Three of us (Michelle, Mary, and myself), all attendees of Ginghamsburg Church, traveled to a small village in Ghana, West Africa called Noka. This was the year that the CHE* program would officially begin, under the leadership of fellow Ghanaians. Here’s our story of those seven days. Italics are personal commentary – just for a little flavor.
Friday 26 November & Saturday 27 November – After passing through four airports in about twenty hours, we stood outside the Accra airport. From there we rode to Ocheman Palace Hotel where we’d eat and sleep the next several days. It sure wasn’t a palace, but it was clean, had running water, and on the occasions when electricity was working we even had AC, TV, and lights. At lunch time, we met with Dai Hwan, Ema, and Reverend Gibson to discuss the schedule for the week. All lived in Ghana, and they were the people I prayed would take the reins of directing CHE in the village of Noka. Dai Hwan is in charge of developing a CHE internship in Ghana, Ema is the CHE director for all of Ghana, and Reverend Gibson is the pastor of the church in Noka. Reverend Gibson had a well prepared schedule for the week so there was little to discuss. They knew we were sleepy, so they left us early in the afternoon. I fought the sandman until 4pm. I woke up at 10pm, worked on my talk for church tomorrow, read, and then went back to sleep.
Sunday 28 November – Lots of children, several women, but not one man from the village attended church service. We sang, prayed, and danced (not me) before I gave the sermon. The ladies each gave a lesson to the children, and I talked about Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls. At eleven, we took a short taxi ride to Reverend Gibson’s village to visit the church there. The church was having a fund raising effort, and they pulled us into the program. They invited us to pop a couple balloons, after which they explained we needed to give a donation for popping them. I wasn’t real keen on that approach. That evening the three of us debriefed on the past couple days. The CHE concept was new to both ladies, so the concept of development versus relief was a primary discussion item. All of us had inclinations to “fix” things for the people in Noka, an action that would have negative impact on the long-term progress of the village.
Monday 29 November – After breakfast and group devotions, we headed to Noka. We immediately went to the home of the chief to request a meeting with the village council. The chief wasn’t feeling well. He said that he had “the fever”, malaria, but he would still try to gather the council members that afternoon. From there we walked through the village to invite people to the village meeting tomorrow. In our walk, we observed, asked questions, and basically tried to learn about the people of Noka. We also met a man who made baskets, and we placed an order for seven. Additionally, we placed an order for some wooden spoons from the village spoon maker. After a lunch of bread, we met with the council regarding CHE. Development, helping yourself, is a hard sell after people become used to handouts. Several comments in the meeting insinuated that someone would have to give the village money in order for them to make any improvements. We were back at the “palace” in time to have our debrief session before dinner. One of the discussion points was the village’s great need for fresh water. It is a hard thing to not “fix” what seems so obviously broken, but development emphasizes the development of people more than real estate. We needed to let them take ownership for what they wanted to improve and how they would accomplish that improvement.
Tuesday 30 November – Today was the village meeting for Noka. We planned to be there by 9:30am and start the meeting by 10:00am. We didn’t get there until 9:50am and the meeting didn’t start until 11am! About thirty people attended, plus most of the council including the Councilman – the person who represents Noka at the district council. It was an excellent mix – men & women, young & old, well-dressed & not so well-dressed. They formed a circle for better discussion. The ladies entertained the children under a couple trees a short distance away. I sat on the outside of the circle. All discussion was in their tribal language, Twi, so I tried to stay alert by watching nonverbal language. Ema led the discussion, using questions, skits and diagrams, keeping everyone involved. He focused on two main topics: relief versus development and identification of the main problems in the village. Out of several possible problems, the overwhelming favorite was to reopen the primary school. It had been closed because the people in Noka had stopped paying the teacher’s salary. The council confessed their poor leadership, and promised to improve. One man voiced that he had moved into the village years ago, and was disappointed by the disconnection of the people from each other. Those listening responded with concern and consideration. Ema was encouraged by the honesty and humility shown by all the participants, especially the leaders. Reverend Gibson was relieved. He was concerned that people would label him as a failure if CHE did not go well, and he felt it was a great success today. Back at the hotel, we had our debrief time. Both ladies sensed great accomplishment in the meeting. Out of habit, we lapsed into attitudes of “what they need to do is…”. However, we at least caught ourselves doing it.
Wednesday 1 December – Isaac, a young man from Noka, joined us for breakfast this morning. I asked him to pray for our meal. His prayer was not what I expected, and it reminded me of the difference between our two worlds. Isaac prayed that Jesus’ blood would purify the food from all harmful things and bring good health to our bodies – not disease. I’ve never even thought of praying like that for any meal – ever. I asked him what his mother had to say about the village meeting yesterday, and he replied, “She said that if a good thing comes to your house why would you not invite it in?” After breakfast, we headed to three villages in the north. They have been exposed to CHE for some time, and we wanted to see what those villages looked like. The first village was like a poster child for the potential of CHE. When CHE was started the school was a bunch of kids sitting under a tree. They now have a cement block building with a metal roof. Members of the village built thatch-roofed building first. Then a church paid for bags of cement to be used for construction of the school building. The village made all the blocks and built the school building. Before CHE, students did not eat during school. Now each child receives a free lunch. The village rented a portion of farm land and planted a community farm. Members of the village sow, cultivate, and harvest the crops. The proceeds are used to pay for the children’s lunch. Students are taught the basics as well as three languages: their tribal language, English, and French. The second village had no school. They did have a still to make palm wine. The chief of this village is not ready to support CHE. He is waiting for someone to give them money to start their development. The third village is a bit separated from the road. We had a thirty minute hike through the brush. We had a warm welcome, and we were amazed at the quiet, attentive conduct of the children. This is the school where I had my CTC/NHS photo taken. We had a long bumpy ride home, but it was an excellent, educational day. In our debrief time, we realized that we saw the results to accepting or rejecting CHE. We also gave high praises to Dai Hwan and Ema for their dedication and wisdom.
Thursday 2 December – The head pastor, Apostle Odai, came to the hotel this morning. Four others were with him, one of them being a girl from the UK. She was going to give a lesson to the children in the village where we were going this morning. Reverend Gibson wanted us to have a CHE meeting in a village near Noka. He felt they would be an excellent match for CHE. On the way to the village, Gibson, Ema, Dai Hwan and I discussed what the next step should be for Noka. Gibson felt we should get money donated and build a school building. Ema and I encouraged him to develop the people before developing the real estate. The “gotta have money” mindset is tough to change. We see that in the USA! The meeting had several people in attendance and went well. We drove back to Accra from there and stayed in the guest house of the church. We ate supper at a resort on the ocean beach. It makes the best pizza! I think it’s because the chef makes the crust fresh for each pizza. At our debrief it became apparent that the CHE concept was taking hold in our minds even though our hearts still wanted to “fix” stuff for them. The disparity between the village and the city of Accra (just two hours drive) was enormous! Each of us wondered what impact this trip would have on us once we returned to our normal routine in the USA.
Friday 3 December – Today we drove to the market. Actually, I drove part way. The clutch was giving Valerie, the Apostle’s wife, some trouble. I was looking forward to meeting some of the people in the market that I had come to know over the years. However, I was very disappointed with one of them, he calls himself Colin Powell. He was different – rude, pushy, and wanting money. The ladies surprised me by how quickly they finished their shopping. We headed back to the guest house, but had more car trouble. Valerie got so frustrated that she just turned off the car right in the road. I jumped out and pushed her off to the side. Odai took me to meet a missionary who is connected with the United Methodist Church. On the way, he voiced his opinion about CHE and the need for money to have development. I agreed, but I felt the money should follow action by the community, not precede it. The missionary and her husband were wonderful to meet. They were quite familiar with CHE, and even gave me contact in the USA that can help me find my way in the UM Church foreign missions hierarchy. We headed back to the guest house where we showered, packed, and headed to the airport. Our flight departed at 12:30am Saturday 4 December, and we arrived in Dayton at 12:30pm of that same day. We crossed five time zones to accomplish that feat!
I consider this a near-perfect mission trip. I am so elated to see the CHE process in excellent hands – Ghanaian hands. Ema and Dai Hwan can visit Noka easily, offer insights, and be excellent resources. I am eager to return next year and see the progress.