The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sabbatical Gifts, part 3 (and last)

[This is an old Foundation bulletin graphic that seems particularly relevant today]

Life with a Generator
Tonight is our light out night, but different because we have a generator. Its not a large generator, it won’t run the Air Con or even a microwave, but it does keep the food from spoiling in the fridge, and enough lights and fans to make the night pleasant. I am surprised at how much we have come to appreciate the generator, maybe surprised isn’t the right word, embarrassed seems closer to the truth. Not so embarrassed that we’ll not run it, or worse return it. It is nice to have lights and a fan, that and not to lose the fish in the deep freeze.

[here is another picture of our beloved generator]

It’s earlier in the day and Fox and I are bargaining for a taxi to buy gas (or petrol as it is known here) because we know tonight it is light out and we’ll want that generator. The taxi slows, and Fox begins by asking how much to “dis dat place,” the driver says 20. 20 is higher than we are used to paying, and so Fox counters with a ridiculously low price. Let the negotiations begin, which are as much about relationship as they are about price. Finally they settle on 15, and we climb in. Along the way, I’m thirsty, and so I see a lady selling water, and hand her 300 in coins for a sachet. Sachet water is how it is sold on the streets. You’ll see people, usually young girls, walking around with large tubs of these cold packets, shouting “pure water,” except it sounds more like “piere-wa-tear”. The sachets are kept cold by ice, and are very refreshing, all you do is bite the corner off one end and suck the water out. When done, most people just toss the plastic wrapper on the ground, creating a huge litter problem.

[girls selling Pure Water]

On the way back, we take another taxi, but this time there is more traffic, and we climb in before discussing the price. I have one in mind and hope it is the same number as the driver. When we get out, about a half block away from our house, I hand the guy a 20, and he seems pleased. We don’t “drop” at our house, a request made by our guards, as they don’t want taxis to know where the obrunies live (yep, we blend well). I go off to talk to Yeah-Yeah and Fox takes the petrol home. Yeah-Yeah is the Lebanese car mechanic across the street (I’m not kidding, his name really is Yeah-Yeah, except you say the first Yeah, its like you’re clearing your throat). I’m going to see “our” car, as I call it. Since we’re staying another year, and we can’t always depend on our friends to leave the country and us with their vehicle, we’re in the market, and Yeah-Yeah, is our man. He comes highly recommended, and has been rebuilding a Mitsubishi 4WD that is known by another model name in the States. We’ve looked at it several times, and today I test drive it and ask the price. He says “the owner will sell it for no less than 120.”

15 to 20 for a taxi
300 for a sachet of water
120 for a 4WD SUV

Price is a matter of context. When Yeah-Yeah says 120, he means 120 million (120,000,000) cedis, or about $13K. The taxi driver says 15, he means 15 thousand (15,000) cedis, or about $1.63. Only the street vender quotes the actual price, 300 cedis or about 3 cents.

[two million cedis]

So it will cost us 165 to run the generator all night (can you figure out the price by context?) Don’t get me wrong, I like the generator. I like electricity. In fact when we were out at Lake Bosomtwi, where we didn’t have a generator and the power was off as much as it was on, Margaret got us saying the “Thank you Lord for the electricity” prayer, saying “we loooove the light.” By week’s end pretty much everyone was shouting it the moment the lights flickered on. Its true, we do like the light, but what I don’t like is how it separates us. I mean we were clearly separated before, but having lights when many don’t, and spending $18 every fifth night for the fuel to do it, is in comparison, really separates us. We’ll spend in fuel as much as much as our guards will make in a month.

Ghana @ 50

[Steve & Suzanne in Anniversary Cloth]

Earlier this month Ghana celebrated its Independence Day, with an amazing celebration. It was weird, because Independence Day has always been July 4th, but here it is 6 March, as they say putting the date before the month. “Happy Birthday,” Emmanuel says as we step out, “but to me,” he adds. “Happy Birthday Ghana.” I have never seen him, nor so many Ghanaian’s so happy, so excited, so hopeful.

[Family at Independence Square]

At Independence Square Ghanaians kept coming up to us to either have our picture made with them (an interesting roll reversal since it is usually me taking their picture) or to express their gratitude at us being there to celebrate with them. Everybody is smiling, and for today, at least, the country is united and whatever suffering they have had in the past, or are experiencing, presently it is forgotten. Ghana is 50. About the celebration itself, the experiences that Tatum and Margaret write about mirrors ours so closely that I’m almost sure we had it together, yet I’m not in their pictures, nor they in mine.

So it is ironic that Ghana’s Independence Day was in the same week it was announced that I would not be returning to Foundation as pastor. In many ways that bond between pastor and church had been dissolving since well before we left for Ghana, but hearing the words, or seeing them in the eNews that week, was still a shock, so final. I’m not sure if Foundation outgrew its second pastor, or its second pastor realized that this church, which had been such a wonderful fit for so many years, had begun to chafe and pinch. Like a pair of ill fitting old shoes, we could dance, but not dance well together, and certainly not without hurting someone or stepping on toes. Part of the pain is remembering how great it had been, the rest was in what it had become. It was time to give these old shoes a rest, or send them off to be repaired.

[this guy comes by our house to shine shoes, and repair them]

There is an old joke about Methodist pastors being like an old pair of shoes: though the soul may wear out, the tongue is the last thing to go, meaning they still love to preach. When we left, I thought this year would be more of a trial separation, a time for me to rest, read, and explore a different culture and to come back tan, rested and ready. A time for Foundation to be who it would become without being under the influence of Pastor Steve. But the longer we were away, the more I realized the damage prolonged stress had done to my soul, and now healed, I just knew I couldn’t go back.

[a few of the kids in Youth Group]

Of course my kids took it hard, Foundation had essentially been the only church they ever knew until moving to Ghana, but here they found the church youth group they had always longed for. It was large and already working well, and yet there was space for them to plug in, and their dad wasn’t the pastor. They knew we were applying to stay another year, and had even been a part of the decision making process, but the consequence of not returning to Foundation had not been considered.

[Akasombo Dam]

The reason they tell us that Ghana is on the load shedding exercise of light out every fifth night is the region is in a severe drought, and water levels at Lake Volta have fallen below its minimum. If the turbines run at full capacity now, they will burn out, there is not enough water behind the dam. I know this feeling, that last year I was trying to run at full capacity, and there wasn’t enough to sustain that effort. Its not that I burned out, as much as I, as my sister Beth puts it, got crispy around the edges. Call it what you will but it isn’t that different than an emotional light-out, or load shedding of the soul, and what I needed was a spiritual generator.

This isn’t how I thought it would all end at Foundation. I thought we would retire at that church after a long and successful practice of ministry. Now that we’re not, there is a part of me that longs for it to end well, to say a “good” good-bye. I hear how other missionaries have left their churches, and I think I would have liked to do that, to receive Foundation’s blessing before we left, instead of feeling like we snuck out. You may remember I don’t like to say good-byes, but this time it won’t be a “I’ll see you later,” at least as your pastor. So I don’t know what to call it or what to say.

Prologue: this is hopefully my last entry on this particular subject. As you who have stayed with the blog, and particularly the Sabbatical Gifts series know, this decision been a soul searching experience, and writing about it has helped me process. Thanks for staying with me. Peace, Steven.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sabbatical Gifts, part 2

There is an Akan Proverb that talks about two small birds, Afofonoma and Nkwanoma, and the literal meaning of the proverb is “It is Afofonama which understands the language of Nkwanoma.”

Background: It is the traditional farming practice of the Akan to abandon their old and unproductive farms for several years so that the land can rest and become overgrow with weeds. This roughly corresponds to the Biblical practice[1] of letting the land lie fallow every seventh year. Because the soil here is exhausted by year round farming, the Akan have learned to leave it abandoned for several years in the hope that it will become fertile again. Their name for this abandoned farm is Mfua. When a farm becomes mfua, a small bird called Afofonama will come to live in it. Now next to the farm is the forest, and in the forest there is a small mysterious bird called Nkwanoma, who is hard to understand.

Over time, Afofonama learns this forest bird (Nkwanoma) because he lives next to the forest in the abandoned farm. So the proverb says “It is Afofonama which understands the language of Nkwanoma.” Afofonama learns to understand Nkwanoma because they share a common border, and the meaning is: People who understand each other very well must have similar habitats.

This is something we struggle with here in Ghana, having similar enough habitats with our Ghanaian friends to begin to understand them. For example, last Friday Vida came over to teach me how to make Groundnut Stew. Now, I already know how to make a Groundnut Stew, but no self respecting Ghanaian would call it that. In fact I think Emmanuel and the guards call it Obrunie Stew, and so last Friday Emmanuel asked Vida to please come over and teach Mr. Steve how to cook Ghanaian properly. (I’ve included this new recipe at the end of this post)

Cooking is for Suzanne and I, a social activity. Usually when we invite people over for dinner, dinner is about half cooked and so our friends are invited to help us finish cooking the meal. It’s a time of social interaction, and their helping to cook adds something special to the meal. It is our “shared activity,” that draws us closer. When I was a pastor, I used to counsel the newly engaged and even long-time marrieds that there were three components to a successful long term marriage:
1) Eat dinner together every night around a table (with the TV off)
2) Find a shared activity and make time to do it together.
3) Develop mutual mutual admiration to how your mate spends their day.

For us, that shared activity is cooking, or travel. Since kids came along (16 years ago) we have not had that much time for travel and so that leaves cooking as the one thing we do together and really enjoy. However last week, we did travel to the Volta Region, while Sarah, our wonderful friend, former houseguest and Fulbright daughter came to stay with the kids.

I can’t remember the last time that Suzanne and I spend any significant time away from the kids together. It might have been Seattle, a week-end from when we still lived in Temple and that was two houses and three moves ago. We used to travel well, and I wondered, would the same magic be there? It was!
[picture of Suzanne, Grace & Sarah]

Volta Region is the former German Togoland colony that was given to Britain after the First World War. The capital of the region is Ho, a busy and well organized town that even my Dad remembers as being pleasant, 40 years ago. It clean, and the people are friendly, and it hasn’t fallen to the poverty and hassle of a town that caters to tourists. Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t pay the obrunie price, or have to bargain hard, it just meant that we didn’t see so many desperate people.

We stayed in a “moderate,” hotel, at least according to the bible on Ghana, called The Bradt Guide. When we first got to Ghana, we only stayed at the Upscale hotels, but the longer we’re here, the lower our standards are, and we can’t see that much difference between moderate and upscale (expect the price). This hotel, the Freedom Hotel, had the largest shower we’ve ever seen, yet there wasn’t enough water pressure to do more than wet the water controls, so it was a bit of a mystery why it was so large.

[picture of Suzanne standing in the really big shower]

Volta region is largely populated by the Ewe people group, so instead of hearing the cheers of children shout obrunie, obrunie as we drove by, it was yea-vu, yea-vu which we later learned meant obrunie, but in their local language. Like the Asante (the largest people group in Ghana), the Ewa are skilled cloth craftsmen. In fact, as we watched the costal planes give way to the “mountains” of Ghana, we also see the people wear more and more of the local fabrics (batik and tie & dye) and less and less brouni uawa (used or dead whiteman’s clothing).

We went to the town of Tafi Abuipe we were given a tour of the Kente Weavers by two local high school boys and weavers called Wisdom and Ekker. In Accra, we understand that most of the Kente is mass produced, but here in Tafi Abuipe, there are maybe 100 local masters, who each have their own school to both teach and produce Kente.

It was a wonderful day we spent driving around, letting the culture and people direct us. Our goal was to begin the day by going to a nearby falls, but after we missed the turn off, and then gave a ride to a Ghanaian lady with a large load, we got directions to the Kente weavers. Well, sort of. Getting directions in Ghana won’t actually get you where you want to go. it will just get you to the next place where you can ask another person. For example, it was only after we had picked up the this first lady that we realized we had completely missed the turn off, and so it was decided to try to visit the town of Tafi Abuipe, to see the Kente weavers. But she wouldn’t give us directions to that town, she would only give us directions to the next town, where we could stop as ask someone. That is just the way directions are given here, just go to this next town and ask someone there where to go from there.

Kente weaving in Tafi Abuipe is the product of a 15 year old NGO, or Non Governmental Organization. NGOs are big here. I’m guessing there are 100s of 1000s of them all over Ghana, providing much aid and support to Ghana. This one in Tafi Abuipe brought in or formalized Kente weaving so that obrunies, or should I way, yea-vus could understand it. It one is well run. We pulled up, parked under a tree and out comes Wisdom and Ekkers who ask “Do we want a see the Kente weavers?” Sure, we said not really knowing what to expect.

The tour begins by showing us where we will end, the Kente Shop, but we don’t go inside, instead we go from house to house to see the different masters and their pupils learning learning the art of weaving. After a 30 minutes, the certain patterns begin to emerge to the eye. These are the traditional patterns that we will see for sale later, mostly being woven by young boys. Their speed is amazing, and it makes a rhythmic clicking sound from the working of the four foot peddles, the shuttles going back and forth. As the tour continues, we seem to pick up more guides. We even see a new development, a school of weavers taught by a woman, who has young girls in her school of weaving. This school is set apart from the men and boys schools, and so I get the feeling this was a bit controversial at the time, but is now acceptable. When we have seen enough, they take us back to the Kente shop where we are presented a rate sheet for the tour we have just taken. We see much cloth for sale. They also offer home stays, weaving classes (for obrunies), dinner, traditional dancing and story telling. This is the organization that the NGO has brought to the village. It makes it accessible to us, and we like the fact that the money we spend stays here, and goes to those who weave the cloth. We leave understanding a bit more about their lives, and the story of how each cloth is made. I buy two long strips, or male strips, to use as stoles, when I go back to pastoring. Suzanne buys a couple of woman’s strips, which are shorter.

This purchase of two long strips of Kente cloth was a big deal for me, that I was thinking about pastoring again and picking up supplies to do it. When we came to Ghana, I didn’t even bring a stole, or book of Worship. I did bring a clerical color, but brought the wrong one, the too small one. As I think about it, maybe that wasn’t completely accidental. Maybe it was a metaphor for what my practice of ministry had been. Only now am I realizing how small, and how constricting my conception of what ministry is, was.

On our way back to Accra I receive a text message from one of the two pastors of Asbury-Dunwell Church, who wants to meet with me. I am figuring we will talk about the web page, but he just wants to meet me and talk. After an hour or so he asks if I would like to help with the counseling. I have to laugh at God, at putting me in this church, and them asking me to do the one thing I felt least qualified to do. Pastoral Counseling. I wish I had thought to make that same request of the various pastors who passed through Foundation over the years. I wonder about the cross cultural mix, and the pastor says it would be great to have someone here to help with the obrunies, “you understand them.” Oh, I thought, so it works both ways. You feel at much at a loss as I do, reaching across the cultural divide. I think that is what we love about Asbury-Dunwell Church so much, it that it is a church that seeks to do what the small bird Afofonama seeks to do, to understand the language of Nkwanoma, to be the people who seek understand each other well by creating similar habitats of faith.

As I think about counseling later this week, and the Ghanaian way of giving directions. We in the west will want to give you the complete route, even though we know you’ll mostly likely get lost and abandoned these directions before you ever get where you’re going. We know that and still insist in giving them that way. What if the goal of spiritual counseling was to just get to the next juncture? There you could ask the next local person, who knew that area better. What if the spiritual life wasn’t about getting there, as much as it was about getting closer to it, getting closer to ‘dis ‘dat place.

So in the spirit of getting closer to ‘dis ‘dat place, here is a more authentic recipe for Groundnut Stew:

Vida’s Groundnut Stew

In some ways the cooking of Groundnut Stew is a metaphor for life itself in Ghana. You can use all the same ingredients but until someone teaches you how to really combine them, life will never be authentic. Even this recipe isn’t quite authentic because it is missing the small smoked fish that we Buchele-obrunies have not come to appreciate.

Ingredients List
5 Garden Eggs (Garden Eggs are a type of locally grown white egg plant,
3 onions
10 small hot peppers
3 whole fresh tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. rosemary
2 whole chickens (cut up into pieces)
2 cups raw, unsalted, groundnut paste (peanut butter)
2 small tins of tomato paste

1 kg (or two pounds) white fragrant rice (from Thailand)

Wash and slice lengthwise the garden eggs, and remove the stem from the hot peppers. Place in a pot and cover well with water and bring to a boil.

In a large pot, combine chicken, 2 diced onions, crushed garlic and 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir until chicken is covered, and then add enough water so that there is ½ inch of water, and place on the fire to steam/cook. Stir often to prevent sticking.

While chicken is steaming, remove boiled garden eggs and hot peppers, and blend them together with about half the water in a food processor or blender until smooth. Reserve the rest of the garden egg pepper water for later. Blend until smooth then strain to remove the seeds. Dispose of seeds.

Add one tin of tomato paste to the steaming chicken and stir.

Add the blended, strained garden eggs and pepper to the chicken and add enough water to cover chicken, bring to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of rosemary. Then add whole 3 whole fresh tomatoes, and one whole onion.

While chicken is cooking, mix ½ can of tomato paste with the reserved garden egg pepper water. In another bowl place two cups of unsalted groundnut paste and slowly add the tomato paste-garden egg-pepper water. Add a little water, mix until smooth, repeat until very smooth. Then slowly add 4 more cups of water (or more) and mix until smooth and fluid. Though it may be tempting to skip this stage or rush through it, the smoothness of the soup ultimately depends on. Vida’s stew was silky and smooth because she spent much time blending.

Pour into boiling chicken, and remove the whole tomatoes and whole onion.

Blend the now boiled whole tomato and onion until smooth, add broth to the blender and the rest of the tomato paste and blend until smooth. Add to boiling chicken.

Bring to boil and then turn flame down to simmer until a dark oil begins to form.

Omo Tuo (sticky rice balls)

While stew is simmering, cook rice in a large pot. Cook until mushy-soft and then mush the rice against the side of the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Mush until cooked rice grains appear to be broken. Dribble a small amount of water in a small bowl with tall sides and swish around to cover. Using a large spoon or ladle, separate a large dollop of rice (1 to 1½ cups) and place in the wet bowl. Swish the rice around being careful not to touch (it is very hot) and keep turning it and swishing it until it forms a round ball that is a little larger than a tennis ball. Place rice balls in a pot, or cooler to keep hot.

Place one rice ball in the bowl and add groundnut stew to ¾ of the height of the rice ball being careful not to pour stew over rice ball.

[1] For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat (Ex23:11)

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sabbatical Gifts, part 1

As I have now finished the seventh month of my Sabbatical, taken after seven years in ministry in the forty-seventh year of my life in the two thousand and seventh year of our Lord, I thought it would be good to reflect on the sevens. The idea came from a Leadership Journal article from last spring entitled “Sabbatical Gifts,” where Nancy Beach reflects on what she learned from her sabbatical.

I like the way that Ms. Beach talks about her sabbatical, about holding on to the varied pieces of her life as loosely as she could, and letting God rearrange them. As I hold on the varied pieces of my life as loosely as I can, I wait, wondering how they will fit together to form the new puzzle called ministry. All I know is that it ca not look like the one before.

In a final email to the church I wrote:

I answered the call to ministry because I wanted to help people live more spiritual lives. Iwanted to help solve problems, and hoped they could be used to bring people closer to God. I believe when we accept what God has to offer, we can live more fulfilling and meaningful lives. And I wanted to worship in new and ancient ways that could help a congregation grow to new levels of spiritual fulfillment.

This seemed to me a logical place to start, to reexamine my call, why I answered it. I wrestled with questions, like: Who am I? or perhaps “Who had I become?” or maybe even: Who am I apart from what I do, or the Church I serve.

For the first four months I focused on the question: “Who am I apart from the church I served, “ and exercised a self-imposed worship leadership exile here. I did not involve myself in the planning or production of any worship experience. This meant that even though the need was great, I would not involve myself in preaching, teaching or a music team. I would go to worship with the expectation of meeting God.
[I took this picture at Terranova, an emergent worship service in Georgetown when a group of us went to explore what that type of worship service might mean for us]

I thought this would be difficult, as I was so ingrained in the week to week ritual (or routine) of the church. Instead, I discovered a lost joy I had not been able to do in over seven years, sit with my family in worship. Then afterwards, as we left right after church was over, listened to their thoughts about the sermon, or the music, or whatever.

This abstinence from worship leadership was, for me, an act of remembering, remembered how much I loved to worship God, and how wonderful it was to just be there to seek the presence of God. It didn’t have to be the mountain top worship experiences with great preaching and awesome music that I would find at a pastor’s conference—and often it wasn’t—but still God showed up. I didn’t have to think five minutes ahead, or problem solve when there were technical problems with the service. Sound system acting up…not my problem; preacher not show up…not my problem; music team singing flat…not my problem; not enough chairs…not my problem, OK, I could help set up chairs but troublesome people…really not my problem.

I wondered: “Who was I apart from the church I served?” I learned I was a person who still deeply loved God, and especially loved to worship God. I know pastors who, when they are not in charge, will worship at Bedside Baptist, when Reverend Sheets is preaching, but I learned that wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my family. In a new town, Church again became the center of our lives, and we loved it. Around the end of the fourth month I was asked to serve on a music team. Being the new guy, I had no influence on the selection or the style of the music. It was weird for me to be so underutilized in this way. I did this a few times until it began to interfere with my family life, or I should say the commitment to be great wasn’t there, and the trade off between practice time and family time was not worth it. Good enough wasn’t a good enough reason for me to miss out on family time.

Next I taught the Sunday School class nobody wanted to teach, in part to pay off a debt of not being able to teach for several years. I taught the 10 & 11 year olds for a month, and found it to be a fascinating, frustrating and immensely rich cross-cultural experience. After my month, I returned to worship, but found that something had changed, my family wanted to worship with me sitting with them. In that church, as many that we have attended here, children’s Sunday school meets during the service, so the kids miss much of worship, and those who teach, miss sitting with there families. Its what my family had been doing for the past seven years, and how could I ask them to do it again.

About this same time, I received an offer from another church, to join their preaching rotation. It came after a first Sunday when I was unexpectedly asked to serve communion. The pastor had just asked God to bless these “gifts of bread and wine and make them be for us the body and blood of Christ” when he said, “Would all ordained ministers of the gospel come forward to serve?” I didn’t move, nobody knew I was ordained. Suddenly Fox leans over and looks at me in his seat and says, like only a teenage boy can say, “Dad,” with that sort of mix of impatient and dreadfulness, and then motions with his head for me to move. I stand and go forward and they gave me a tray and I say a part of the liturgy I had not said in five months, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

[Margaret took this, I'm working in the pharmacy, not for myself!]

From then on, as I prepared a sermon about every six weeks or so, I wondered if I would go back to being the same pre-sermon Steve, the one who was never really fully present to the family until after the sermon was tucked in. Some sermons I wrote, others I dusted off and changed the cultural context, but the surprising thing to me was, when I was recycling a sermon, how much of them my kids remembered. After one sermon Anna said:

“Dad, you didn’t tell the story about…, it was such a great story!” and I was shocked, not that she remembered it, but how well she remembered it from 2004. It seemed to me that the family was OK with me preaching, so I continued.

In the spring I had the opportunity to serve on a short term medical mission team. My friend Andrew had invited me as I think he might have invited many, I just happened to say yes. When we talked about the trip, it seemed that being the chaplain and worship guy would suit the mission well. Already I had been wondering about what was next for me and my family? Are we being called to be missionaries?

I have watched how well my kids have adjusted to life here, and thrived. I’ve watched Suzanne get excited about her roll at Ashesi. She says, “I think I’m called to do more than teach two classes and live a cush life.” One day she comes home and says, “If I do nothing else in our whole time here, I think I made a difference in one woman’s life.” This woman had come from a village far away and this was maybe the first time she had been on a computer. She just sat there, staring at the monitor. “Can I help you?” Suzanne asked. Suzanne volunteers in the first year seminar computer lab. Teaching Computer Science to first years is perhaps her greatest gift. Often this class is taught by adjuncts, it is an introductory class, and thought to be below tenured faculty. But Suzanne loves it. I think she sees her roll as the Computer Sciences Evangelist for young women, and that day when the young woman was just sitting there not knowing what to do, Suzanne stepped in.

“I’m okay,” the woman says. In Ghana, okay can have so many meanings. For example, when backing up a car, when the guard directing you says “Its okay, its okay” without really any urgency to his voice, he is really saying STOP NOW, but you wouldn’t know that until you back up into something as I did. If you’re serving someone food, and they say, “its okay,” but with a rather dower face (like we in the west would interpret them saying I want more), but they are really saying, that’s enough. In this case, when the young woman is saying I’m okay, she is really saying “I don’t want to ask for help” and intuitively Suzanne knows this.

“Show me where are you stuck?” Suzanne says. A command is different.
“It says download, and I don’t know what that means.” She is about to cry, she is so embarrassed.
“Oh, let me show you…” and in a few clicks she as the file open.
“Do you know what to do next?”
“No,” she says, almost tearfully. Suzanne explains very gently that this is an spread sheet shows her how to edit it, and where the help button is. The light returns to her eyes, she starts getting it, and within 30 minutes the young woman has completed the assignment, well ahead of many of the more computer experienced students.
“I think she is going to be a great computer scientist” Suzanne says, “and I did that!”

At the Lake, where I’m serving as the mission team chaplain, I have time to think about all these things at night. It is a remote place, where Ju and Andrew are beginning the life most people think of when they think of missionaries. There is little cell phone coverage, in fact there is only a three meter square spot half way up the hill that gets any reception, and near that spot happens to be a thorny tree, where, people can hang their cell phones. Usually, there is not enough signal to actually talk, just enough to send and receive text messages, IF you have an old phone. Margaret had the only one old phone on the team, so at night after worship, I would take my turn at pulling the SIM card out of my phone and putting it in Margaret’s to send and receive text messages to Suzanne.

[cell phone tree]

It was good to be involved in worship again. It wasn’t like this is the only way I could worship God, or even my preferred way to, as much as it was interesting to craft worship experiences that would help people process the day’s events and connect with God. I’m not sure everyone saw it that way, or what we did in the evenings as worship, sometimes they shifted into problem solving mode. Perhaps I could have been more gentle in shifting the focus back to worship. Sometimes people got distracted, we from the west are so used to doing many things at once, and in worship, God just wants us to be, to slow down and enter His presence. You can’t enter God’s presence quickly, it takes time, and I wondered sometimes out there, what the hurry was. Ghanaians have more of a Godly understanding of time that we from the west do, especially in how it relates to worship.

For me personally, it was fun to use those pastor gifts again. It got me thinking what would it be like to live out here, beyond cell phones, internet, paved roads, stores, or public transit. Living in a place that is two hours away from a newspaper. What would it be like for my family? Where would my kids school, and what about Suzanne? What would I do out here, how could I contribute to God’s kingdom? By week’s end I understood that while I yearned for such a setting, I don’t think it is my calling right now, at least in this season of life. So what’s next?

[Steve at Film night praying]

It wasn’t that I was so unhappy in the states, or unfulfilled, it just came at such a high price, and here I have had time to distance myself from it all, and wonder, at what cost? Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Leaving Church, observes how pastoring cut into her soul. She writes: “I needed the soul’s wisdom to do my work. I needed its compassion. But I had too often failed to set it loose in its own pasture at night, where it could kick its heels and roll in the dirt. I had kept my soul so hitched to the plow that it stood between the traces even after the harness was off, oiled, and hung on the wall.”[1]

She writes about faking it, but doesn’t use that word, saying “I could produce kindness when all I felt was fatigue.” [2] I wasn’t that good, and the people of the church knew it. They could see when I was tired, or bored, or just wanting out. I just didn’t realize I had a choice. I was called to the church, it was doing great, and only a fool would walk away from it all. As youngest children in our families, Suzanne and I are not used to being given a choice. We feel—at least I do—that often life’s decisions choose us and we just go along for the ride. So here we are facing a decision, one that is really ours to make. Resume our old lives, or continue the new ones?

While not making a final decision (resume or continue), we have had to make some choices, and in particular one that involves Foundation United Methodist Church at Lakewood. I have decided not to return as pastor in order that we might pursue the possibility of extending our stay in Ghana. Closing one door to leave another open. We don’t know if the Fulbright has been extended, but the possibility looks good. I’ll ask that you pray for us, as we pray for you Foundation, and for all the transitions that are beyond the horizon.

I want to personally thank Russell Fletcher, who has been so faithful in his service to Foundation at its interim pastor. Thanks for taking care of the church, our house, feeding our cats, and tending to this flock you have been called to shepherd. You and Dianne have been such a blessing to both Suzanne and I and I hope that this side of paradise, we’ll have the opportunity to fellowship again. God bless you and your ministry.

[I love this picture, for it shows the great hope of the church]

Lastly I want to thank the people of Foundation Church for allowing me to be your pastor those first seven years out of seminary. You taught me much and I will miss worshipping with you, and being your pastor. Like a first love, you will always have a special place in my heart.

[1] BBTaylor, Leaving Church, p147
[2] BBTaylor, Leaving Church, p147

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Adzo and Nii’s Wedding (by Suzanne)

[Mr and Mrs Nii Ashie]

We were blessed to have been invited to some friends’ wedding this past week. Adzo is the Dean of Students at Ashesi, and her fiancé Nii was just her boyfriend (of 2 years) when we first arrived. They told us around Christmastime that they would be married in March. Because they wanted to be married out at a resort at near Lake Volta, and because of Ghana’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the only date available that would work for their schedule was Thursday, March 1. At first I was not sure I could take off work to attend, but as it got closer I realized that I would only miss one class (Discrete Structures) and I could assign them reading and work that was tangential to the material we were covering in class, and with midterms approaching I think they were happy for the “day off”. And I was so excited for their wedding! I decided to have a Ghanaian styled “Kaba and Slit” (fitted two-piece dress) made for the wedding, which added to the anticipation.

[Volta River with dock]
[Steve and Suzanne at wedding]

Adzo and Nii are just the nicest couple. Both are absolutely sweet, wonderful people. We have really enjoyed getting to know them both, and felt quite honored to be invited to their wedding. Some weddings you attend you think, “I hope they make it” and some you just have no doubt. Adzo and Nii definitely fall into the latter category.

We were going with some colleagues from Ashesi (Aelaf, Matt, Amelia) – and since we have the Nissan Patrol back for a few weeks, we offered to drive. Unfortunately, Aelaf remembered at the last minute that he had an Admissions interview that morning, so we left later than we all had hoped and a bit later than we were comfortable with. But, I wasn’t too stressed, after all, this is Ghana, where an event schedule for 1pm is likely to begin around 1:30-2:00, Then again, Adzo is pretty Americanized (she went to University and Graduate School and also worked for awhile in the States) so it wasn’t clear exactly when it would begin. Steve drove expertly but aggressively, in true Ghanaian fashion, and got us there safely and quickly from Accra. Luckily, it did start on “Ghanaian time” since we didn’t pull into the parking lot until a few minutes past one. Whew. Although I’m sure Adzo and Nii were ready at 1:00, you just can’t change a whole culture and 2 families and friends just like that. Both Matt and Steve and I shared stories of completely missing an American wedding by misjudging time and distance and arriving a few minutes late.

[Ashesi colleagues at wedding]

Steve here: We, along with most Ghanaians, laugh at ourselves about when things start here, often calling it African time, or Ghana time, but really a concept of time determining when an event starts is meaningless here. It starts when it starts, and I’m not really sure what the tipping point is. All I know is that there seems to be a cultural thing we don’t get about when things start. An invitation may say “1pm prompt” and if you arrive at 1pm, you’ll be the first, and feel a bit awkward. We Westerners are so used to events being ruled by time, and it just doesn’t work that way here. Events are people driven, and I think they understand it better, that time measurement was invented to serve people, and not the other way around.

The wedding was outdoors in a lovely setting, on the Volta River just down from the dam that supplies Ghana’s electricity (or, that doesn’t supply all of Ghana’s electricity needs). The wedding was small and intimate, less than 100 in attendance. The guests were seated under a white tent, and the bridesmaids (her niece and two sisters) and then Adzo and her father processed down the red carpet down the middle of the guests to meet Nii and the groomsmen and the presiding pastor under the tree facing the river. Adzo was stunning, and as Adzo remarked, Nii was “dashing”. Both wore Western-styled wedding dress with accents of kente cloth that was beautiful and yet simple. Very stylish and classy.

[Adzo walking down the aisle]
[Nii waiting for Adzo]
[Adzo and Nii at altar]
[The Kiss]

The wedding proceeded much like a Western wedding with some songs, some preaching, vows (the bride and groom made their own remarks to each other, in addition to the traditional vows) prayers, and finally the kiss and pronouncement. Afterward were photos which were very efficiently done – the order of the photos (including one of Adzo and Nii with Ashesi Colleagues!) were listed in the programme and were done very quickly and orderly – an announcer told who was up next and each took maybe 30 seconds. Nice – American wedding planners could take some lessons there. So, in just a few minutes Adzo and Nii and the head table joined the tables of guests in the beautiful setting of the Volta River for the reception. They cut the cake and did toasts first, and then friends and family gave their wishes to the couple using the microphone, and then dinner was served, followed by dancing.

[Mr and Mrs Ashie on the way to photos]

I must say that it was HOT. At one point Patrick found a thermometer under the shelter where our table was and saw it was 98 degrees in the shade (Steve and I had been in the sun for about ½ the wedding, as the sun had moved). This was our first trip to the Lake Volta area, but they told us that people always think it will be cooler there, nearer the water (I also thought it would be, or at least not hotter), but it’s protected in a small valley with no wind and the sun shining off the water, so it in fact is hotter than Accra. Thankfully, a short thunderstorm came through and cooled it off considerably. We all saw the storm coming, and so we got to shelter (the head table was originally under a tree, but they got them moved under a shelter before the storm hit) – it rained quite heavily for a short time, but none of us minded – the coolness was welcomed.

[Rain at the wedding]
[Reception buffet]

Afterward it cleared up again quickly and it was time for dinner – a wonderful buffet spread of salad, goat soup, grilled fish, stewed beef, deep fried chicken, several kinds of rice, and gari gari (shaved cassava) – it was all wonderful. After dinner was dancing to a DJ – I was nervous at first to get out there dancing, Steve and I being 2 of 3 white people there and 2 of 6 Americans that I knew of – so, I guess I can say this without stereotyping all white people, but, at least I don’t have the rhythm Ghanaians do! But, I’m getting there and we had a great time dancing. We did throw in one “swing” at one point which was warmly received by our surrounding revelers. Steve remarked that a really nice thing about Adzo and Nii’s wedding was that we didn’t feel singled out as different, which often happens at, say, church services in which we are the only white people. We were welcomed warmly as just another set of Nii and Adzo’s friends, which was very nice.

[Adzo at the reception (with Patrick in the background)]

Alas, after too short a time, it was time to go and let Adzo and Nii enjoy the beginning of their honeymoon in the same lovely setting we’d enjoyed all afternoon. We’d been worrying them for some weeks, after telling them of American wedding traditions of “messing with” the newlyweds – their car, their hotel room if one could gain access to it, etc. As we were leaving we told them it only took a 20,000 cedis dash to gain access to their room. Adzo was pretty sure we were joking (we were) but we enjoyed leaving them with at least that little concern over American traditions.

[Adzo and Nii at reception]
[Suzanne at dusk at Volta River]
[Steve at dusk at Volta River]