Category Archives: Mission Trips

Posts related to traveling to other locations with a mission of living out Jesus’ teachings.

Israel 06.09

This is my account of my trip to Israel.  Standard type is my attempt to just report what happened.  Print like this, italic, is my personal reflections.  Enjoy.

Sunday 7 June     The pre-trip preparation meetings started tonight and concluded Thursday night.  I arrived at the office of Life In Messiah about 2pm – plenty early.  There were no official greeters so I just kind of nosed around until I found a bunk bed that I would use the next five nights.  I thought that would give us all some time to know each other before we really got to know each other.

After the team of eight gathered, I realized that of the five males, I was the ancient one by ten to thirty years.  I wondered how we would gel.  The three ladies were closer to me in age, but there was that Mars-Venus thing to contend with.  But at least I didn’t read any red flags on anyone.

After a great meal, we did a team evaluation/building event and then called it a night.  I was tired.

Monday 8 June   After an “on your own” breakfast, we gathered for our daily “focus meeting”.  This meeting time was to be implemented every day we were together over the next month.  It consisted mainly of the trip leader sharing how some selection of the Bible impressed him.  However, once the trip began, we used a booklet prepared for teams doing exactly what we were doing – traveling to a foreign country as ambassadors of Jesus.  It gave some guided reading and discussion questions.  I really liked the discussions – to a point.  But more on that later.

The rest of the day consisted of experts explaining how to share our beliefs, speak Hebrew, and apply portions of scripture in light of our trip.  At the end of the day I was tired and stiff.  I had a fairly good run Sunday, and I had sit about all of Monday.  My body wanted some movement.

Tuesday 9 June   Today went much the same as Monday.  However, we took a field trip to Chicago where we visited a Jewish bookstore and a school for boys created by a specific Jewish sect.  Both were pretty interesting.  Later I worked on how I could communicate my beliefs to a Jewish person in an understandable and inoffensive way.

Wednesday 10 June   During our morning language lessons, we learned that “Doo Doo”, pronounced like what a dog does by the curb, was a common nickname for “David”.  That seemed to please everyone more than me.  There was a lot of “Doo Doo” thrown around for the next few weeks.  Our afternoon field trip took us to a Hillel house.  It’s kind of like an oasis for Jewish college students.  We were warmly welcomed, and the man in charge was candid with his believes and feelings.

We then walked on the University of Chicago campus.  Each of us was to engage a person in conversation and look for an opportunity to appropriately share about our faith in Jesus.  I met Mitch.  He was really cordial, and, as conversation continued, became more open about his faith and frustrations with how he lived out his faith.  We parted on a mutually appreciative note.

Thursday 11 June   Today ended our lectures.  I cannot express how antsy, sleepy, and overwhelmed I became during hour-after-hour of lecture.  It was all good material.  I was just not a good listener.  Also, I have not shared how wonderfully we ate.  The food was good and there was a lot of it!  In any case, we depart tomorrow and the team seemed good: Lin, Cathy (logistics leader), Juanita, Todd, James, Israel (our leader), and me – Doo Doo.

Friday 12 and Saturday 13 June (the separation seems a little blurry)      We flew to NY, and the plane ride from there to Israel was about ten hours long.  I get real restless on long flights so I like get up frequently to stretch.  An aisle seat works best for me.  Six of the eight team members had aisle seats.  Doo Doo was in the center of the plane.  James, nicknamed King James, sat beside me.  He was eager to share his faith in a style he called “the way of the master”.  Its foundational act was to convince the person listening that they were horrible, sinful people who needed God.  He had a basic talk with several tracts and optional analogies to aid him.  I watched him talk to most of the people seated around him.  None of them seemed too interested in professing their wickedness before arriving in Israel.  I admired his zeal yet couldn’t help but wonder what this method did to people’s stereotype of Christians.

We arrived to a nearly vacant airport.  It was Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath; few, if any, Jews were traveling today.  We breezed through customs where they willing avoided stamping my passport due to my potential travel in Muslim countries.  Security was sparse and relaxed compared to what I was expecting.  Maybe I just didn’t see it.  We quickly obtained our rental van and headed to the Messianic Jewish church service in Bersheeva. 

Keep in mind that I had been awake nearly twenty-nine hours.  I saw no way I was going to stay awake.  But I became quite alert when I learned that this congregation had been stormed by over one-hundred Orthodox Jews just a few weeks ago.  The Jews had volleyed curses and spit on the members and thrown the pastor in the baptistery.  Other Jewish Believers across Israel offered concern and support.  The act was reported to the police, but there is little hope anything will be done.  It was a wonderful service, and I especially enjoyed meeting the people after the church service.

The streets of the town reminded me of a B&W western.  The wind blew dust through the deserted streets and made ghostly noises as it passed through the tree branches.  Everyone was indoors; it was Shabbat.  However, when dusk fell, about 9:30pm, the streets, stores, and restaurants were bustling.  We enjoyed a great meal, and I fell asleep just after 11pm on a mat thrown on the floor of the Bersheeva church building.

Sunday 14 June   I slept until 10am – oh blessed rest.  The morning started with a team member being upset and wanting to go home.  I didn’t envy the trip leader as attempts were made to iron things out, which they were. We went grocery shopping because we planned to stay at this location for a few days.  We offered Bibles in various languages to people in a public park as well as on the street.  I was amazed how eagerly they accepted, even asked, for Bibles.  I later discovered that many were displaced Christians from countries in Africa.  That night we ate in a diner that had been bombed by terrorists – twice.  I crashed onto my pad on the floor at 12:30am.

Monday 15 June   I slept until 7:30am, but by 8:30am I had diarrhea. I stayed behind, close to the toilet.  I typed, cleared my e-mail, sent e-mails back home, napped, read, studied some scripture relevant to where I was, and did a little stretching and exercise.  I also purged my body of all offending material.  I felt much better.

Tuesday 16 June   We traveled quite a bit today.  We visited Masada, where the Jewish zealots committed suicide rather than be captured.  We traveled a bit further and tried the buoyancy of the Dead Sea (incredible).  However, the combination of the high concentration of salts in the water and my over-used orifice (remember yesterday’s problem?) caused some very uncomfortable burning that distracted from the pleasure of the experience.  Oh, did I mention that it was 104oF?  Nearby we stopped at the area where David hid in caves as Saul was chasing him.  There were three pools of cool water, each fed by a waterfall.  A young Israeli woman, with a gun, was there to keep a protective eye on the children playing there.  She had served her mandatory years in the military and was now working for a private security firm.  I went to sleep tonight, my birthday, late and tired.

Wednesday 17 June   We left early, packed for a three-day visit to Eilat, the most southern town in Israel, on the Red Sea.  We passed by some remarkable natural wonders.  We also stopped by the barbed wire at the Egyptian border.  The Egyptian guard yelled “How are you?” from his tower.  I replied in kind.  It reminded me that there are good people on both sides of manmade divisions.  We also stopped at David Ben Gurion’s home on a Negev-desert kibbutz.  We arrived at our home, a youth hostel, before dark.

Thursday 18 June   We were on the beach by 9am to hand out literature about a Christian meeting that Friday night.  (They have the Friday night meeting as an introduction to the Saturday morning worship service.)  We spent the remainder of the day working on some leased property that will be used by the Messianic congregation of Eilat.  Late in the day we went to the Red Sea for some snorkeling in the wonderfully clear, cool, fish-filled water.  It was so refreshing.

Friday 19 June   We were working on the property by 9am.  The leader was so pleased with our progress that he paid for our lunch at a steak house!  It started with a vodka starter, went through an appetizer, meat, sides, and finished with dessert.  I was stuffed and happy.  We went back to work and stopped at 7pm, in time for the service at 7:30pm.  There were about one-hundred people there, and the service was translated into five languages.  Sudan refugees were there, and Chinese believers, who work on cruise ships, commonly attend.  After the service there is a lot of interaction along with free food for everyone.   I really enjoyed my time there.

Saturday 20 June   We were on the road by 6:30am because we were to be in Tel Aviv by 10:30am for that congregation’s worship.  We just made it.  Members in attendance were mainly Russian Christians and Jewish believers.  Service ended by 1:30, and we went out to eat with the pastor (ice cream after!), and then drove to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea near the Gaza Strip.  It was after midnight by the time we drove back to Bersheeva, ate, and started some laundry.

Sunday 21 June   After finishing laundry, repacking for a five-day adventure, eating breakfast, and attending to some personal hygiene duties that were overdue, we were on the road for the Galilee area.  On the way, we stopped at Caesarea, the summer retreat of Herod, where Paul gave his defense to King Agrippa, Bernice, and Herod.  It was an impressive place – not so much for what it is but because of what it was.

We then went to Karmiel where we will serve that congregation for two days.  Karmiel is a planned city surrounded by Arab towns.  It has abundant parks, beautifully unique buildings, and financial assistance to Jewish settlers.  The believers there are planting a new congregation in this town, and I again experienced the stealth practices of being a Jewish believer.  Revealing one’s belief in Jesus as Messiah can cause hardship on the person, family, and the entire congregation.  The ladies on our team stayed overnight with members of the congregation while the men slept on the floor in the church building.  (The guys had AC!)

Monday 22 June   The church building is a remodeled car service station, and it looks beautiful.  I sense that Karmiel is a wealthier city.  Expectations of food, dress, and buildings can exceed middleclass Americans.  We continued remodeling work by drywall repair, window work, painting, and cleaning.  That evening we were taken to an overlook area of the city and watched the sunset over the Mediterranean.  On the way home I learned about the differences between Calvinism and Armenian.  I took some ten question test, and I am decidedly one of the two, but I don’t remember which one.

Tuesday 23 June    We finished our construction work about 2:30pm and then had a meal together with the people of the congregation.  What a wonderful thing to have “family” all over the world.  We went to an operational kibbutz, enjoyed the swimming pool, and learned a lot about how a kibbutz works.  The concept of common ownership is quite literal.  Dirty laundry is dropped off and clean laundry is picked up at a central location.  You do not always get the same clothes back that you take in, just the same size.  Purchases are voted on.  If you want a new toaster, then you take it to the group for a vote on whether you get it.  Children did not sleep in their parents’ home; they stayed in group homes assigned by age.  Meals were in a common dining room.  The arrangement allows everyone to know each other quite well.  We had a picnic lunch where I was able to talk to Rebecca, a daughter of the youth pastor.  The family moved there from Brazil, a country she described as unsafe, and all of them learned Hebrew after they moved.  She said not knowing Hebrew made school pretty difficult – academically and socially.

Wednesday 24 June  We left at 7am and traveled to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee.  We settled into a rent-by-the-day apartment with one bathroom.  I slept on a couch in the living room – not the spot for solitude, peace, and rest.  Quickly we took off to see some of the famous spots in this area:  1) the likely location of the Sermon on the Mount, 2) Capernaum – Simon Peter’s home town and its Synagogue where Jesus surely worshiped, and 3) various overlooks around the Sea of Galilee including one by the Syrian border.  (landmine signs and all)  Back at the apartment, we took some time to rest, read, and talk.  The talk turned to whether babies and mentally handicapped people can go to heaven.  A couple of the young men were firm that those groups were hell-bound.  Grace wasn’t their strength.  It was interesting how some people get all excited about arguing over things that are not our decision.  Tonight we walked and prayed through the neighborhood where we will be distributing literature.

Thursday 25 June   This morning we again walked the neighborhood where we will distribute literature in order to count mailboxes thus allowing us to know the number of handouts to prepare.  After lunch we distributed material and talked to people who were interested in conversation.  I fell asleep when I got back- slept until 7pm.  We went to the city center where we put literature on cars, magnets on posts, and tried conversations with people.  I talked with a Jewish believer from Canada who was looking for a congregation.  He commented, “The Orthodox don’t much like me being Christian.”  I got back to my living room sofa about midnight.

Friday 26 June   We were up at 3:45am.  Yep.  We drove to Hyppos, in the Golan Heights, that had been a town of Decapolis.  Situated on top of a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, it was destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt.  It is currently having an “open excavation” which allows the public access to the site during the process.  As the sun rose, we sat on the foundation of the original temple praying and singing.  Then we strolled the ruins, experiencing the mosaic tile, cisterns, a marble alter, columns standing and fallen, a stone chair, and more.  We had a picnic breakfast then headed back – for a nap!  I awoke for lunch, then wrote in my journal, read, and gave a guy a haircut.  After another awesome meal, we went out for dessert and got back about 1am.

Saturday 27 June   We joined the congregation in Tiberius.  I met Mrs. Leedy, who had hosted the congregation in her home when it first started.  I met Ron & Edi who, each evening before they go to sleep, recall the people they met that day and pray for them.  This is also the congregation where the pastor called Obama a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  After lunch, we went to a busy intersection and handed out literature.  I had a wonderful encounter with an Arab man, but it’s too long to recount.

Sunday 28 June   After door-to-door distribution in a kibbutz, we spent some time on a beach of the Sea of Galilee.  Of all the beaches, the one on the Mediterranean was the best, but the Red Sea by far had the best water – cool and clear.  After we went back to the apartment, we began a discussion on what a disciple of Jesus looks like.  Interesting.  Then we did another walk through the neighborhood where we distributed literature praying for fruit from the effort.

Monday 29 June   The topic for today’s focus meeting was “complaining”.  It really hit me how wrong it is to complain because I don’t have anything to complain about!  We had a chance to talk to a man working as a missionary in Israel.  He shared his vision, his love for serving God, the lack of congregational support, and his sense of being alone.  It broke my heart.  It was a long ride back to Bersheeva, and it gave me time to think about his situation.  I believe thousands of missionaries all over the world feel the same.  We created mounds of dirty clothes and went to sleep.

Tuesday 30 June   We walked into town today.  It was good to just relax and see what it’s like around town.  We also stopped at the place that some consider being the spot of Abraham’s well.  Then we went to the beach to hand out literature.   I decided to try to have conversations rather than just hand out stuff.  It didn’t go that well, I don’t think.  They were much more secular than I thought.  God just isn’t of interest to them.

Wednesday 1 July   This morning was pretty relaxed.  We packed for our trip to Jerusalem, organized group items, and sent some e-mails.  After a light lunch, I went into town again.  This time I had some guys yell “Goy!” – a term that identifies me as a white person.  I just ignored them because nothing good was going to come from walking over to them.  That evening we drove to Tel Aviv for a Bible study.  On the way we stopped at a BBQ like I’ve never seen before – we didn’t use plates, we ate on the table covering!  I loved it.  The Bible study was mostly Russian-speakers who were trying to escape drug addiction and prostitution.  Pretty impressive.

Thursday 2 July   We arrived at our lodging about 2pm.  It is a hostel just inside the Jappa gate on the west side of Jerusalem near Herod’s palace.  We visited the Israel museum, the Holocaust museum, viewed Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and walked a Jewish cemetery.  The Holocaust museum was the single most-moving event on my trip. I was entranced by videos showing the treatment of the Jewish people by Christians through various time periods.  I was shocked and embarrassed and ashamed.  When I asked a museum guide how she was impacted by working there.  “It bothered me at first,” she said, “but unfortunately it doesn’t bother me at all now.”  Then I walked into the room of names.  Volume after volume of papers listing the victims of the Holocaust lined the walls.  It was overwhelming.

Friday 3 July   We walked the streets of the town seeing the excavated, ancient streets, Solomon’s wall, the Western (Wailing) wall, the Garden of Damascus, and the Muslim quarter.  We ate a 4pm lunch at a Lebanese restaurant then wandered in the Jewish quarter.  We went back to the hostel.  Some people went to sleep, but I decided to go see the Western Wall at night.  Awesome.  We ate dinner about 9:30pm then went to bed.

Saturday 4 July   By 9am we were dressed, packed, had breakfast and headed for the airport.  It was unbelievable trying to get out of Israel.  We answered questions and went through an interview with the director of security before we could go to our gate.  It was good to get home.  As soon as I could I went to a pizza place.  It was great!

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My Development Regarding Developing Countries

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 thebarn bb 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 tgrouphe 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.

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Ghana 11.08

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.

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Ghana 11.07

1 November 2007

We were to meet at the Dayton airport at 4:45pm.  By 6:00pm everyone was there and checked in.  The flight itinerary was:  Dayton to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Accra, Ghana.  The flights went very well considering all the possibilities for delays, changes, and missed connections.  I took a long, symbolic drink from a water fountain in Minneapolis because I knew it would be several days before I took a drink out of a water fountain again.  (It is disturbing to think that the water I use to flush my toilet is cleaner than the water millions of people drink.)

2 November 2007

We arrived in Accra this evening.  Two of us had luggage missing.  We looked and looked then completed lost luggage forms, so we were the last ones out of the baggage claim area.  It was dark and we were tired.

  • This offered me a chance to build my faith.  Let me explain.  Over a period of time, I started to see repeatedly in the Bible that peoples’ faith unleashed God’s power.  I felt convicted about the requests that I made of God.  I asked myself, “Do you believe God can do this or that he will do it?”  I decided that faith believes he will, not just that he can.  I now look for opportunities to make requests of faith, and I felt this was an excellent opportunity.  I silently asked God to deliver those lost bags within two days, and I believed he would.  Watch for these bulleted areas to learn more about the luggage and see more prayer stories.

We stopped at a very nice hotel for a bite to eat, and then we drove a few hours to our hotels.  The ladies stayed at one hotel, “The Palace”, and the men stayed at another hotel, “The nonPalace”.  Actually both were fine.  There was tile on the floor, a bed, and sometimes electricity and water.  We got settled and slept the night away.

Saturday 3 November 2007

We all gathered at “The Palace” for breakfast.  Wow!  Fresh fruit, eggs, cereal, coffee, fresh juice, etc.  This is feast was repeated every morning.  Breakfasts were awesome!  Each morning, with just a couple exceptions, we also had “Time With Father”.  Each person would silently read some verses from the Bible and then jot a few notes about what spoke to them from their reading.  When everyone was done, we would take turns sharing with the group what we read and wrote.  I have some good memories of our times sharing around that table.

We then traveled to the village where we would be working on the pole barn.  Several in the village warmly welcomed us and followed us to the construction site.  We spent the day setting the supporting poles, cutting lumber, “treating” lumber, etc.  A crew of Ghanaians had done a great deal of work prior to us coming.  The foreman was glad to have us join in the work.  The heat and humidity (both in the 90’s) worked us over.  We went back to our hotels to clean up before dinner.  The “nonPalace” did not have running water to the shower that evening so we had bucket baths.  This “no flow” situation was the norm for the week, but most of us adjusted.

The evening meals were mostly foods not uncommon to USA tastes.  However, each evening one Ghanaian (pronounced gah-KNEE-ahn) dish was prepared for the curious ones in our group.  As with any food, some of us liked some of the dishes that others did not like.  Overall it was great to try the local cuisine.  It got dark about 6:30pm so we found ourselves ready for bed earlier than usual.  (trivia – Before the invention of the electric light bulb, the average American slept ten hours per night.)

Sunday 4 November

We had another great breakfast, Time With Father, and we were off to church in Accra, the nation’s capital city.  Actually, one member remained behind because he volunteered to preach at the village where we were working on the pole barn.

We arrived at church at 8:45am; it had started at 7:30am.  There were actually two church services.  Both are in English and then translated.  One service was translated into Tre (sounds like “tree”) and the other was translated into Gah (sounds like “gahh”).  English is the official language of the country (and taught in schools), but there are many tribal languages – Tre and Gah being the dominant ones in the area of the church building.  Between the two services each member of the team spoke to a “Sunday School” class.  It was uncomfortable for some of the team members, but they all did great.

Each service had singing, dancing, and hankies waving.  And it was a blast.  One of our team members immediately joined in when the dancing started!  It makes me realize that I worship too restrained and sober.  The two sermons were given by two of our team members. They each did a great job.  Before the second service started, the congregation sang “Happy Birthday” to two of our team members whose birthdays occurred during our time in Ghana.  Out came a cake, and they blew out the candles!

  • A third member of our team also had a birthday while in Ghana, but she was not in the church service.    She became sick during the previous night, and she was resting at the pastor’s house.  The congregation spent several minutes praying for her healing.  By afternoon she was laughing and able to eat some food.  This bolstered my faith.

This particular Sunday was “Founders Sunday”, a time to honor the pastor.  At one point people were allowed to come forward with gifts for the pastor.  Several brought cash, and a few brought wrapped gifts.  My favorite was when a man brought up a goat and tied it up front!   (The pastor loves goat meat.)

Remember that church started at 7:30am?  Well, we were dismissed at 1:45pm.  Tell that to the people who complain about long church services in the USA!  We went to a tourist hangout for lunch, and it was time to sleep by the time we got back to the village.

Monday 5 November

  • I didn’t understand.  I had asked God to deliver the bags in two days, and Sunday night marked the end of the “two days”.  Yet I didn’t see any bags.  I had prayed in faith!  At breakfast I prayed aloud that I didn’t understand why the bags had not arrived, and I asked for an immediate answer to this situation.  As soon as I said “Amen”, someone said that the bags were here.  The luggage had arrived Sunday while we were gone, and no one had told us.

We went back to work on the pole barn.  However, some of the team also taught and played with the children.  Others looked at some of the medical needs and provided as much care as they could.  (We brought a tub of medical supplies.)  Three of us went to the village where a water well would be drilled.  We didn’t think it would be completed by the time we left, but we still wanted to meet the leaders of the village.  What I vividly remember was the look in their eyes.  It was a mix of hope and fear – kind of a worried joy.  They were ready to burst with joy at the thought of fresh water.  Their village was over 120 years old, but in that entire time they always obtained drinking water from creeks and ditches.  During the dry season, the nearest water was seven miles away.  Yet there was the fear that something could prevent the well from becoming a reality.  Many times before they had been promised a well, but the promises were not kept.  In the back of their mind was the fear of another broken promise.

After an exhausting day, we ate another great supper.  Night fell, and we headed to our rooms.  However, some of the men spent some time playing card games: Blink, My Word, and Quitch.  During the week, these games became popular among other team members (especially Blink) and provided an outlet for our more competitive sides.  But, in any case, again it was early to bed.

  • I had some trouble sleeping Monday night.  So I prayed for a team member who was having some trouble seeing that the reason for the trip was greater than building a pole barn.  In fact, on the way home Sunday evening they asked me if there were any more “required social events” during the week.  I said that we would go to the market on Saturday.  They explained that by “required social events” they meant church services.  I prayed sincerely that God would speak to their heart.

Tuesday 6 November

Today was a slow day at the worksite.  The foreman of the Ghanaian work crew seemed reluctant to have us work on our own when it came to the roofing.  The team showed real class.  We were the servants there, not the bosses.  We spent more time than expected sitting/watching and trying to find things to keep us busy.  However, sometimes the hardest service is waiting.

  • At lunch time I tried calling some USA people to give my greetings and pass on prayer requests.  I could have kicked myself that I didn’t take more phone numbers; the only ones I could call were the ones whose phone numbers I knew by memory.  Anyhow, I asked people to pray for clouds in the sky.  The sun was sapping us bad.  We tried to watch out for each other and make sure we took frequent breaks and drank lots of (bottled) water.

Some of the group went to the village where the well was to be dug.  They were going to help the villagers pour a cement slab that would surround the well.  This would allow water to run off and not create a big mud hole around the pump.  They worked until dark, and came back tired and dirty.  However, once again we had no water or electricity, and it made cleaning up less refreshing than desired!  (Two of the men moved to “The Palace” the next day in an effort to find running water.) 

Already, our team members were impressed with the abilities and work ethic of the local people.  Some of our team, me included, were concerned about how certain things could be done.  “How can we get the trusses up?” and “How will the pump be fastened to the concrete?” were a couple questions that haunted some of us.  Well, we learned that this wasn’t the first building or water well these Ghanaians had ever done, and we learned a few things from them!

Wednesday 7 November

  • When we walked up to the job site, I looked above and saw clouds blowing in.  I had to smile and remember the prayers for clouds.  I called the team together and explained that the clouds were complements of God in response to people’s prayers.  In hindsight, I would have asked you to pray for a dense cloud cover!  But we had clouds every day, and every fluffy cloud helped. 

Today was another “not-allowed-to-work” day at the pole barn.  We did what we could around the site, and we spent more time with the children in the village.  I thought I’d show them some soccer skills that I developed in my college days, but something happened.  It seems that after a very short time of running around on the field, most of the oxygen was removed from the air.  Gasping, I went to the sidelines and watched the youngsters.  The body ain’t what it used to be.

We left the job site early today.  That early departure will give us time to clean up and rest a bit before we eat because tonight we travel to another village for an open-air crusade service. 

  • At supper, I stressed to the entire group that it would be great if everyone would go to the crusade.  However, I knew that the heat and work can take a toll.  No one should go if they don’t feel up to it.  I was surprised when the person who had wondered about “required social events” announced that they were going to the crusade. They explained that they came as a servant and that’s what they plan to do – serve.  My surprise was swallowed up by faith.  Good things were happening.  And every member of the team went to the crusade.

We arrived at the crusade site, and I was overwhelmed.  It was packed.  I would guess about 400-500 people were gathered.  It had already started when we arrived.  They were singing and dancing and waving their hankies.  All of us were asked to sit at the front on an elevated platform.  I felt uncomfortable, but I guess it is part of the culture.  Most of the team spoke during the service: a prayer, telling their spiritual story, or giving a sermon.  It was a great experience for all of us.  We returned to our hotels tired but richer.

Thursday 8 November

I went to the village where the well was to be drilled.  Actually, it was drilled but the pump was not yet attached.  It was a dedication of sorts.  Some people from the village gathered to thank us and we thanked them for their kindness and grateful spirit.  We presented some gifts to the chief and elders then planned to return to the pole barn worksite.  But the chief and elders had other ideas.  They wanted to honor two of the team members by making them honorary chiefs!  After more song and dance we finally headed back.

I talked to the pastor about the lack of working opportunities.  He talked with the foreman, and the foreman explained that he didn’t want us to fall and get hurt.  After being assured we would be fine, the foreman allowed some of the team to work on the roof.  (They ended up working until dark.)  The rest of us left early to get ready for the second night of the crusade.  I gave the sermon that night.  It was pretty short, but the pastor was more than able to expand on my few words.

Friday 9 November

Six of us joined the Ghanaian crew to complete the pole barn.  The rest of the team went to the village that had the well drilled.  They wanted to witness the first bowl of water being pumped from the well.  About noon I was starting to wonder what happened to them.  They had been gone several hours.  Upon their return they explained.  When the water began to flow from the pump, the people became so ecstatic that they sang and danced for two hours.  As they danced by the members of our team, they would lean down and use their hankies to wipe the team members’ feet.  It was a time that none of the team will soon forget.

After lunch some of the team hiked up a mountain near the village.  They didn’t make it to the top, but they did get a grand view of the area.  We all packed up, returned to the hotels, cleaned up, and had a great meal.

  • After the meal, we had our “Time With Father”.  As we went around the table, person after person shared how they came intending to bless others but have been blessed so much more than they ever gave.  Some vowed that they would never be the same.  Their words were answers to my prayers that individuals would have personal revivals.

 Two members of the team again went to the crusade, and the rest of us packed and rested.

Saturday 10 November

At breakfast one of the team members who went to the crusade had great news.  In the village where the well was drilled lived a voodoo priest.  He had been around as work was done, and team members had talked with him.  He was also at the crusade Friday night.  At one point he stepped to the front and announced that he had seen many people promise a well for his village.  But this group, a group who worships Jesus as God, actually delivered.  He wanted everyone to know that he wanted to serve this Jesus also, not the spirits of voodoo.  What a great story!

We arrived at the pole barn by 7am for the dedication service.  During the service, the team walked to the meeting “hall” of the village chief.  He was delighted with the pole barn.  In fact, he had given the land to the church for the building of the barn.  He proclaimed that no other God but Jesus would be worshiped in that structure.  An elder sprinkled some powder on my arm as an act of gratitude.  He said that I should return next year to be honored as the “chief of progress”.   I guess I’m going back.

The dedication service was long but enjoyable.  Singing, dancing, prayers, sermons, and a ribbon cutting had the service end two hours later than scheduled.  We had a long, full day ahead so I served as the cowboy trying to herd everyone along.  We loaded up, went to the market for some souvenir shopping, went to “Coco Beach” for some great pizza, an ocean view, and a great shower!  A long, hot ride to the airport preceded some waiting in lines, but we were all boarded as the plane left on time.  If all went well, we would be in Dayton before 4pm Sunday afternoon.

Sunday 11 November

Well, you know how the unexpected can happen.  Dick, one of the team members, became ill in the Amsterdam airport, and he and I spent a few days in the Amsterdam hospital.  Shirley, his wife, arrived Wednesday the 14th before 7am.  (We had been in contact about her arrival so I could book a flight out on the afternoon of her arrival day.)  I left Amsterdam just after 12noon and arrived at my house about 7:30pm – with great memories, a changed heart, new friends, and jet lag.  Life is great.

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Russia 07.05

In February, 2005 I was serving as the adult missions director at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church.  It was an unpaid-servant position.  (Ginghamsburg doesn’t like to use the word “volunteer” because it gives a sense of modest commitment.)  Anyhow, I get an e-mail from someone at the Columbus (Ohio) office of the United Methodist Church asking to discuss an “opportunity” with me.  I have discovered that most unsolicited “opportunities” from people I don’t know end up wanting more time and/or money than I want to give.  But I figured I could listen to this “opportunity” and then politely say that it wasn’t for me.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, but as we e-mailed back and forth trying to set a date and place to meet, we discovered that we knew each other.  We went to the same church as kids (Potsdam Missionary Church).  I knew her as Deanna Stickley, and I didn’t recognize her married name of Dee Stickley-Miner.  (It seems obvious now, but hindsight is 20-20.)  So I was glad I followed through on the meeting.  It would at least be good to catch up.  And catch up we did, but we also talked about the “opportunity”. 

She was leading a team of adults on a trip to Russia.  She wanted this team to be from various churches, positions and backgrounds within the West Ohio District of the United Methodist Church.  The goal was to discover the needs of the twelve United Methodist churches in Russia.  There had already been communication to Dee that four core areas of need are: 1) emotional support for pastors, 2) reaching youth, 3) leadership and 4) education.  The pastors and leaders from each church would meet with us at Samara, Russia to share more specifics.  At this city we would also visit an orphanage (supported in part by United Methodist churches) and attend a United Methodist church.  The trip would be from July 19 to July 29 and cost about $3000.  (A portion of that fee would be used to pay the costs of the Russian pastors and church leaders.)  Dee also asked if I might consider who else from Ginghamsburg could go and represent one of the four core areas.  “So what do you think?” she asked.

I didn’t have an immediate answer, but the “opportunity” really caught my attention.  I asked Dee to give me a few days to consider it.  I consulted with Father and a couple friends and listened for their input.  I decided to go.  I sent my forms and money to Dee.  Several days later I heard that the youth leader from the church where I attend was also planning to go.  It was starting to sound really great.  Then I started getting e-mails from Dee.

The church leadership in Russia wanted us to conduct a week-long workshop while we were there and all the pastors were together.  They wanted us to cover topics relating to the four areas of need that were previously expressed.  I was put on a team of three people: a pastor, the Bishop of the West Ohio Conference and myself.  We were to come up with the “lesson plan” for leadership and present it to the entire group in a few weeks.  The pastor lived an hour away, and the Bishop lived 2 hours away.  This development was unexpected and made me a little nervous.  But we worked out a presentation.  We were ready for the trip.

A couple things continue to haunt my mind and heart from the trip.

First, United Methodist churches in Russia are somewhat like the early churches planted by Paul.

They exist in a country with split loyalties.  Some in early-church times valued what Roman rule provided (stability) just as some in present-day Russia long for communism’s certainties. 

There is only one “true” church.  Judaism was ingrained within the government.  Christianity was a sect.  The Russian Orthodox Church was the only allowed church under communism.  It still considers other church denominations as sects.

They need more than talk.  I asked one of the few male United Methodist church members what it would take to bring more men to worship Jesus.  He answered in one word, “miracles”.  He explained that men need to see the power of God because belief, life-changing belief, is such a new concept.

Congregations need help.  The pastors ache for fellowship, materials, instruction and encouragement.  Just as Paul revisited the churches that he planted, the Russian churches need revisits from established individuals and support from established congregations.  One pastor explained that his salary ($125/week) does not really meet his needs let alone provide funds to create improvement.  Another pastor told of a church in the USA that promised $1500/year.  The money never came.

Believers must truly believe.  Russian followers of Jesus are not always treated fairly, kindly or respectfully.  One pastor shared that a home or church can suddenly be in violation of building codes if the wrong person takes offense to a believer’s faith.  I don’t think most Christians in the USA have experienced real persecution for their faith.  (maybe some verbal harassment)

Second, what should be my response to this situation?

Right now I think my greatest awakening is in the concept of giving.  I give of my time, talent and treasure out of my surplus.  I don’t sacrifice any necessities (food, water, shelter) when I tithe or give.  I believe, now, that I must give sacrificially.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I don’t want that belief to be anesthetized while I listen and consider the right thing to do.  I want it to gnaw at me until I make a step in the right direction.

The Russian Christians that I met were tough, dedicated people.  For example, one of the pastors was unable to attend the meetings so a layperson came as the stand-in.  She brought her teenage daughter.  It was a twenty-hour train ride – one way.  The outdoor temperature was in the 90’s, even hotter in the train car.  This 16 year-old sat through 4 hours of talks each morning, taking notes.  In her broken English she was able to explain that she was focused on how the information could help her reach her friends with the Gospel.

And how do I see myself involved in Russia?  Weren’t the Russian churches the whole point of the trip?  I don’t know about the first question.  Time will tell.  I believe the second question has a “No” answer.  God was the point of the trip.  He may use the trip, the people or anything.  He may use me to aid the Russian churches, and he may use the Russian churches to aid me.  I would like to think it can be both ways.  I am excited to see what God does with me.  If God wills, I will be retired in June, 2006.  Talk about open doors…the options are incredible.  There are more things that I want to do than can be done.  Perhaps Russia is in God’s picture.

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