Throughout our journey in Ghana, I kept holding a question raised from our previous reading. In 1957, South Korea and Ghana were in a similar stance amongst nations after independence from the British and Korean war. But now in 2014, we need more explanations about factors which affected current differences between them. I guessed that one of the factors was common language. Then, today I was able to find out my assumption is near to the answer.
At the ACI library where we visited in the morning, I encountered a bunch of Bibles written in different Ghanaian languages. A librarian told me that there are at least 55 languages in Ghana. Wherever we traveled here, we were often asked to switch our hello expression from Twi to Ewe or Ashanti. At ACI, I’ve noticed that African church communities are trying to unify through translation of Bibles into their own languages since they have a Bible translation and interpretation degree.
And then, we attended a Live Deliverance Session. Aboa Offei, a lay pastor in charge of the grace deliverance team, introduced us to the prayer park in which everybody is welcomed to pray together. He put an emphasis on praying with people not for people. During the service, people who have sickness among congregations freely came to the front to get a deliverance aided by the Grace team. Before and after the deliverance service, the leader responded gently to our questions. Prior to attending the deliverance service, I was wondering if Ghana still held Exorcism traditions that sounded old-fashioned. Of course, we saw continuous prayers with loud voices, raised hands and clapping. These were very familiar to me as a Korean. Still, it was impressive that the Presbyterian church in Ghana embraces pentecostal practices. I was so glad to see how Ghanaian Christians interact with their own culture. I hope that more diverse prayer practices would be mingled with our worship at home.
Late Friday afternoon we headed to Agbogbloshie Market, a place we had read and heard about as an impoverished “slum” community in Accra. Two young men from the area Presbyterian church met us and led us through the main yam market, bustling with people selling goods, working, eating, sleeping, and chatting. Chickens fluttered about, kids tumbled in the dirt, and curious eyes fixed on us, clearly foreigners, as we made our way slowly through the winding market.
Our hosts showed us their spots in the yam market with pride and eagerly explained their operations. The market atmosphere felt like a compression of humanity, dizzying in complexity, humming with sensory overload, and roughly assembled into a football field’s worth of space. My mind was eager to absorb and retain the images and portraits of the people. I remember a young woman in a long black dress, a wide dish of oranges with shaved peels balanced on her head, holding one orange to her mouth. There were three little boys, bare-chested and grinning, marching next us, pumping their arms and chanting, “O-bru-ni! O-bru-ni!” (i.e. “White person!”). A woman perched behind her pile of dusty yams, and her face softened into deep smile lines when we greeted her cheerfully. Though we only saw a sliver of the estimated 40,000 people living in Agbogbloshie, each person was going about their business with dignity and resilience in the midst of the visible signs of poverty around them–the garbage-choked river, the one-room homes of boards and tin metal, the piles of yams signifying most people’s meager income. As we wound through the market to the church, we made small connections through smiles and simple exchanges in their language. We also chattered with a growing band of children. At one point the entire market slowed to a halt when one woman pounding fufu (local dish made of boiled and pounded yams) with a long stick offered to let Gloria try. Gloria pounded fufu while everyone watched in amusement and delight.
We eventually made it to the church, which was tucked into a dark little cinderblock room with a tin roof. The sun was getting lower, and without electricity in the place, we worshipped together in the near darkness. The women and the children led us round and round in energetic dance as the drums filled the room with rhythm. We sang, danced, and exchanged greetings and gifts together, even though we could hardly see each others’ faces. The warm welcome and joyful energy ensured that we did not feel out of place, but rather felt accepted and embraced unconditionally.
The church’s location in the midst of impoverished socio-economic conditions made me think about our churches’ call to work in similar communities at home. Could we manage to be so gracious, loving, and accepting? When we had previously walked through the castle in Elmina, we were disturbed by the duality of European colonists worshipping God in the chapel while one floor below, slaves were imprisoned and dehumanized in the most tortuous, gruesome, and appalling conditions. That grave divide between faith and practice challenges us to be more aware of the institutions, policies, actions, and words of oppression that remain in need of transformation. Even by recognizing our complicity as an industrialized nation in dumping our e-waste into communities like Agbogbloshie, we can make the connection between our way of life and the impact it has on their environment, health, and livelihoods.
As we reflect on our trip by looking back over the images, remembering conversations, and engaging in reflection, I pray that we might be challenged to give an overflowing welcome to strangers, joyfully praise God for our blessings, recognize our ignorance with humility, seek understanding, and work to lead churches to engage with socio-economic issues that affect our brothers and sisters near and far. United in our hope for the kingdom that calls us all home, we look to God’s redeeming love to renew our ability to work for justice and practice hospitality in a complex and interconnected world.
Today was good, but (because?) it left me feeling decidedly uneasy. We made three main visits in the city of Ho: the Mawguli school, a colony for cured lepers, and a center for street children. At each of these sites, I felt trapped by interactions defined by my position as a privileged white American. How could I keep from wincing as schoolchildren eagerly explained that they want to visit America because it’s beautiful, because the people are kind, because I want to be like them? Does the wealth of America guarantee us a particularly high allotment of the world’s beauty and kindness? I certainly hope not.
With shining eyes, the schoolchildren also voiced their aspirations to become doctors and pastors, newscasters and engineers. Prospects were not so bright for the cured lepers we met. Though freed from their disease, these men and women will never be released from the isolating stigma of leprosy. So they live on meager helpings of charity. Their daily meals, however skimpy, may be more than the street children manage to procure through odd jobs at the marketplace.
The faces and stories of all these individuals reminded me of the fragility and tenacity of human life. And they made me want to do something. I wanted to do more than wave, smile, and snap photos. But I have long felt distrustful of the vast majority of American attempts to analyze and fix other people’s “issues.” We seldom offer what people truly need, and our clumsy meddling often produces harmful results. Unless I dedicate a sizable portion of my life to the community of Ho, I doubt that I can do very much for them.
So what was the value of our time with the Ghanaians we met today? To me, the value lay in the flashes of real connection we experienced when we were interacting with them. When we were shaking hands with those deemed untouchable by their families. When we were singing or kicking soccer balls with children who will sleep on market tables tonight. When we humans being human with humans. Not pitying, not helping. Just being.
And though I still feel uneasy, I am again grateful for the enduring partnership between Union and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) at Ho. Because through that partnership, I believe we can work with those who know their community more deeply than we ever will.
We Must Never Forget
Remembering beautiful moments can be very powerful, and on our trip to Elmina Castle I have come to realize that remembering ugly moments in human history are perhaps even more so. We witnessed the stories of people who suffered and died, were tortured and raped, and experienced such atrocities that I was first moved to tears of grief and later to anger. For the inhumane treatment of God’s creatures, our fellow human beings, my heart cries out and I have been deeply moved.
Before my visit to Ghana, I was among those who while having learned of the history of slave trading remained removed from the story. I was disconnected by centuries of history and a lack of understanding having never seen such places as Elmina Castle. As I walked the same steps many Africans had walked, I experienced a connection as never before to the people who would have cried out and suffered. I do not pretend to fully know their suffering, how could I possibly? In fact, my experience is still quite removed; however, as we looked upon the floors where slaves spent days laying in their own excrement, walked into the cells where they would have been held, stood in the room where the governor would have raped countless women, walked through the room of no return, we were able to visualize all that occurred within the Castle’s walls. My own views of the need to remember what happened have come full circle. It is not possible to remain removed when we hear the stories and imagine the cries of the people who died and suffered. The very walls give voice to their cries. Standing in silence in the rooms of such injustice has shaped my now deeper understanding of the importance and need to remember.
I repeatedly found myself asking the questions like – How could God-fearing people do such things? How could one listen to the cries of people day and night and do nothing to end it? How does one rape innumerable women day after day or place people in a cell with no food and water until they die?
We have slavery in the world today. We have human trafficking in our world today. I can not imagine life in such conditions. We all have a responsibility to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. When we see something wrong, we should stand. When we see injustice, we should speak out. When we witness suffering, we should offer aid. Elmina Castle reminds us all of the need for such action. To honor those who have gone before, to acknowledge the human indignities that occurred, and to look to the future so this can never happen again. We must never forget!
This journey of life I believe that God has me on is so amazing. The path of this journey has led me in this 2014 year to the country of Ghana. Being apart of this UPSem travel seminar has indeed been an exciting way to begin anew in mind, body and spirit. Today we are visiting the WLI Agumasta Waterfall on this leg of our adventures and journey.
Today I find myself in a familiar place in a very unfamiliar country. This place in which I find myself is that of being led down a unknown path to envision and experience beauty, peace and serenity. Oftentimes when I find myself in this familiar place I am alone with my wandering feelings and thoughts, but in this moment I am with my classmates, faculty and others. As I look around to see what and how others are preparing for this journey I hear a voice from our guides say “it will take us about 40 minutes to get there.” I now have a timeframe to set both my clock and mind to for this journey. As in life I continually try to prepare myself for the path that God leads me on, to get prepared for what lies ahead.
So, off on this path designed for the day’s journey in Ghana I begin. Walking along the path there are simple things that capture my breath and eyes. My first encounter was the sign for directions through the rainforest. As I take the picture I again hear another voice coming through from a distance. I snap my picture quickly in order to find whose faint voice I’m hearing. After walking an inch from the sign I notice a shack with African Masks hanging in the front. I move a little farther past the sign and into the pathway of the rainforest and I make out the face of the man sitting inside his shack on the side of a bed. He says “come, come see my work.” Excitement beams on my face from what I know will be rich creative artistry beyond my cultural bounds. Of course I want to visit him, but due to our schedule of ’40 minutes’ that option was denied.
Onward I stroll down the beaten path through the rainforest towards the goal of viewing the very beautiful waterfall. The strides I have initially on this journey are in rhythm with most of my tour companions, but after several minutes I noticed that we all seem to move at a little slower pace. However, as we continue along the way we incorporate conversation and picture taking to take the dredge out of a ’40 minute’ walk. Weather worn bridges, soothing sounds of fresh streams and newly grown fruit on trees captures our attention and assist in the return of the excitement of what lies ahead over the streams and through the forest.
Just as I Iook to finish sharing a childhood story with my classmate walking beside me, my eyes are literally overwhelmed by what lies in the immediate distance. In that instant my mouth begins to drop from the view of the beauty, peace and serenity I’ve been trodding down the path towards. As I move closer to the waterfall I feel the mist that has started to quench the heat and sweat that consumed me on the path I have traveled. My eyes at this point are so transfixed on it’s beauty that I lose thought of my tour companions. I’m truly experiencing this beauty, I’m feeling at peace and I sense the serenity all around me, even as I see in my peripheral view my companions waving for me to join them. I look up to see the water falling from a place higher than my eyes can even focus, and below where it settles is inviting me to a place to receive, refresh, and feel anew.
As always God continues to share his blessings with me as I take this journey with Him. It as well never ever surprises me that I should put away the plan and preparation to offer assistance while on this path. The ’40 minutes’ of time are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It will always be about the conversations, the picturesque moments, and the times spent along the way. And just when you feel you’ve walked enough His refreshing ‘water anew with life’ takes your breath away.
Domeabra (If you love me, you will come) is the town I stayed in for two nights with my Ghanaian hosts, David, Justina, and their three of four children, Patience, Isaac and Jean. Domeabra is a bit of a hike from the main city in the region, Kumasi, so I can guess how it came by its name. After my stay, I would be extremely happy to return and see David and Justina again. As I heard before I arrived, the food certainly flowed. There was no shortage of encouragement to clean my plate or to have seconds or thirds. On the second day, Justina, feeling that I was not feeding myself adequately, started serving me to ensure I got my fill. The food was wonderful. They started me off with an “American” friendly fare of rice (lot’s of rice!), chicken, fresh fruit (loved the fresh squeezed orange juice off their tree at breakfast), and bottled water….ice cold for me. The longer I stayed with David and Justina the more I realized they were giving far more than food and a place to stay. They were giving me themselves. Just as we moved from eating chicken and rice to more local, personal foods like Kele Welie (fried, spiced plantains), ampesi (yams with sauce), and Justina’s favorite, Banku (cornmeal balls) with a spicy, red fish sauce; our personal sharing moved from general, polite questions to a willingness to let each other see a little more inward with two-way conversations and attentive listening. It was a joy made possible by David and Justina’s physical and spiritual hospitality that let me feel comfortable enough to be myself. Another student, Phyllis, called this “servant leadership”. It was an inspiration and reminder of how we are called to live our lives.
At seventy-eight years old, David is a doubly retired dean and professor from KNUST, a prestigious technical university. He is the son of two teachers. His father later became a minister in the Presbyterian church. As the son of two teachers, I asked how he had entered into the field of agriculture. He had stated that as with many things in life it happened unexpectedly. After university, he was working as a clerk for the department of education when a young, smallish man entered the office and asked for papers to get a government car loan. David told me that at this point he decided that if this young, small man could get a car that he was capable too. Soon after he resigned and went to teach in the northern region. A few years later he returned to the university and earned a degree in agriculture with economic focus. This began a career at the university that would also take him for a year in South Wales, Australia, and three years of advanced education in Edmonton, Canada. And even as his career advanced, he was active in his church, Christ Presbyterian, located on the university campus. He served twice on session. Although he no longer drives a car, David has two parked at his house.
David and Justina celebrated their forty-first anniversary on December 30. David explained that he had first met Justina at a relative’s funeral. He looked up and saw this beautiful woman. After inquiring he found out that a member of his family knew her family. Soon they began the formal routine of dating, whereby he asked permission of her father to spend time with her and she met his family.
Justina is younger than David. She has an infectious smile and laugh. Still make no mistake, she carries herself with a quiet confidence that is humble yet strong. As the home’s hostess, I saw her on more than one occasion make her point with family and visitors alike with that infectious smile and firm voice. I never saw any of her requests denied. It is this way of dealing with people that allowed her to teach for many years and retire as headmistress of the university’s nursery school. Justina actually preceded David as a member of their church’s session. Additionally, she has served as the president of the church’s women’s group and is still an active member.
In contrast to David’s more reserved approach to religion and the spiritual, Justina is right out there with her beliefs and she often spoke of being present and listening for direction from the Holy Spirit. She explained that her feel for the Holy Spirit had almost become intuition for her. Her talk of the Holy Spirit was framed to me and called me to engage her further in conversation as the Holy Spirit was the first of the Trinity of which I felt God’s presence.
Both David and Justina cracked me up with their impressions of American speech. The first time David’s impression caught me totally by surprise. We were in the middle of my formal introduction/welcome to their home. Charles, a church leader who was my source of transportation, was making my introduction to David and Justina. Cold water had been served to all. Freshly baked cake was brought to all and even sparkling grape juice was served to us by their daughter, Patience. It was very proper and formal. And then David introduced himself. “I am David Asante-Kwatia.” As if sensing I didn’t get his last name, he repeated again. Then without missing a beat, he said, and if it helps in American it is “Asanteia-aquara.” The raised voice, inflection and roughness in pronunciation were great. I could totally see myself pronouncing his name that way. He later explained a Canadian-American professor had addressed him as such with fellow Ghanaian colleagues soon following in this pronunciation. I made it a point to get his name right and did, I think.
Justina also liked to kid me saying, “Hey, Rick, you want sum wutr (water)?” Gone was her soft English that fully enunciated each word, replaced by someone who could have been out of Baltimore. I heard this more than once and it always brought a smile to my face. Justina even asked for my critiques to make sure she had “our” accents down.
On our first night as we sat talking at dinner, the lights went out. After Justina found a lantern, we finished dinner and moved to the living room. In the living room, David explained to me the state of electricity in Ghana. Sometimes unexpectedly the government would cut the electricity for conservation and sometimes it would just go out. David continued that the Ghanaian president had just that day cited the reduction in power outages as a success in his first year in office. Justina matter-of-factly added with a smile “Dumso, Dumso”-“off, on”. Sometimes the lights go off and sometimes they go on. It just is. I laughed. Sometimes all you can do is accept the situation and laugh. I will remember the power outage fondly for David and Justina’s grace as well as introducing me to “Dumso, Dumso.”
I am happy to say that my experience has become a part of me. I hope that I was able to share a part of myself with David and Justina as well. I will remember a faith centered couple with a passion for each other, their family and committed to living with loving caring. I will remember looking at their wedding album with Justina and hearing her speak lovingly of the handsome man she married. I will remember David’s account of their meeting and the sharing of their family history. I will also remember their Christmas tree still being up so that they could share their Christmas moment with a daughter who could not be home for Christmas. I will remember their interest in my family as I sat on the couch with each and shared my story while looking at pictures I had brought. I will remember their great generosity in making anything in their home available and their wonderful shirt they gave me to wear to church and on special occasions. But most of all I will remember with great gratitude that they made me feel like a part of their family. It is a wonderful feeling and one that I hope to share with someone in the future.
Asawasi Presbyterian School- Pre-School – Middle School.
Joyce Petty and Katie Voegtli featured with the children of the school. This school accommodates approximately 600 children. It resides on the campus of Asawasi Presbyterian Church, church home to over 1000 congregated. Rev. Steven Anboagye and his wife Gladys live on site with 3 other ministers. Asawasi Presbyterian School is a private school and most of the children live on-site! The church has a charitable donations ministry which aides families with tuition. Katie and I had the wonderful.opportunity of being hosted by the Asawasi Presbyterian Church and school.