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Ghana 11.10

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.

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The Pursuit Of His Calling

by Dr. Florence Muindi – a brief excerpt

Cardinal signs of transformational ministry:

  • training trainers – not directly giving services unless it is to demonstrate or break into new areas
  • church-based partnerships at the church level
  • Empowering –  giving only what they need, coming alongside what they have, and taking them to the next level.
  • Building dignity by doing it with them, not for them or even to show them.
  • Bringing deliverance by breaking the bondage through: advocacy, education, skill development, economic empowerment, changed behavior, and spiritual maturity.
  • Planning a phase out strategy from the beginning.
  • Marked by fruit after fruit rather than a one-time harvest.  Planting fruit bearing plants (disciple makers) not just seasonal plants (followers).
  • The community is self-replenishing and not dependant on us, an external source, or technology.
  • It is bathed in prayer, guided of God for his glory.
  • Giving of our lives, not just our service.

How can we tell if we have empowered for transformation?  It is in place when:

  • We can take risks in delegating.  For example, come to the point where we can say to our national partners – these are guests from my main supporting church.  I will leave them with you for two days for you to show them our ministry.
  • When we can take a year of furlough and do not need a replacement, and even if we are going back, we do not plan to go back to the same tasks.
  • When to our surprise we realize that the local ministry has moved to the next level and has forgotten to inform us much less to consult us or ask permission.
  • The systems for accountability are in national’s hands and you are subject to those systems.

We are failing if, after three to five years in the field, we cannot:

  1. comfortably have national teams run the show.
  2. relocate to a new area.
  3. take another role in the organization.
  4. open doors for other s to partner.

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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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