The Buchele Adventure

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bolgatanga Regional Hospital and other stories

Last summer, Steve was on a tour of Ghana to visit our Mission Society Colleagues serving in northern Ghana and Togo. Having spent some time with Sue K [her blog], he is now in Bolgatanga, with the Bolga Bartletts, Dave and Ellen.  For some reason this post never posted, and suddenly it just showed up.  So here it is a year later. 
One morning Dave and Ellen take me to see the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital.  We are there to help along the process of a young man, Brother A., who has Hepatitis B. The process we are helping has nothing to do with efficiency.
The hospital has misplaced Brother A’s folder:1, and so orders are given to create a new folder:2, then to wait in long, slow moving queue, to create a new folder:3, and with folder in hand to wait to see the doctor:4,5. It could be a study in inefficiency, but Dave and Ellen know the system and somehow captured the doctor’s cell phone number. A quick phone call later, the doctor agrees to meet them and we join the queue to wait to bypass what could have been days of waiting, instead of just hours:6. Six hours.
Receiving the doctors news, and what is next.
It all would be a tragic situation, hopeless, without the evidence of God working through Dave and Ellen, and yet through it all Brother A’s mother is patient. Jolia’s son is the top student in his class, a strong good looking young man that is the picture of health. He is in contrast to the baby Jolia back loads all morning. Known locally as a spirit child, something is a bit off with Baby Y. His eyes don’t catch yours, and he fusses and cries even less than most Ghanaian babies, who are stoic, a back loaded passengers to their mother’s life.
It is believed that the birth of a spirit child’s coincided with some tragic event in the village or family , like a sickness or death of a family member. Babies born under these circumstances are believed to be a bad omen, cursed by the ancestors, and must be returned otherwise more bad things will happen. Yet Jolia has gone against tradition, and fought for the child to live, not letting the village elders take it to be left to die. Read more about Baby Y’s story.
Jolia is the living embodiment of a quote by Barbara Kartz Rothman:
“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength” [2]
And I would add that for Jolia, her inner strength, if evidence of a quiet faith in God. Read more of her story
Still the process takes all morning. Lab tests are ordered for Brother A, new prescriptions given, and by 1:30pm--we’ve been at this since 7:30am--we drop him off at school. Ellen gives him a cedi to buy lunch (thirty cents),and that how we learn this will be his first meal of the day.
Ellen asks “Jolia, do you have any food in the house?”
“Oh, no Mommie.” So it is off to the market to buy rice, oil and fish.
At the Market
Ellen’s compassion is so heartfelt. Dave has been so steadfast in his support of her heart’s longing, never complaining, or even rolling an eye. Later we meet another woman who runs a foster home, whom the Bartletts have been helping and Dave has to remind her that they can only help One by One. In fact Dave made her a T-shirt that says just that “1x1”, and she happens to wearing it today.
Bolgatanga Sunset
[2] Rothman, Barbara Kartz Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Religion, Beacon Press, 2005

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When my prayer life changed



Steve visits an ashram in Pondicherry, and his prayer life changed.

I had gone to the ashram skeptical, but wanting to experience the part of a devoted follower, praying to the part of God that is worshiped in this place, and hoping for something in return; a revelation from that place. Part of my concentration was praying through each item from my list: my brother Rod who is dying of liver cancer, for my children, for Suzanne and our marriage, and a few other situations that have since dropped off my prayer radar. My list is usually a list of 3-5, and since I did not know how much time Sanjay had allotted for concentration on this part of the tour, the prayer request flew by historical markers on an interstate highway.

Highway speed prayers should have felt unfamiliar, but looking back on it; I realize I had been praying that style for some time; a habit of setting the cruise control and praying from a time when I felt busy. Now I was less busy, but my prayers had not downshifted; they were still fast food prayers of obligation.

Read about the Ashram in Praying to the part of you that is worshiped.

Walking away from the ashram, I casually ask one of the young people on the tour if God had revealed anything. While thinking about her answer, she asked:

“What did God reveal to you, Steve?”

I was not begging to be asked, and didn't even know there was a revelation waiting for me until she asked. When God wants to reveal something to me, it usually is not complicated, or complex. God just hides it in my consciousness until something triggers me to look for it, or I trip over it like a stray toy in the dark.

WRITING 101 (1)

You pray too fast.

Those words did not form in my brain, they were just there, like they had always been there, waiting to be seen, or in this case uncovered when I tripped over them.

I could have answered, “I pray too fast,” but didn't. On this tour, few travelers knew I was a pastor; the rest knew me to be a teacher, and I did not want to blow my cover. I was enjoying the anonymity; the break from people's expectations. It was good to just be a regular person, and relate to people like that.

In seminary they taught us a pastor can NEVER take off the pastor hat, even if you think you have taken it off, people still see its shadow (unless you're on a G-Adventures Tour, and don't tell anyone). Ha! Take that Austin Seminary!

If she told me about her revelation, I am sure I was not listening; I was too absorbed in my own revelation about praying too fast. I knew it was from the Lord; I knew it was true, so I asked, slowly, what needs to change?

Come into my presence. And with that, my prayer life changed.

I started to pray without asking God for anything.

There was still plenty, plenty (as we say in Ghana), to ask of God but those things were not driving the reason I was praying and that changed everything.

Maybe this is why I visit sacred places that other faiths designate as holy, I learn about my experience of God by seeking to understand theirs.


We Did It! Engineering at Ashesi is Happening!!!

Screenshot 2015-08-13 16.00.37
I was looking back at some notes I took when Ashesi’s President Patrick called me in the fall of 2013. I was in the car, on the way to our church, St. Phillips United Methodist Church in Round Rock; Steve was driving and Anna was in the back seat. I had some trouble hearing, but I got the gist: Patrick wanted me to lead the development of the engineering program. I reminded him that I wasn’t an engineer, he said that he didn’t think that was absolutely necessary, they had engineers giving input, I would coordinate the efforts. Gulp. Patrick wasn’t asking, he was informing me of what my first duties would be. And I was already committed, I’d already given notice at Southwestern University and we were already well into planning the move.
“Has anyone ever had more faith in you than you had in yourself?”
Has anyone ever had more faith in you than you had in yourself? Fast forward almost two years, and… WE DID IT! And by WE I really mean WE: the faculty at Ashesi who already had a first draft of the curriculum and had already consulted local industry; the faculty at Ashesi who helped me as I coordinated moving the project forward; the administrative staff who gave us the resources to plan and coordinate the work; the international engineering advisory faculty who looked at drafts of the curriculum and gave feedback, and came to a face-to-face meeting almost a year ago at Olin for an intense two-day review; faculty and administrative staff from our mentoring institution, The University of Mines and Technology, who also gave good and timely feedback and were willing to work with us on areas in which there were differing views; the National Accreditation Board (NAB) and the faculty panels who came as part of the NAB review teams to review the curriculum and facilities and ultimately gave their approval; and supporters who have helped fund me being here to coordinate the efforts. It may seem trite to also credit God, but truly, this task has had so many hurdles that were overcome, there just is no way it would have happened without divine orchestration and blessing.
“Suzanne, we can’t fail at this.”
When I got to Ashesi and took over leading the efforts, I was scared, to say the least. It didn’t help that Patrick would occasionally say, “we can’t fail at this.” No pressure! I quickly became at least conversant, if not an expert, on the state of the art of engineering education. Thankfully, I already knew Ashesi’s educational model very well. I was never very knowledgeable about our lab equipment needs, but worked hard to rope in others who did, both at Ashesi and internationally. I discovered a lot about myself, and other’s trust in me: I am not perfect, omniscient, or a superwoman; what I am is smart enough to learn what I need to know, and ask other people for help when I know I can’t do it alone. I did try to say, “no, I can’t meet that deadline, ” more than once – and sometimes the deadline became fuzzy, other times I worked long hours with quite a bit of stress and did the best I could.
And now: the programs are accredited; initial textbooks and lab equipment are in; a Dean has been hired; initial faculty have been hired; and students are being recruited. Classes begin for first year students September 14, and our official engineering inauguration is October 3. Hallelujah!!!
“When God expects big things, comfort isn’t part of the equation.”
One of my daily devotions recently was reflecting on Mark 6:35-44 in which Jesus and the disciples feed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. In the past year and a half, some of you have heard me lament that I didn’t have the credentials or experience in engineering to feel comfortable attempting to pull off the audacious goal of bringing the engineering program to fulfillment. But when God is expecting big things, comfort isn’t part of the equation. The Reflections author writes, “Too often when we can’t imagine how to do all that needs to be done, we never start…” Thankfully, I had the audacity to start, and God helped turn my five loaves and two fishes into an engineering program!
But, of course, I didn’t do it alone. A deep seated principle of Ashesi boils down to this: when the going gets tough, everyone pitches in! Thanks to everyone who helped make the engineering program happen.
“A deep seated principle of Ashesi boils down to this: when the going gets tough, everyone pitches in!”