest. We were to go to a revival service tonight! The revival service wasn’t like the ones I grew up attending. The music was loud – like hurt your ears and shake the ground loud. There was dancing, demon deliverance, and screaming preachers. Each night two people from our team spoke. Some gave a testimony and some gave a “sermon”. The Greenville group joined us tonight, and my roomie moved in. Both of us slept like rocks.
Wednesday 11 November
After breakfast and team devotions we headed back to Noka. While the ladies gave a clinic to the children about brushing their teeth, I met with ten members of the local church. We had a discussion/Bible study on the importance of discipleship. As with last year’s study, they were great students. They really enjoyed discussion and responded to what scripture taught. That afternoon we walked through the village to meet more people and invite them to the revival service. Almost everyone we met said that they were coming to the service that evening. But they didn’t. They were being polite by saying what they thought we wanted to hear. I was able to talk with a man who made spoons to sell in the market. I order one from him. And I played a quick game of TT (table tennis). I lost. Our car driver took us to an area where bamboo was growing. One member of the team is in love with bamboo; she was smiling ear-to-ear. We prepared gift bags for the village council and the church leadership, ate dinner, and headed off the revival again. Apostle Odai insisted that we attend the revival services, but I only agreed to attend two of the four evenings. They are a great experience, but they are also very exhausting.
Thursday 12 November
After breakfast and team devotions we headed back to Noka. Again children were waiting on us, so the ladies began right away. I had been asked to repeat yesterday’s lesson for people who did not attend Wednesday. I had picked up a head cold so I had a really sore throat and was tired. The lesson went okay, but I did not add much enthusiasm to our time. Lunch allowed me to try a meat pie, pear “beer”, and a fresh-picked orange. All of them were great! The spoon maker that I met yesterday brought me a spoon with his name burned into it. I paid his standard price, about seventy-five cents. We walked the village for a short time and then went back to the hotel to shower and relax before dinner. Except for just a couple times, we always had electric and running water in the hotel. This has not been the experience in the past. It was a blessing. In fact, the village of Noka now has electricity. Progress is coming…slowly! We were not attending a revival service tonight so we had a team debrief. Most of the talk turned to critiquing the habits, customs, and actions of the local people. As I listened, I found myself being judgmental of the others’ comments. Talk about a hypocrite! I shared with the team on the first night that this has been the most difficult trip I have ever led. Yet I believe I’m better for it. I’m glad for the lessons learned, and I pray that I won’t need to relearn them. Being judgmental is one of them.
Friday 13 November (Yikes!)
Today is the day. We meet with the village council this morning. The whole purpose of the trip occurs today. Taking the information gathered from the physical exams, the nurses on the team determined three health problems that occurred in numerous children. We intend to present these findings to the village council and propose possible solutions. The mission trip will be a success if they respond positively and accept responsibility for implementing the solutions. But before this meeting, we need to go to the market to buy head scarves. The ladies wanted to have the local women show them how to tie the scarves. Then the ladies would wear the scarves to the revival services tonight. I underestimated the importance of shopping on this trip. Eleven members of the council were there as well as a number of people from Noka. One of the nurses shared three positive things seen in the children: respectful, well nourished, and happy & secure. Then she shared three things that caused concern: wounds on the feet, infected skin wounds, and breathing difficulties. We paused here to allow the council to respond. They asked great questions, requested further explanation, and were very engaged. Things were going great. But the village chief could not attend. I was concerned if any kind of decisions or commitment could be reached. The nurse then did a great job explaining three things that could be done to help prevent these conditions. As she spoke, another nurse wrote bullet points on poster-size paper for all to see. We left all our information with them. Some of the council members can speak English, and finding someone in the village to read English would not be a problem. Again, there was great interaction and focus. One of the methods of prevention was to have the children wear shoes. A father who lived in the village stood and explained that he was barely able to earn enough money to provide food for his family. He could not afford shoes. Several people nodded their heads in agreement. I assumed that getting shoes for the children would not be something the village would try to do. A rather long discussion followed, in their tribal language. Bits and pieces were interpreted for us. The summary is this – A council member said that the village should start a shoe fund to help buy shoes for children. Many agreed. Another man stood and said that he did not want this to be just talk. He pulled five Cedis (about $3.50 – a little over a day’s wage) from his pocket and said he was making the first contribution to the fund. A basket was passed around, a treasurer and overseer appointed, and the fund was instantly operational. I was ecstatic! This response exceeded my dreams. Truly Noka showed us that they were a village of action. A council member said that they would do the things needed to help their children. “When you return, we will show you healthier children.” I then showed the council a world map and then a map of Ghana. They seemed fascinated by both. I then explained that I am asking the members of the church in Noka to make a map of their village. The map will be very useful as the village plans their development and as the church plans their CHE program of visiting families in the village. A long discussion followed, it was good as far as I could tell, and we concluded the meeting by presenting gifts to the leaders of the church and village. The gifts were mainly personal hygiene items like soap, toothpaste, lotions, etc. We went back to the hotel for lunch and packing. Four ladies went back to Noka to visit and look around some more. Immediately after the revival we drove back to the capital of Ghana, Accra. We went to the guest house and went to sleep. I don’t think I set my alarm!
Saturday 14 November
We went to the market from 11:30am to 4:00pm. The market is quite an experience. The vendors are quite aggressive, and can be irritating after a couple hours of tugging, yelling, and shoving things in your face. It was kind of like a feeding frenzy. One lady ran out of money and ended up trading her watch for something. There was a lot of money spent. On the way back to the guesthouse, we stopped at a hardware store to buy machetes and at a snack stand to buy crackers. The crackers were packaged in red, white, and blue wrapping with a picture of President Obama on the front. They were called “Obama Biscuits”. We had a smooth check-in and departure at the airport.
Sunday 15 November
The flights all went without a hitch. The team arrived in what seemed to be good spirits; it’s always good to get home. And I headed to Bob Evans for my traditional re-entry meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and ice-cold water.