The Buchele Adventure

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spirit World: Questions to Ask

My introduction to the spirit world came by David Glanzman, who cautioned me that sometimes people get so fixated on them that they see evil spirits everywhere. Here in Ghana I worry more about the ancestors.

[A nice place for a swim - stock photo]

This past Sunday we are at Novetel for a swim, a luxury we have only afforded ourselves once before. It was a delightful afternoon, until we ran into a waiter who was bent on cheating us. When there was a problem with the bill, he unleashed a string of profanity, which in one sentence contained more cuss words than I had heard in Ghana collectively over the past 21 months. As a people, Ghanaians do not use swear words much—at least not English ones—so his outburst surprised us. Because I'm working on this post, and reading the book "World of the Spirits," I am high alert. I try to deal only with his superiors, and remain polite, but firm. I hate having to get into that whole Ugly American thing and don't. The waiter keeps wanting to bring us change from the money he has already cheated us…but he doesn't actually bring it. It's not much at this point, far less than when he first started. Ghana is a culture of bargaining so we've learned to bargain down how much we will agree to be cheated, so the change we're waiting for amounts to 15 cents. I'm walking away, but he chases after me, pleading for us to wait. Wait for what I think…a curse? So Eric isn't the only one who fears the spirit world—David Glanzman is right…they are everywhere.

I do wonder what I might have learned had I consulted a traditional healer, as so many of our Ghanaian friends encouraged me to do. In an OxfamAmerica report, anthropologist Susan LeClerb Madlala, says that traditional healers, treat more than the "immediate illness or problem, but provide an explanation of the ultimate source of the problem itself, something a medical doctor can't do."

For example, she says:

"Let's say you are hanging your wash on the line behind your house, and a snake bites you. Well, a medical doctor will treat the snakebite, but he can't answer a lot of important questions: Why did the snake bite you? Why was it at your house? Who sent that snake?"

Her words relate well to a story I heard recently about a missionary who kept finding vipers in his bedroom at night, vipers that are not native to that region of Ghana. He had worked with the people of the village for years, trying to bring electricity, higher education, and development to break poverty's grip on it. Though none of the vipers harmed him, it did eventually cause him to ask the larger questions, like: Why were there vipers in his house? Who sent the vipers? In bringing those questions out into the open, he learned of the gods that ruled that village, and the fetish priests that served them. Each had bound their god to oppose the things he was trying to bring to release its people from poverty. He also learned one of the symbols of the village gods was a viper. So when electricity was brought to the village, there were constant power outages. When development was brought to the village, the outside businesses failed and thus far no child had left the village to seek higher education.

[Hut from a village that does not have electricity]

I do not know the rest of this story, but knowing what he now knows, I have to think that the missionary will temper his approach to fighting poverty. Maybe it is not the spirits, gods, or ancestors that we have to fear as much as it is our ignorance of them. Ignorance that causes us to forget to pray, and call upon a higher power to deliver us from them. Ignorance, and arrogance, that cause us to forget to see what we're doing through the eyes in the culture, of those who live in it.

When Anna and I visited the Butterfly Sanctuary we took a tour of the surrounding forest. Near the end, our guide showed us an unimpressive specimen of a tree. He said the local people of the village thought it to be a god with healing powers. Often in the mornings, he said, he would find gifts under it, like eggs, food or beads. He said people came in the night, presented their offerings and asked to be made well, or conceive child, or be married. "How exactly does that work?" I asked. "As for me," he said, "I do not believe. It's not for me to say." If you will notice the signboard for the tree, it says its primary use is medicine, it just does not say how.

[tree god with our guide]

"In the everyday life of our African cultures we are constantly aware of various spiritual forces," write the authors of African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling. "These unseen powers are part of the world we see and are the ultimate cause of all that happens, especially of unusual or disturbing events. There is no clear dividing line between the physical and the spiritual, between animate and inanimate, between living and dead."

In fact some anthropologists argue that even our western terminology for ancestor and living elder draws a line between the living and the dead that is not necessarily there. That when one passes from this life to the next, the authority and power remain constant, like changing offices. In fact "all objects are believed to have some degree of life force. Plants have more than rocks and man is near the top of the hierarchy. He is surpassed by only the unseen beings of the spirit world of which there are various kinds."

[medicine rock used to grind traditional medicine]

Looking at the world that way, through the eyes of a culture where even rocks and plants might have a life force changes the questions to ask. No longer do I need wonder how a huge freak ocean wave happened to find me holding a boogie board that day. What I need to ask is who sent that wave, and why.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spirit World: Being Cursed

It is the morning of my accident, and we have just given an old woman a ride to the village.

We reached her village well before the skies opened up and parked under a tree. We all got out, and then she thanked me, and bowed, The old lady pulled out these dolls, and waved them at me, shaking them side to side. They were hand-sized bundles of white fabric, bound in the middle, and had a human like form, but not so. Then she started shaking them at me, as if she was throwing whatever was inside them in my direction, and chanting, and scuffing the ground with her feet.

When I told Eric this story, he immediately asked "Did you pray over it?" The thought had not occurred to me at the time, so no, we did not. "At times we do not pick the old lady from the roadside. " He said. Here in Ghana people think they are witches. We are afraid of them." I am only telling Eric this story now seven month after the fact to get his perspective on it. "What was the old lady doing?" I ask.

[Old Ladies … don't give them a ride!]

We waited until she was done with whatever she was doing and then walked around the "typical, peaceful fishing village. " Mostly it was a desperately impoverished village, not unlike many in Ghana. Our presence attracts quite a following of young Ghanaian children and Anna danced with the girls, while Fox horsed around with the boys. It was great fun and if it had not been raining, I would have taken some pictures. A rather drunk man named Stephen attached himself to me as our "guide."

When we had had enough of the rain, Stephen led us back to our vehicle. I dashed him for helping us. He said madase, or thank you in the local language and pulled me aside to speak privately. The drunkenness was gone, his eyes were alert, completely sober. "That old lady …she has cursed you…she is a witch …never give ride to old ladies" and then he got all drunk looking again.

[The only picture I have from that village]

I thought nothing more of it, not even mentioning it to the family, except Fox had heard the part about being a witch, and we joked about it driving back. Eric says "When you get to the village, listen to what the drunk man says…its true." He continues "he hears everything, and because he is drunk, no one minds him. Even if he were to drink water, it would turn to akpeteshi in his blood," akpeteshi being a potent local drink made from distilled palm wine. But we didn't know to listen to the drunk man, or even pray over it and seven hours later, I am standing in ankle deep water holding a boogie board when a huge freak wave hits me face on. My shoulder is instantly dislocated and fractured in several places. In the coming weeks, I would discover half of the nerves that give feeling to my right hand were ruined.

We had gone away that week-end to decide what was next in the adventure of our lives. We had fallen in love with Ghana, but felt God calling us back to the States. In our final eight months or so, I planned to offer my services as a full-time pastor to a church who's pastor was moving on to start a new one. I even had a lunch appointment for the day after we got back, an appointment I physically kept, but that's about all. He saw the condition I was in, and I saw a look of disappointment across his. This was not going to work. It was a short lunch.

I am thinking about this because last week-end at Youth Group, I heard Nansie Ike, one of the youth pastors, speak about the balance between the spiritual worlds (those are my words not hers). She said that whenever you take back some of the enemy's territory, you can expect a backlash. The Youth Group had gone on an outreach to a village in the north, and since they had been back, every one of the leaders had been either been sick, attacked personally or had a skin rash. It was backlash for a successful outreach where many people gave their lives to Christ. I guess that is consistent with my experience in the States, each time I was involved in some great ministry, something awful happened the following week, but I'd never heard of an advance attack.

In the weeks before the accident, everything seemed to be going well. My preaching was connecting at Asbury-Dunwell, the Elim Youth Group was leading worship well at its church. I was orientating incoming mission trip teams, and this concept of a local pastor to short term missionaries seemed to be catching on with the longer term ones, and I was planning to go back into full-time pastoral ministry. It all came to a splashing halt, and I wondered. Did I hear God wrong? Is this not what you wanted me to do here? Or was it the curse of the old lady?

In the weeks after, I felt it all slip away. Some friends became distant, others came out of nowhere. I felt very much cared for, prayed for and loved, but even so immediate healing did not come. In that regard, I felt pretty much on my own, until I met up with Suzanne, the physical therapist.

[Suzanne, from her blog: click here]

I had known Suzanne since last spring when we met at Tatum's good-bye party, [click here to see that goofy pict] and since then she had been a regular at Asbury-Dunwell Church. After the operation in South Africa, she started treating me three times a week, then two, then once per week, then every other week, and now about once a month. It was under her care that I felt the supernatural healing of God take effect. She worked my shoulder over me in our home, in her home, at her office, and finally on the office table of Michael Mozley in his home. She is a gifted healer, but she doesn't like it when you fall asleep on her (read: she has ways of waking you!). Because of God working through her, I am doing far better than any of the doctors and physical therapists in South Africa thought possible. It is, as they say here, "by God's Grace."

So I have been thinking about the Spirit World here in Ghana a lot lately, maybe even losing a bit of perspective on it. I say that because this past Saturday, as I was preparing chord charts for the band that was leading the worship music on Sunday at Elim, I began to get that familiar not so good feeling of knowing I was going to be really sick. I had all the signs, the burping, the gas, the ache in the belly.. , vomiting and diarrhea were only moments away. I wondered, was this some sort of advance attack? I prayed a prayer of protection and within a few minutes felt much better. Weird. The next day I was completely fine, the vomiting and diarrhea never came.

[Shrine in Elmina, as seen from Fort St. Jago]

I am learning that maybe this World of the Spirits is not all-powerful, and its influence comes more from fear, than actual power. Eric tells me of the shrines in the Accra communities of Osu and La. I ask him to take me to see them and he agrees, but when I mention taking a picture, he changes his mind. "It is not possible."

I've seen these shrines before, they sit in the middle of the road, traffic going around them on either side awkwardly. Each shrine has a priestess, who is thought to be married to its god, or most powerful ancestor. Once a year the Shrine is opened during its festival and if it is your time to enter, you back in, keeping an eye on the entrance. He tells me those who walk in face forward are never seen again. Over the week-end, two men die at one of these festivals, the kind that initiates young girls into womanhood. According to the rite, when the musket is fired, the girls become women, but whoever fired the musket, shot two men, killing them.

[Shrine in Anamobo during one of its festivals]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spirit World: Introduction

One of the things I did not anticipate after the accident is how much the community around us noticed it. I am continually amazed how many random people in my life, like shop clerks, or someone along Suzanne's walk to work, or people at the Kid's school, or at the US Embassy, or in the market, how they will stop me and ask me "How is the arm?"

[Steve in Sling from January]

But what I notice now is that people are having trouble remembering which arm was injured, saying "How is the arm?" and looking left then right, to see which one was injured. And for good reason, the shoulder is healed mostly, but the hand, as they say here, "is coming." "I'm Coming," is what you say when you do not want people to know that you have not left for an appointment that you are already late for. That's the way I feel about the damaged nerves in my right hand. "I'm coming," they say. Every morning I try to extend all five fingers out straight, and every day they back "Please, I am coming!" Which if this were a real Ghanaian conversation, I would then ask, "Where are you now?" My nerves say: "Please, I am coming!" They are unwilling to say where they are as they regrow.

So I wait, and relive that day, that moment when everything changed. I am past trying to figure out what went wrong, but not to knowing what I can learn from it. In the weeks following the accident, many of our Ghanaian friends asked if I was trying the traditional medicines. Traditional medicine being a code word for a visit to the local shaman, the one who had ancestral ties to the other side, the family priests, diviners, sorcerers, witch doctors, fetish specialists, and spiritual healers. In the west we would call the spirits of that other world ghosts,(to distinguish them as the formerly living) but here they are called ancestors.

[sign board]

Our friend Scott had the same experience after his laptop and high-end video camera were stolen and the police, while sympathetic, had been absolutely no help. He says "everyone seemed to know of someone who had connections to the spirit world and for a few cedis, they would seek their ancestors to find my stuff." I never heard if he consulted the ancestral detective agency, I only know his stuff is still here in Ghana…somewhere.

It has taken me all this time to appreciate the influence that the world of the spirits has over the culture of life here. When Eric talks about the stoplight beggars being witches, he is not kidding. [click here to read that story]. They frighten him, because he thinks they are real, these days I'm wondering if he might not be right.

"There are good spirits that you should honor," I heard a pastor say once, "and evil ones to keep boozed up." Like when you greet the chief, it is customary to offer a libation to his ancestors (meaning: pour out a bit of hard liquor on the ground – thus either honoring the good spirits or boozing up the evil ones) Of course these spirits are not my ancestors—they are all buried in Kansas—and to that end, I wonder if we obruni are at a great disadvantage here. We have no otherworldly connections.

When we first came to Ghana, I am sure I did not believe in their power. I knew demons existed--had seen their work—and evil, as they said in seminary, has its own ontology, but dead relatives, I was not so sure. Neither were the first Missionaries.

They came to bring Christ to the local people, and so learned their local languages. To help future missionaries, they codified them, and gave them a written structure. Today these early missionaries are credited with the preservation of many of the lesser known languages, ones that might have died off in this era of globalization. Its too bad they did not learn the local religions, not for preservation sake, but so they could have introduced Jesus and correctly named the common elements of their two religions; how Christianity understood those same things that brought so much suffering into life.

For example, the early missionaries told the stories of Jesus casting out demons, and in the local language, these demon or evil spirit were translated as evil breath or wind. But evil wind was not the name for demons they knew from the traditional view of their spirit world. Thus attempts to relate their spirit world to the spirit world of the Bible failed. One author writes "Biblical accounts about demons and their activities did not connect with the experiences of the {local people} in their daily world in which they deal with different spirit phenomena."

So a parallel religious system of Christianity evolved alongside already the existing local one. My friend Scott puts it succinctly: "Its like Jesus is the Ace, but they kept a Jack and Queen in their back pocket, just in case." The Jack and Queen being the local gods, who could trump the Ace if enough gathered. With parallel systems there were problems the Christian God can handle, and for all others, your ancestors must be consulted. Like when Emmanuel's brother caught an STD, one that wouldn't let his manhood go down, and he came calling to ask for money to visit the fetish priest. [click here to read that story]. Ask longer term missionaries, and you'll find they have a story to tell like this one from Ju Jernigan, a doctor at Lake Bosumwte [click here to read their blog]:

[Lake Bosumtwe]

"Yaw is dead, doctor. He died while still in the boat, almost to the other side of the lake."

Its last fall at Lake Bosumtwe, and the boat driver, who is a upstanding member of the local Methodist Church is scared.

"Did you bring the body back?" Juliana asks.

"Of course not, I would never cross the lake with a dead body on the boat, the god of the lake would not be happy," the boatman explains. Everybody knows that."

Yaw was seventeen and had sickle cell anemia, and combined with malaria and a few other complications, it was too much for him. When he died, instead of a 10 minute boat ride back to his village, Yaw's family had to bring his body back by tro-tro, a one hour journey to his village.

Juliana explains: There are "Unwritten spiritual laws that have been engrained on children's hearts, generation after generation." These laws that teach fear of spirits rather than trust in the One that created the lake. Juliana was told that if the body had been brought across the lake, a cow would have had to be sacrificed to appease the spirits of the god of the Lake."

To read the whole account [click here].

Other missionaries have told me, "Oh, they are very real," and then go on to tell their frightening other worldly accounts, and the effects it had on their ministry, health, and family.

In my life, I wonder about the morning of my accident. We had all gone into the nearby village to see, what the brochure described as, a "typical, peaceful, fishing village," and maybe walk across the long bridge, or arrange for a boat ride. As it happened, the rains came about the time we got to the bridge so we did not get to cross it. Driving to the village, we met up with an old woman walking alone, alongside the road.

Usually, if we have room in the car, I will offer rides to old women or people head-loading heavy objects. We usually have the space, and it adds a bit of adventure to our lives. Since there was a darkening sky, I thought we could save the old lady from the rains, so we offered her a ride.

[head loading things - this in NOT the old lady we gave a ride to]

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Slippery Slope, part 2

I used to cook lunch for the staff of my old church about twice a month or so, and I almost always started from scratch. Fresh tomatoes, raw veggies, onions, garlic, raw meat… Lunch didn't involve opening cans, it involved cooking, cutting, chopping, squeezing, and afterwards the kitchen and my fingers smelled…like…food, and the kitchen was a mess. A friend at the time asked why I did things the hard way when I could just open a can or two and dump. "Its not the same," I said, "there is no love in it," and that's the way I feel about canned sermons, like taking credit for intellectual property that is not your own.

You miss the experience of letting it change you.

Of course with food carrying artificial ingredients, Suzanne gets sick right away. My allergies to milk products takes longer. Here in Ghana those allergies are on sabbatical, I can cook with butter and occasionally have pizza with real cheese. I understand what the French say about the three keys to their cooking: butter, butter, and still more butter. The Ghanaians would say palm oil, palm oil, and still more palm oil. A few weeks ago I wrote about that Ghanaian way of cooking and how I couldn't get used to adding oil like that for flavoring. Well, that very night I was broiling some fresh fillets of Red Snapper, and noticed the skin getting a little dry on top. So what did I do? Reach for the butter, and put two large pats on each fillet, rubbing them around. It was then the Lord convicted me: "Can't add oil for flavoring you say? Ah! What have you done just now?"

Thing is, each day, each situation, each community of faith deserves a home cooked sermon. It may be the most important thing a pastor does for not only the soul of the community of faith, but for the soul of the pastor. I wonder what happens to communities of faith whose pastors take short cuts, who open canned sermons, and are fed a diet of preserved or fast food sermons?

I think of that documentary about the guy who ate nothing but McDonalds for six weeks, how sick he got. Now I know that canned sermons are not going to make a pastor physically sick, or cause high cholesterol or blood pressure, but I do think it steals a little bit of their soul, their integrity, and the chance to speak into the issues of the day, the ones the church needs to weigh in on. I think that's what angered me most about that canned sermon I heard this past summer, "she didn't trust her own voice," as a friend of mine here says. Events were happening that could have been spoken into—we were a captive audience—but instead we got a timeless, meaningless nice sermon, one forgotten before it was even over. An opportunity for the gospel squandered.

Don't get me wrong, I like McDonalds, and crave their hamburger and fries, but it's not a part of my regular diet, it's more what the Army calls an MRE, Meal Ready to Eat, for emergency only. And I remember, there are weeks like that, when we need an MRE sermon. When I was injured last fall, before I realized how serious it was and that it wasn't getting better, I was scheduled to preach the Sunday next after the accident and I kept to the schedule. That was definitely an MRE sermon – preached on painkillers, no less. Actually, it was a de-frosted sermon, taken from the freezer of previously preached sermons, and warmed up for this congregation.

But recycling your own, original, work is different from using someone else's work and not referencing it. That, no matter the context, is plagiarism. It is passing off someone else's ideas, intellectual property, or words, as your own. Why do preachers, and other people, do that? Do they not trust their own voice? Are they just convinced that someone else can do a better job than they? Are they afraid of being judged on their own merits? As I heard my wife Suzanne say this week, if you don't do your own work or write your own thoughts, then when will you ever learn how to, and when will you ever learn that you do have a voice, you do have thoughts worthy of being written or spoken or discussed? It's a slippery slope that I think leads to more and more of the same.

But for pastors, it's more than that. More than not trusting one's voice, more than avoiding the issues of the day, it is holding PreachingToday instead of a "newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other," as Barth would say. When pastors plagiarize, they are effectively leaving their post, letting the community of faith drift without their leadership. They can't speak out against injustice, they have lost their moral legs to stand on in the community.

But I also understand that sermons alone do not change the world, or a person's life, it's the body of the work and the connection to those living it.

I also understand we all can't be Billy Graham, and hit a home run each time we step to the pulpit.

I understand there will be bad weeks, when someone dies, or paperwork is due, or our family needs us, and preparing a sermon from scratch will be an impossibility.

I understand those times can't always be anticipated.

But understand if we the pastors cannot be held to some sort of the ethical standard of taking credit for what is ours and giving credit for what is not, then what hope is there in this world, which is careening down so many slippery slopes?

The Slippery Slope, part 1

I've been thinking a lot about Intellectual Property these days, what it is, who owns it, how to borrow, cite and use it, and how the lines that separate them are increasingly graying. Maybe you can't think of a more boring topic to write on, but I assure you for some people in my life, this has become a very interesting topic.

I wonder if it is a thread that runs through everyone's life, or just mine. For example in Seminary, I knew a guy that used to scan in a section of a book, and then run the scanned words through an aliasing program that reordered them uniquely, but kept the same meaning. Then he put his name on the paper and handed it in as his own. Its how he did the work for two postgraduate degrees. This was mid 1990s, in the early days of the internet when there was not so much content, but today, I am guessing, he just cuts and pastes, reorders the words, and does with them whatever he is doing now (I'm hoping not pastoring).

I think about a close friend who confessed to me when we were both serving our first churches, that he took his weekly sermons from one of the preaching magazines, added a few of his own stories, and preached it on Sunday.

I think about the disadvantaged student who was well known to treat her closed book take home exams from Dr. Dearman's Old Testament Class, as open book. We all knew it…but she was a disadvantaged student, and needed this advantage to be fair.

My father is an inventor, he and one of his graduate students named Virgil Haverdink invented the Giant Round Baler, this way to put up hay that forever changed the face of rural America. [Read Dad's article about it]

[round bale inventors, and the product of their invention]

But the Large Baler (as its called now) wasn't his first invention, or at least the first one that was patented. That happened when we lived in Michigan and my Dad invented a "dis-ting" as they say here, meaning they don't know the name for this thing. His advisor, or department chair, or someone in authority over him put his name on the patent. It wasn't a request. Dad shared the credit for his invention. I don't know how many times that man put his name on other patents, but I do know it was the only time he shared one with my Dad, and we moved to Iowa soon afterwards. Dad always leaves that invention off his list of others.

A similar thing happened to a friend of mine in graduate school. She came up with a process to convert one type of obscure data to another. Eventually it became the basis for the research that she used on her dissertation. At the time she was working part time at a government lab up in the Midwest, but the work she was doing wasn't that closely related. It was just a job that paid for school. When the lab learned, or more importantly, when her boss learned she had a patentable idea, he wanted his name on the patent and my friend balked, and resigned the appointment.

When I was in seminary, I heard the same sermon, or I should say the same content in a sermon, twice in one month. The first was preached from the pulpit of my home church, and three weeks later, at the my parents church that overlooked a beach in Mexico. Even though it was preached in Spanish and translated into English, I recognized it as one I'd heard the first Sunday of Advent.

Soon afterwards, I went on to my internship year and heard the pastor tell a story, something about burying an aunt with a fork in her hand, told from his point of view of the preacher, as if it was his aunt, and that very night the same story appeared as junk mail in my inbox.

But I am not without sin either. I was on a mission trip to Belize and preached at a small rural church, and didn't cite a story I told. I figured this is the third world, what do they care who came up with the story about when you pray for rain, be sure to carry an umbrella (a James Moore story). Afterwards the pastor of the church came up to me and said nice story, "Wasn't that from" (I forget the name of the book) "by James Moore?" Why yes it was…BUSTED!

This week I wondered what would happen if we pastors had to our sermons. (, is a web service that my kid's school and Ashesi University uses to catch students who lift content from the internet and include it in their papers as their own (also called plagiarism). How would we do, I wondered, with an old friend, if the originality of our sermons was checked and made public? How would we do, I asked my friend, and he said, "We would all fail." But I hope he is wrong.

After getting busted in Belize, I vowed never again to tell a story without citing it (or footnoting it in the bulletin). If I was quoting from a book, I would read from it directly. Since the first draft of my sermons was usually written out long hand (thanks, Jim Cloninger) and then transcribed into the computer, cutting and pasting was not an issue. I remember one particularly unappreciative parishioner saying to me, "Don't you just get your sermons out of a book anyway?" No I don't. Or another time, "You know, you can get sermons for free, on-line." No I won't.

I think about one of the sermons I heard this summer from a young woman who quoted Frederick Buechner or Paul Tillich--I forget which. As she was telling that cited story, I looked around the room and saw this lost look, like the room thinking who is that, and why do we care? It wasn't that good of a story, the power was supposed to come from the one who authored it, but being told by this twenty something as if she was reading that book right now, that book from the sixties written by some now dead white guy that doesn't relate at all to what has been happening in the world the last—I don't know—20 years, just didn't work for me. I've heard stories from that period of time (the 60s) when theologians were celebrities, and even on the Tonight Show. Those days are long gone, and when you hear some pastor quoting them like they are still relevant (with the exception of C.S. Lewis) it's a sure bet they are preaching a canned sermon. There is nothing fresh about, it has the taste of preservatives to it.

Like canned food.

One time our family was invited over for a home cooked meal. One thing you need to know about Suzanne is that she can't handle highly processed foods, ones that carry preservatives, or artificial flavorings. Our host served this potato salad, and Suzanne said "this is delicious!" Turns out it was from HEB (the local chain food store), as was all the meal, but it was dressed up as if it had been home cooked, instead of home warmed-up. I guess it was cooked in someone's home, just not this one. But the feeling we had driving home was an empty one, oh we were full, but there was no love in the food.

Like a canned sermon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Accra Motor Speedway

[The Accra Motor Speedway Sign] ok so the real name is Formula One Leisure La Raceway – and La is the region of town, not the French article.

We belong to a wonderful organization called The Mission Society (TMS). It's the organization that, for those of you who support our mission here, give to. If you're interested in supporting us [click here]. Anyway, twice a year the TMS Ghana Mission Field gathers for a four day Field Retreat, part business meetings, part worship, part storytelling and debugging the African experience, part fellowship and food, part praying for each other and this time, at least for the guys, something completely out of the ordinary. Last time they met I was laid-up in South Africa so I missed the fun. I won't share the bulk of the retreat as it was too personal, but I will share how it started, and some thoughts about its ending.

While the Ladies got together for salsa dancing lessons, lunch and a movie, the boys went to the Accra Motor Speedway and then bowling. As you read that sentence, you might be imagining a dark movie theatre with bucket seats, super cooled AC, and a well stocked refreshments counter. You might be imagining an ultra-modern, OSHA safe Go Kart track where no matter how badly you drove, or how fast, you were always safe. You might be imagining a smoky bowling alley, complete with bowling shoes, automatic score keeping, and bad music. And you would be right about the bowling alley (except for the smoke), but everything else, the bad music, the bowling shoes, and automatic score keeping terminals was state of the art. Accra has no movie theatre, just a few places that rent out a room with couches and a projector. And Go Kart track, I mean The Accra Motor Speedway I mean the Formula One Leisure La Raceway was … well, let's just say it was the perfect guy venue.

[the track] First off, when they check you in you sign a release form. The form said the usual, La Raceway holds no responsibility for any accident or injury while using their facilities, etc. The only odd thing was that it specified that it would not be held responsible for any malfunctions with the cars that resulted in injury. Looking at the cars, I could imagine that this clause was exercised quite frequently. Most of the cars looked like they were held together with spot-welding, spit, and a prayer or two. Fox, being the rebel he is, refused to sign his name, and instead signed himself in as Brad Pitt.

["Brad Pitt" signs the waver] Sorry Mr. Pitt, if you get a call from the La Raceway, well, that was us, committing fraud. Oddly enough, though the mechanics scanned the paper and counted the names, they failed to recognize they had a celebrity in their midst. Or perhaps lots of Brad Pitts visit the La Raceway. It's a pretty common name nowadays. After signing, our attention was directed to the rule board.

[Fox studying the rules – its always best to know the rules before you break them] I'm not sure why they did that as no flags were to be seen, just a guy standing in the hot sun with a watch and who would whistle and wave you down when your time was up. Cost $7/10 minutes.

[da boys – Fox, Ken, Chip] I must say it was a blast racing around the track going so fast so close to the ground. I'm not kidding, there was hardly an inch between the bottom of the frame and the track, and you're screaming around it flat out. These cars handled really well, seemed to hug the road so well that flipping them seemed almost an impossibility. You should have seen Fox, he careened around the track lapping everyone at least once. Makes a dad wonder where he learned how to do that (too many hours of video game Need for Speed, I'm guessing).

[Just remember this IS dangerous]
[Steve Racer]

Overheard at the track: "It's like a real-life Mario Kart!" OK – so these kids, or Ken at least, really are playing too many hours of video games.

[The Jackson Boys - Father & Son, can you tell which is which?] There were three working cars that day, though most of the morning, it seemed like there were only two working. While we were racing, they were getting the next one working.

[working on a car without wheels – doesn't it look like a "speeder" in the original star wars movie?] [race car graveyard or is this the spare parts department?] I know how they feel, we've had a lot of car problems this past month. It all started when the radiator leaked fluid and we missed the Outdooring Ceremony [read about click here]. About every month I've had that radiator patched, and this time I asked that they just replace it. Big mistake, next the alternator went (replaced it), then the starter (replaced it), and this week the weak battery (replaced it too). Now I think we've pretty much replaced the electrical system no so our troubles should be over, or at least the need to push start the car. Interesting thing about the batteries, they are shipped to Ghana dry. When you buy a battery, they open the box, and the "clerk" dons safety glasses, gloves, breathing mask, and then adds a quart of battery acid to the battery, dipping it out of a huge plastic garbage can of acid. Then you can't use it for two hours.

[Adding battery acid] Car repair is an interesting process here. New parts are almost unheard of, so there is a booming used (or Home Use as it called) market here. I mean there is a whole section of the market devoted to used parts [read that early post when I almost lost an entire car [click here]]. The repair shop we frequent carries no spare parts in inventory so when they need one, YaYah sends one of his boys off to the market to pick, and a few hours later he shows us with it, be it an entire engine, starter motor, or alternator (all three we have replaced at least once). The other oddity is how YaYah and I are friends, but the people who work for us seem to quarrel a lot.

After the Accra Motor Speedway when went bowling at this twin Chinese Restaurant and Bowling Alley. Suzanne and I had been there when we first came to Ghana when Fox had a party there, and we thought the food was more Ghanaian, than Chinese. This time the food was excellent, or maybe our mouths just can't tell the difference anymore.

[The Men of the Ghana Field Mission]

Then it was bowling for leftovers from lunch which Mr. Mozley won with a score of 125 even though he bowled in sock feet – What! No size 14 shoe? The bowling alley was in good shape, and most everything worked well. They even had a kid bowling guide, but no bumpers, which would have been nice. Fox was kind to let me try twice, both of which ended up in the gutter, but it was fun to try, even if it meant learning that this arm is not quite ready to resume the competitive bowling circuit.

[kid bowling tool]

[Mr. Mozley and his winning form] Over the next few days all the Ghana Field Missionaries gathered for business meetings, worship time, fellowship, and for me a deepening friendship and respect for these career missionaries who have given up everything to serve God in this place. Truly some of the most remarkable and humble people I know.

The last thing we did at the retreat was to pray for each other, and for those who are in transition, or soon will be. My friend Margaret, Anna Mozley (Michael & Claire's first born, and first child to leave the Ghana mission field when she leaves for college soon), Erica (an intern who has been Caylor's homeschooling teacher the past hear), and Ju and Andrew who are expecting their third child next month. During communion, Michael spoke about how maybe at the Last Supper, Jesus wanted the disciples to remember this moment, to fix this image in their brain of this place and time when they were all together. That's what it was like for me, a moment fixed in time, for in a few weeks, that group we have grown to love so dearly over these past two years will scatter, never to reunite until its around the heavenly banquet table.

As they laid hands on us, and prayed, I felt a since of peace come over me. Driving back, I commented to Suzanne, "Its the first time I feels like we can really leave Ghana." (now less than eight weeks away). Before that I was swimming in denial. As we prayed for Anna M., I saw how close these two families that had come to Ghana over 10 years ago, had become. Now with the first of their extended family leaving, it felt like the end of an era. Looking around at the now seven families, and all these young children, I all saw how God had called us, then brought us together, then given us to each other and now is letting us scatter. I was sad, and OK with it all, and at peace, for the first time in months.

[Ju Jernigan – expecting to deliver at Lake Bosumtwi]

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ghana is Not Like That At-All (by Suzanne)

The big news for me is that I got an Embassy Badge. All the Fulbrighters were due to get them this year, and last week we all got processed and got our badges. It was so exciting, I went first of the Fulbrighters and 5 min later my badge was in my hands. I asked Sarpei, our liaison, "Can I go to the washroom all by myself?" And I did. On our way out, we were all in awe – "you mean," we asked Sarpei as he was walking us out, "we could just walk right over there for no reason and no one would stop us?" It was fun, and will be even better for Sarpei now that he doesn't have to escort us around every time we want to mail a letter or use the cashier (bank). Now I can just walk right in – I don't have to put my purse through the scanner, I don't have to check my phone and my pen drive at the guard desk, don't have to wait for Sarpei to come get me at the guard house. I just walk right in. The bad news is that the Fulbright badges are for the Fulbrighters only, not dependants, so Steve, who usually does our Embassy business, didn't get one. Which means now I have to do the Embassy errands. It's o.k. since Ashesi will wind down soon (last class day is tomorrow). But right now I'm flat out busy.

Good thing going to the embassy is now effortless! On Wednesday we needed cash for the weekend (Thursday was a holiday) so I needed to go and I only had about ½ hour in the morning to fit it in. I had Eric (our driver) pick me up at Ashesi and take me to the Embassy (5 min). I walked right in (!!!), went to the cashier (no waiting), mailed a letter, and was out again in 5 min. (Really, this is SO exciting). I walked across the street to where Eric was waiting, and… the car wouldn't start.

I'm not sure if we've blogged much about our car – it's a bit of a clunker. Not clunker, exactly, just, not the highest quality of workmanship, compounded by years in Ghana where used parts are repaired over and over again. But, Eric takes care of the car for us, and we live just up the street from Yah-Yah (Lebanese name, I'm not sure how it's spelled) who fixes our car for us, typically in a few hours, and the typical bill is less than $20. (No kidding – sometimes it's literally 50 cents, often he doesn't charge us until it's a relatively larger bill, then he just adds a few cedis for the past repairs). Needless to say, we're "regulars". So, that the car didn't start was not unusual, nor a huge hassle (or maybe it's just Ghanaian calmness that has set in). I figured I could get a taxi back to Ashesi, or even walk since I was only 10 min into my budgeted 30 min errand. Eric opened the hood, tried it a few times, banged on a few things, and decided it was the starter. He said, "don't worry, we will push it, it will start". Again, not exactly unusual for us – we've re-wired that starter before. But, I think, I'm in nice clothes, should I go over to pop the clutch while Eric pushes? I am about to ask when Eric "Tzse's" a man who is walking by, getting his attention. [Steve comments: Tzse is really a hiss, with a T sound at the start. Its a perfectly acceptable way to say "hey you!" in Ghana, and oh so convenient. Last summer when we were in the States and visiting one of the many Wal-Marts we visited, Steve needed to get Suzanne's attention, except she was all the way down one of those really long isles. He could see her, just couldn't get her attention. "Tzse!" Steve hisses, and Suzanne looks his way, and he signals her to come. ] Anyway, back to the non-starting car, the man is purposefully walking by, walking quickly, covered in sweat. (Usually people walk pretty slowly here, in order to not sweat so badly, so clearly he was in a hurry). Eric says ½ a sentence to him in Twi, the man looks up, shrugs, doesn't even break stride but takes a left turn and gets behind our car and starts pushing. He pushes it into the road, just about into the Embassy driveway, Eric pops the clutch, it starts, and the man doesn't look back but keeps walking the way he was going, after his 10 second detour of pushing our car to start it. I run to get into the car which is now waiting for me in the road, and off we go.

"That would never happen in the States," I say to Eric. He doesn't understand. "What?" he says. "In the States, if you asked someone you didn't know to push your car so you could start it, they would look at you funny and keep walking. You would have to call a friend to come help you." "Really?" he says. "Yes," I say, "You see, this is why I like Ghana so much." (Some of our Ghanaian friends really don't understand why we would choose to be here a second year instead of go back to the States – or really, why we came at all. Many of them would do just about anything to make it into the States.) Eric is quiet for a little while, and then says, "You mean, in the States, if you asked someone to help push your car, they wouldn't help you?" he finally asks. "That's right," I say, "unless they know you." Eric is quiet a little while longer, and then, clearly still pondering this, he says, "Ghana is not like that at-all." I agree.