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 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] Pictured to the left are those in our group. It was my pleasure to meet people from all over the globe who were asking the same question as I. “How do you change the world?” This workshop changed my idea of how “helping” should work, and showed me how the world can be changed. I’ll briefly summarize the concept.
Most teams go to a location intending to do something “to” or “for” the local people. I would say most short-term church-organized groups do one of the following 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 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 region. This will allow another team from our church to find another village far from Noka and repeat the process there. Hopefully we can encourage villages all over Ghana to 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. 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 became education of the people of Noka on what 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 my 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 in such a way that it increased 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.” I found myself in a time of rest.
- 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 group.
- The world is changed one person at a time.
In November of 2009, eight of us went to Noka. The project for the trip was to give a physical exam to every child in Noka. (In addition, the nurses trained a few Noka residents to treat basic injuries using the items that would be available to the village after we left.) The exams went well (we stopped counting after 200 children) and the first-aid training showed promise. However, our project was not our purpose.
Taking the information gathered from the physical exams, the nurses on the team determined three health problems that occurred in numerous children. We presented these findings to the village council and proposed possible solutions that they could do with their own resources. The hope was that they would respond positively and accept responsibility for implementing the solutions It went better than I could have imagined.
The meeting was well attended by village leaders as well as village residents. The nurses’ presentation was excellent, and the attendees interest was keen. The village leadership was eager to implement preventative measures and promised, “When you return we will show you healthy children.” The most exciting part of the meeting to me was when a father in the village shared his inability to afford shoes for his children. A village council member proposed a “children’s shoe fund” to help get shoes for children. Then another man said that he didn’t want just talk, and he made the first donation to the fund. Before I understood what was happening, a basket was passed, a treasurer and overseer selected, and the fund was operational! Noka proved itself a village of action.
I returned to Ghana in February, 2010. A conference for people using holistic aid in West African countries was being held in Ghana – about a one-hour drive from Noka. I contacted the leader of the conference, and he believed it would be possible for me to attend the conference and visit Noka. In fact, he wanted to join me in Noka. I jumped at the chance, and I was not disappointed. The conference was interesting, I made some critical contacts, and a coordinator for Ghana joined me in the visit to Noka. He walked and talked with the pastor of the church in Noka while I checked two things that were very important to me, the ground and the water.
Last November’s meeting was under a tree near the school. At that meeting I had squatted down and picked up three pieces of broken glass. I held them up and explained what such objects do to children with bare feet. Now, three months later, I was at the same spot looking at the ground. I looked all around me, but I could not find a piece of broken glass or sharp metal anywhere. The village had been busy, and I was elated!
The water situation was not as encouraging. The pump for the well was broken, and even if the pump worked, the well was almost dry. It was just the beginning of dry season, so in a few weeks village members would be walking to neighboring villages in search of water. By the end of dry season, the people in Noka will be more concerned about getting water of any sort than worrying if it is pure enough to drink. I walked back to the vehicle with mixed emotions.
As we drove away from the village, I asked the coordinator what he thought, and he replied, “I can see this as a developing village.” This could mean that the coordinator would be the supervisor for the development process in the village. I had wanted to work myself out of a job, but things are progressing much faster than I expected. The next step is for some village members to attend a training for Community Health Evangelism, or CHE. In this model, the CHE workers promote four-dimensional health: physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. They give weekly instruction and encouragement to family groups in the village.
In April, I received two e-mails regarding the CHE training. The first was from the pastor who had planted the church in Noka, Apostle Odai. He was impressed and energized by the training. In fact he wanted to bring in the pastors from all the villages where he had planted churches, over 100, for five days of CHE training! In addition, he planned to invite the head pastors from churches in Accra, Ghana’s capital, for a one-day CHE vision workshop. The second e-mail was from, Dayo, the CHE director for all of West Africa. He shared that he and Pastor Odai would be working together to spread CHE throughout Ghana. And he committed to work closely with Noka to assure success.
I returned to Noka in November, 2010. Within hours I was meeting with Rev. Gibson (pastor of the church in Noka), Dai Hwan (in charge of developing a CHE internship facility in Ghana), and Ema (CHE director for Ghana). They presented a schedule for the week that included: visiting two current CHE villages in the region, a meeting of Noka’s council, two community meetings – one in Noka and one in a nearby village that heard what was happening in Noka and wanted to know more, and a talk during the church service in Noka. I was overwhelmed by their preparation and excitement.
You can read my journal elsewhere in this blog [https://davidphipps.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/ghana-11-10/] so let me jump to the end. Both villages held open, honest community meetings. The end result was that they expressed interest in moving toward community self-help. Day-to-day guidance will be done by Rev. Gibson, while Dai Hwan and Ema offer training, advice, and other help on a regular basis. I clearly explained that my role was now to serve them. I would not make decisions or choices for them. Once each year a team from Ginghamsburg would come to serve as Noka desired. They all agreed. I am still shocked by the speed of this process. I can hardly wait for what is next, but it turned out to be the opposite of what I had hoped.
A team from Ginghamsburg returned in November, 2011. We were going to spend our time encouraging and learning from the residents of Noka. The more we knew each other, the better we could help each other. I was immediately impressed with the progress they had made on the construction of a clinic. They had made the bricks by hand and then completed the walls and roof. It was incredible, and I was enthusiastic about what was happening.
The next few days we continued to interact with the people, but we also met a young girl from England. She had come with a short-term team, fell in love with the people and work in Ghana, and she decided to stay an extra two weeks on her own. I listened carefully as she talked about her experiences working with Pastor Odai. At one point I asked her to repeat what she had just said, and she did. I just heard something that changed everything. The people of Noka had not worked on the clinic. It had been done by the short-term team from England, and Pastor Odai had arranged everything.
I kept this to myself until the last day of our trip. I knew that I had to approach Pastor Odai, and I knew this could be a conversation with some tension. I didn’t want the last few days of our visit in Noka to be uncomfortable for either him or me. So, on the ride to the airport to catch our flight home, I told him what I had been told and asked him if it was true. He confirmed that it was.
He explained that CHE didn’t move fast enough for him, and he didn’t believe the people living in the rural villages could manage their own development. I expressed my disappointment and irritation with what happened. By the time we reached the airport, it was clear that CHE would not be the model Pastor Odai promoted or used in Noka or any other rural village. It was also clear that I could not return and support the cycle of dependency that existed. Both of us wished our partnership could continue, but we both knew it could not.
This experience did not change my mind about CHE or my belief in developing people rather than developing real estate. I became very involved in the network of CHE practitioners. My role expanded to include training, creation of publications, and representing the Global CHE Network (GCN) at conferences. At one conference I met Patrick Friday, a representative of the United Methodist’s missions arm – Global Ministries. He was in charge of “In Mission Together”, an initiative of Global Ministries that strives for the same results as CHE. Jumping ahead, I currently work with Global Ministries. I am on “loan” from GCN. I’m finding this much harder work because it involves not just helping people grasp a new idea but requires them to let loose of old ideas. However, the potential payoff can be astounding!