The Buchele Adventure

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Update

We had a wonderful Christmas Day, that actually began the night before at a Christmas Eve Service at Asbury-Dunwell Church, where I am serving. About 10 days earlier, I was talking to a friend (who doesn't update her blog much anymore) and she was lamenting that her ministry to singles didn't have a way to connect Christmas to Christ, and longed for a Christmas Eve service. I too had been missing it, all the way from last year. While Christmas is a big deal in the Ghanaian culture, not so in the church. I didn't hear a single Christmas message preached, or sing carols as part of a regular church service, with the exception of the Elim Youth Sunday, which was fantastic and all about Christ. That's not fair, I hear from our good Methodist friends that they did sing carols, but did so the British way. Read: different melodies or words. For example singing "Angels from the realms of Glory," but to the tune of "Angels we have heard on High."

Now here is the strange part – we already do that when we are in the car and bored with singing them the "normal" way . My lastborn, Anna, is a master of it, like singing "We Three Kings" to the tune of "Silent Night," or Jingle Bells to Silent Night. Now imagine a whole church doing it…weird, and fun.

So about ten days before Christmas, I ask the Elders if we could do this Christmas Eve service, and they approve it. I put together a service and email it to an Elder, and she does the rest. Amazing, a service 100% organized, staffed, resourced, and all I had to do is preach. It was a lovely service, the readings, the carols, communion presided over by Michael Mozley, who came to my rescue, when I couldn't remember how the ritual went. And then candles. Its already 85-90 degrees, but turn off the ceiling fans, and add 130 lit candles, and the place gets hot! Michael and I are behind the table, and sweat is pouring down our faces. Still it was beautiful, and a glimpse into heaven, especially after Silent Night, and the Benediction, when the church erupts into "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" raising their candles high and waving them around. Such joy!

On Christmas morning, Suzanne and I woke to the smell of pancakes and bacon, as is our tradition made by Fox, Grace and Anna. After breakfast we opened presents. Last year they were a rather humble lot, in fact Anna told me that last year was when she figured out Santa because all the gifts were from Ghana. But not this year, we were prepared from being in the states this summer, but add in the trips to South Africa, Japan, and Boston, and then Fulbright Ana's friends arrived bringing a huge box of gifts and supplies from her mother, and we were incredibly blessed.

After our Christmas nap, we went to the missionary gathering over at Jeff and Lori's, for the largest pot luck I have ever seen (150+), then a carol sing, and then Nasty Santa, with 82 people. A modified rule set kept the stealing down, that and the largest collection of the nicest people I've ever know, and it was a blast. Big hits were a 3 lbs bag of skittles, bag of Starbucks coffee beans, a huge jar of Jiff, and a duffle bag made from sachet water bags. Suzanne briefly owned it long enough to snap a picture. Last year we had tried to go, but we didn't own a car, and finding a Taxi on Christmas, well we missed it.

It was a good Christmas here in Ghana, especially with all the kids back together again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Preparing For Christmas

So much has happened, is happening in Ghana that is completely unrelated to my accident and I thought it was high time I wrote about something else, its that “not being defined by it” part of this new life.

Cup of Nations
[our house, half painted]
First of all, everywhere you look, Ghana is gearing up for the “Africa Cup of Nations,” called CAN 2008, witch starts in 30 days, almost enough time to finish updating or building four huge stadiums to host the football (soccer) games. Ghana is excited to show off its prosperity, and looking better than it possibly is. Like cleaning house before company arrives, the AMA is “sacking the sellers” and tearing down the shanty wood and tin buildings that dot the city. Government buildings, businesses and even homes, like ours, are getting a fresh coat of paint. Roads are being repaired, and new shops are opening. But not everything will stay shiny new, its Harmatton.

Haramattan, is an annual event, when for several months, the wind blows off of the Sahara, instead of the ocean, bringing with it dust, much dust. The sky is overcast, and the night air is still, and every day, every flat surface is covered with a thin layer of dust. We still remember last year, during load shedding the hot, dark, windless nights, sweating under the mosquito nets all night. But this year there are few light outs and we are sleeping in AC (a luxury). The air isn't the only thing that gets dusty, so does the water, making our water filters work harder, and bathing a little scary.
[what the water looks like right out of the tap]

The Hajj
This time is also the annual “stranding of the pilgrims,” when Muslims flock into Accra from the north hoping to fly to Mecca, as one of the five pillars of their faith called the Hajj. Last year some 499 pilgrims came and were stranded when the organizational committee “lost” the money. This year, in addition to last year's 499, an additional 2200 payed in and showed up showed up, creating an instant refugee camp of more than 3000 about a half mile from the airport. Apparently, this year, the Hajj committee was out bid when the plane it had contracted, got a better offer from London, leaving local Hajj officials looking upward and scratching their heads. The government issued the following statement:
"In spite of positive assurances by the organizers of this year's hajj to prospective pilgrims traveling to Mecca, government has learnt with great concern that the operation has been bedeviled with major problems."

[Flying stand-by the side of the road]

Even as a Christian I feel for the stranded pilgrims that had paid $2300, each. $2300 is a life savings, when you consider the average pay in Ghana can be a dollar a day, and the middle class security job about $100/month, it could take 100% of at least two years salary for this venture.

But this year the story ends well, on Monday night after 11 days camped out at near the airport, we saw the last of the pilgrims fly over in a Nigerian plane, a 747 seating 505 people. Wow, 505 seats, normally the 747 seats 467, so I guess its more of a flying TroTro, but at least the are on their way.

Hamper Madness
Its a Ghanaian Christmas tradition, the “hamper,” a basket filled with foodstuffs, like a 20 lbs bag of rice, a can of coke, a 3 place setting of dishes, a tin of biscuits, maybe a bottle of palm oil, and a can of tuna. Imported provisions, delivered in a imported wicker basket and covered with cellophane, imported. It has got to be an old British thing. The strange part is the cost, $50 and people's willingness to spend that kind of money for maybe $10 worth of provisions and a basket. Its really sad that they import them, considering some of the coolest baskets are made here in northern Ghana, and they import these clumsy brittle Chinese ones.

[a hamper]

Last year we got two hampers, one from a childhood friend here filled with chocolate items in a nice basket we still use, and one from Ashesi, containing several enormous frozen chickens and 50 lbs of rice in a cardboard box. So far we are not hamper-ed in our Christmas efforts, but if we so choose, we will have to move fast, people are snapping them up.

Grace Returns
Our middle daughter Grace flew in from Japan on Sunday for Christmas. Its great to be back together as a family again, and I think that each of us now realizes how much we missed being together.
[Anna greets Grace at airport after 33 hours of transit]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Stockdale Paradox

I’m trying to put this last month of November into perspective, most of it was spent in South Africa where I had gone for an MRI to see what was going on with my arm and why the nerves in my arm were not reporting for duty. When I went for my appointment, the doctor wanted to see me first and after a brief exam, ordered more x-rays, and then a CAT scan, and then to see a neurologist, and then surgery, and then rehab, which consumes my life these days.

I am back in Accra now. Its nice to be back to a place that feels like home, and so fun to see all my dear friends who have kept me in their prayers this past month, but also disconcerning to see the deep concern on their faces. The weight loss, sagging shoulder, the pain they see on my face. “I know this isn’t how you were expecting this year to play out,” one said to me the other night, echoing what has been running through my mind a lot, and got me thinking about the Stockdale Paradox.

From Wikipedia:

In a book by James C. Collins called Good To Great, Collins relates how Stockdale described his coping strategy during his eight years in the Vietnamese POW camp.[1]
"I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."[2]

When Collins asked who didn't make it out, Stockdale replied:

"Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

It has now past six weeks since the accident, the point at which initial reports suggested a complete recovery. That now seems unlikely, and so it seems like I should start facing the brutal facts about this reality, all the while not losing faith that I will prevail in the end. It will just be different without full use of my right hand. I remember reading a story about James Taylor some years ago, written after he had sliced a nerve in his left hand with a machete. He was opening a coconut—cutting the husk off it-- and looked away for instant, the same instant the blade came down and missed, striking between thumb and index finger. He had recovered but wrote there were certain songs he would never be able to play on guitar again, like the song “The Secret of Life,” which is ironic I thought because the rest of the verse goes “is enjoying the passage of time.” It’s the secret fear and fatal knowledge that someday we will injure our hand badly and not be able to play.

I'm coming to understand that song better these days, though I am not there yet. Previously my “secret of life” was enjoying the doing of things. I was always much more of a doing pastor, than a being pastor. As my thoughts have turned toward returning to the states in six months and resuming a practice of ministry, I realize how different that practice will be, no guitar, no web page design, no typing, editing, designing of bulletins and publications. Initially, I will be unable to do most of that, so I wonder what will I do? Maybe this is the prevailing and coming out stronger part, that my ministry will be more of a being one.

It’s amazing what one can do with one hand, like peel a tangerine, use chopsticks, tie shoes, and even keyboard one handed. So far I’ve resisted the urge to improve my lefthanded penmanship, which makes the signature on a credit card receipt look suspect, but no one seems bothered by it. Instead I’m focusing on new heroes, ones who didn’t let their one-handedness define them. I don’t want this to define me, to become who I am, or am perceived to be. I want to be like my friend Deanna. I had known her five years when I received a suggestion from a common friend that her pastor nominate her for an award for the disabled. Until then it hadn’t occurred to me that she was disabled, sure she favored one arm, but that’s just who she was. She is my hero because I don’t want to be that guy with the story and life of regrets. Sure I wish I hadn’t picked up that boogie board, or I wish I had seen the huge wave coming, or tossed the board before the wave hit, but I didn’t and now I must face the brutal reality: I may never regain full use of my right hand.


In church a few weeks back the pastor was preaching on how God’s Glory flows through Jesus. In South Africa I attended Hatfield Christian Church (, a large non-denominational church in Pretoria that our Ghana friend Maurine invited me to. Maurine is the sister of Adzo, Dean of students at Ashesi whom we met at Adzo & Nii’s wedding [click here], and who brought Maurine’s kids to our Thanksgiving Day Feast last year [click here]. Maurine works for the World Bank here in Pretoria, and at Adzo’s request arranged for my transport from the airport, housing and took me to church. So last Sunday, as the preacher is talking about God’s Glory, and the screen was flashing different supporting texts, while the pastor references them, except he skipped one. Hebrews 12:12. There it was on the screen, not the text of the verse, just its reference, and he completely blows past it. How odd, I thought, so I detoured from where he was going to look up that text.

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:12-14 New King James)

I about dropped my Bible when I read the word : dislocated. Later I looked up that verse in several other translations, but only the New King James translates it that way, in fact this is the only instance of the word dislocated, in all the Bible and here God gave it to just to me.
It was the next piece of the Stockdale Paradox puzzle, beginning to face the brutal reality, knowing I would come out stronger, but unsure how I was going to prevail.

Reading on the edges of this verse (what comes before and after it) I see it is a verse that comes after being disciplined, or “chastening” as the King James translates it. “"My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him;” verse 12:5b says and then adds “for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts." The advice is to look beyond the current circumstance to a day when “what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed,” and to do this by “pursing peace with all people, and holiness.”

I have got to tell your this isn’t easy when your body is racked by pain and your right arm hangs limp and useless in a sling and you can’t do much without asking for help, like peeling an onion or putting on socks. I hate the loss of independence, and wonder, is this what I am supposed to learn?

“When the student is ready, a teacher will be sent,” I used to advise when difficult situations defied understanding. “If the student cannot, or will not learn,” I would add, “a bigger and more powerful teacher will be sent.” So I think I am being schooled on the art of asking for help and receiving it gracefully. Like today in church when they brought me up front and all the elders laid hands on me, and the church prayed. It wasn't something I asked for, but it was received with hope, and during that prayer I began to be thankful for what this injury is teaching me. Like tonight at a Mission Society gathering when I met a short term missionary who has had great success with prayer healing, and I asked if he could pray for me. Six weeks ago Steve would not have done that

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, and I would add to Stockdale's Paradox, a way to connect the two.