Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ghana 2016

In August, Kurt and I took our second trip to Ghana-- to train leaders and lay-leaders on making disciple-makers in general and to implement DC for Students in particular. (Details of the 2015 are here. You can read a lot more detail in my post from last year.)
Southeast Christian Church and a number of generous donors allowed Kurt and I to take another team to Northern Ghana this summer, August 10-20. We planned to take a team of six, including Barry Suggs, Kevin Speaks, and Michael and Dee Shaughnessy (a good opportunity to take a married couple and model marriage and ministry for them). But Kevin’s mother died just before the trip, preventing him from going. (As we were leaving, Chris Goodman—from last year’s trip—and his wife Cathy, were heading to Nigeria to do medical and discipleship training!)
This year, we flew into DC, Brussels, and then Accra. After staying overnight in a guest house in Accra, we had a short flight to Tamale. (Tamale is now an international airport, since Saudi Arabia now sponsors trips to the hajj.) There, we again stayed in a village/suburb north of Tamale—in the compound run by Bob and Bonnie Parker’s Seed Ministries.
On Saturday, we revisited last’s year training site in Savelugu. We had invited those who had started to implement DC—and encouraged them to invite their DC’ers. In total, about 40 people came and we built on last year’s training, refreshing and extending key principles. I taught on the highly-relevant passage out of Exodus 18 (Jethro and Moses).
It was great to see them again! Joseph was kind to remember my family members’ names. It was inspiring for them to pray for Kurt’s impending marriage. And it was fun to hear Kurt try to teach the fruit of the Spirit to Mordecai using a family song!
On Sunday, we had to skip worship and travel to Salaga—more rural and more difficult to reach by car. It was a three-hour drive—and it was wisdom for the driver to complete the trip and the return trip well before dark. Most of the last hour was a really rough road—and with the windows open, we got really dirty. One of our biggest laughs was seeing Dee’s make-up after the drive—the red dust bath made it look like she’d applied her foundation a bit too much!
In Salaga, we did a four-day version of the training we did last year—with about 50 church leaders from six different churches/denominations.  On Monday, Michael and Dee opened with “our Identity in Christ”. If you don’t understand your identity, then you’re unlikely to get much of what God has for you. Later on Monday, Kurt segued to Spiritual Warfare—in particular, how Satan attacks our identity in Christ. On Tuesday, Barry went through Neil Anderson’s “Freedom Appointment” booklet. Spiritual warfare is probably less prevalent and is certainly underestimated in the U.S. But it’s much more obvious in less-developed countries, particularly where various forms of pagan religion seem to invite more trouble.

Kurt and I taught through our version of Dann Spader’s “Four Chairs” model. I taught on hermeneutical principles and then taught through Genesis 3. The rest of the time, we divided into four small groups, simulated a DC group, and covered material from DC201-202: “Managing Conflict”, “Intro to Leadership”, Marriage and Stewardship. We closed with a charge and a small group discussion where churches made plans to implement DC for Students in some form (to be encouraged and held accountable by Francis’ team).
The Salaga folks were a bit more passionate than the folks in Savelugu. I don’t know if that’s cultural or tribal or other. One example: they strongly related to Moses’ passion for justice and ministry in Exodus 2-3. We were told that Islam is more forward in that region, but we didn’t notice much difference in our few encounters. They seemed as friendly there as they had been in Savelugu.
We were thankful that we didn’t need a translator. It’s not as inefficient as you might think, since you can form your thoughts as the translator is going through your last thought. But still, it’s nice to go in English.
As in Savelugu, there was a lot of praise and praying out loud. I don’t know if that’s uniform in Africa or this part of Africa—or maybe just for the groups we worked with. In Salaga, they added a lot more tribal dancing. And they were quick to pray and lay on hands.
As last year—and even moreso—we were struck by the importance of cultural influences. They range from Islam (religious and cultural) to tribal norms; from the impact of weather to different norms in economics and social life. Over and over, we were wrestling with whether a practice—in marriage, church discipline, stewardship—was biblical or merely cultural. For example, it’s difficult to “leave and cleave” when you have to live with one set of parents or another—because of finances or as encouraged by tradition. Or it’s difficult to handle mothers or mothers-in-law, when they routinely come to live with you for 40-365 days after the birth of a child. In matters of church discipline, this crew took things quite seriously. We talked at great length about the biblical prescriptions for dealing with conflict—e.g., in Matthew 18. Churches would “suspend” people or put them in a “red chair”. There are not things that we would do. But even if these were sins of commission, we weren’t tempted to pride because we know we have sins of omission in this realm.
Other small moments/observations:
--There were more women this time—maybe one-fourth of the group. As our previous trip, the women were viewed as equals, even when there was differentiation in roles. It was very comfortable in that sense, the opposite of what one might expect in a less-developed country with significant Muslim influence. But Christianity had impacted these people with respect to gender—and arguably they were more comfortable than one would see in conservative American churches. (I don’t have enough data to say.)
--At the training, we had to deal with modest heat (cooler than Louisville and cooler than last year—in the mid-80s). We had ceiling fans, but without A/C, it was more difficult to hold an audience’s attention!
--One of our small groups was interrupted once by cows. Last year, we were in a “neighborhood” of sorts, so we had a wider variety of noise—passing children, wandering goats, and an occasional donkey. There were many more dogs and even a few cats in this area. There were also more trees. We were near the Volta River and closer to the coast, allowing for more rainfall and greenery.
-The hotel in Salaga was really nice in terms of externals but many of the internals didn’t work. If you took pictures from certain angles, you’d think you were in an American three-star hotel. From other angles, it looked like a dump: holes in the wall with wiring hanging out; windows in ill-fitting holes; buckets of water that would substitute for plumbing deficiencies. There was a really nice TV (nicer than I have at home), but you could only get a half dozen channels and none were worth watching. There was a nice enough bathroom, but a non-functioning toilet in our first room and not enough water pressure for a shower. (We took bucket baths all week.) All of this made us enjoy Bob and Bonnie’s and the Accra guest house that much more!
-We had veggies and fruit with every meal—strange for Ghanaians since it’s relatively expensive and apparently, they don’t like fruit all that much! We ate goat twice—a first for me…good stuff! (That’s about how often they eat goat, annually, there.) We usually had fish with our meals. One weird thing: for years when I was younger, I used to joke about wanting to form a band called “Semi-boneless Spaghetti”. I had no idea why this popped in my head. But the funny thing is that we actually ate that dish on Wednesday at lunch. I had to pull about 20 bones out of the spaghetti we were served instead of the usual rice.
-The meals in Salaga were fine. But we really enjoyed meals at Bob and Bonnie’s: oatmeal and eggs; chicken dumpling and pot pie. Their hospitality is unsurpassed. And it was also an unexpected pleasure for them to give us a copy of DC for Students translated into Dagbani!
-It was a pleasure to meet and work with Parku—one of the lieutenants on the ground in Ghana. It was great to reacquaint with Zak who traveled with us to Salaga. In the evening, he and Kurt would “battle” in Star Realms—with each subjecting the other to vicious "attacks". We were quietly trying to play Splendor—and those two would be yelling and getting excited right next to us!
-God saved my bacon at least three times. When we switched rooms, I had placed my passport and trip money under my pillow in the hotel room—and almost left it behind. Then at the airport, I almost sent my Trip Packet and Book Manuscript into my checked bags when we were shuffling bags at the airport. Given the delays we faced, that could have been somewhere between annoying and painful.
Wrapping up: In Accra on the way back, we worked with a range of street-level vendors and picked up a nice range of souvenirs. Coming and going from Accra, we had pizza at a really nice mall—better than most malls in Louisville. On the way back, we flew through Chicago—the only hiccup in our travels, but a big one. We ended up flying back to Cincy instead of Louisville, after a long delay, where Tonia and Zach picked us up.
The need to make disciples and disciple-makers is universal—for time and place. In Ghana, the challenges are greater, because people are coming to Christ, churches are being planted, but without a plan to disciple and make disciple-makers, how can the Church grow effectively?
In all of this, we got another opportunity to experience Romans 1:11-12—that we would be of mutual encouragement to each other. It was good to reacquaint with old friends in Tamale (Zak, Samson, Isaak, Joseph, Thomas, etc.) and to make new friends in Salaga (Mercy and Silas; Moses, Benjamin, Paul, Dela, Ebenezer, Clement, James, John, Ruth, Hannah, etc.)
We look forward to returning to Africa soon—perhaps again next Summer. May God use our efforts to expand His Kingdom in Ghana, Nigeria and beyond!


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