Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For, Part 2

Mary Kay writes...

Another lesson in "be careful what you wish for" came yesterday afternoon. I had spent a little time moping this week about how shallow our relationships with Ghanaians sometimes seem. It may be cultural misunderstanding, or just that we do things differently? Anyway, as I delivered Christmas gifts to various pastors and others, I was feeling a little sorry for myself, thinking that the gift giving seemed pretty one-sided.

But, yesterday we returned from a couple of days at the beach to quite a surprise. As we carried our wet towels and sandy bags into the house, our security man told me that someone had dropped by a Christmas present for us - a truly Ghanaian Christmas present of rice, palm oil,and a guinea fowl. I walked in the house and saw the rice and oil sitting on the floor. But where was the guinea fowl? I looked in the refrigerator and the freezer, but I didn't see anything that looked like guinea fowl meat.

Then I started cleaning up from the trip, and went to throw out some trash from our snacks in the car. As I started to drop the paper into the kitchen trash can, a small movement caught the corner of my eye. I had found my guinea fowl - it was alive!

I had to smile - a live bird for Christmas. When Charlie worked at UPS, they used to give us a frozen turkey every year. Prior to the Depression, they had actually delivered a live turkey to each employee's family. We used to laugh at the image of the UPS man having to wrestle a live turkey up to our front door during the Christmas rush. Now we were living that story!

I called the rest of the family in to see our Christmas present. The boys immediately sent up howls of protest that the "poor bird" was being held captive in our trash bin. Then they asked what I would do with it. Needless to say, my response of "wring its neck and eat it" was not well received. Chip and Ken were absolutely not going to eat anything that they had seen alive, even if the fowl did not become a pet. And never mind that the chicken and beef they eat every night for dinner was once alive.

So the guinea fowl went home with Jasper, our driver. He was very appreciative, and I am sure his family feasted well today. But I was a little disappointed. I was looking forward to finding out if I really had enough pioneer stock in me to wring a bird's neck, pluck it, and cook it for our dinner. It's probably easier to just go buy a frozen chicken at Max Mart, though. What wimps we are!

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. ... They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. Psalm 105:1, 40

Friday, December 19, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For, Part 1

Mary Kay writes...

Be careful what you wish for! Yesterday in our newsletter, and also posted on our blog, I wrote that one of the things I missed about home at Christmas time was the sound of the Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells outside stores. Not to worry!

Today, I was in one of the larger, western grocery stores in town, Max Mart in East Legon. I was picking up a few things so that the boys and I could indulge in some Christmas baking. As I strolled the aisles with my cart, picking up dates, flour, sugar, etc., all of a sudden I started to hear a familiar sound.

There was a Ghanaian man, dressed up in a Santa suit,complete with fake beard! He was roaming up and down the aisles of the store, ringing his little brass bell. No "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas" or large kettle for donations, but still a little reminder of home. I was practically rolling on the floor with laughter, as I thought of how hard God was trying to make me feel at home for Christmas!

I took you from the ends of the earth,from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:9-10

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'll Be Home For Christmas...

Mary Kay writes... I wrote the following for our newsletter, but thought I would publish it here as well.

I have the Christmas music playing on my laptop as I write; I’m trying to convince myself that Christmas is just around the corner. It is difficult, when it is in the 90s outside. And while Christmas is a celebration here in Ghana, and becoming more commercialized, it has not taken on the production levels of the US.

As I listen to Christmas favorites, I realize how many of them came from the World War II era, when soldiers were separated from loved ones and dreaming of home and a White Christmas. I dream of Christmas concerts at the church, Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells, and the scent of pine in the house. Charlie longs for cold weather, and the boys are just glad school is out!

That first Christmas was really no different for Mary and Joseph. They, too, were far from home at a time that they longed to be celebrating with family. And they did not have the luxury of e-mail and digital photos to get the news to their loved ones back home! But they did still have their faith in God , that all was happening according to His plan.

That is what we are learning: That home is not the place where you are born, or where you feel most comfortable culturally. Home is where God places you for this time in your life. And while we may be far from loved ones, we are never far from The One Who Loves Us! So we are home for Christmas, here in Ghana, but we will also be home with you, if only in our hearts and prayers.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:4-8

Friday, December 05, 2008

Death of a Material Girl

Mary Kay writes…

Well, she’s finally dead! No, not Madonna (at least not that I’ve heard). But I definitely would have fit her description of a Material Girl in years past. Not anymore!

It is getting toward that time of year again – Christmas! Many friends and family members have e-mailed us asking what we would like to receive for Christmas. We have scoured the internet, the boys’ teen magazines and more, trying to come up with answers. But we struggle to make a list. The things we would like the most seem so insignificant – a box of Cheerios or Life cereal, some broccoli or asparagus. It doesn’t take much to make us happy these days. Of course, the things we really want, like Peace on Earth or safe water for everyone, are a lot more difficult to come by.

A couple of days ago, I walked into our local Orca store – a kind of overgrown Pier One crossed with an undersized WalMart. There was one item I needed to get, which I quickly found. But then I thought I would just look around a minute to see if there was anything I needed to get for Christmas. I was quickly overwhelmed by all the “stuff”. I definitely felt like I was in Madame Blueberry’s StuffMart (a great VeggieTales video, if you haven’t seen it!). After only a couple of minutes, and without seeing most of what was on display, I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to leave, with my one simple purchase.

Charlie hit the nail on the head last night. As we were trying to answer one more Christmas wish list e-mail, he said, “You know, it is hard to know what you “want” for Christmas here, without all the advertisers to tell you what the latest gizmos are!”

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day 2008

Mary Kay writes:

It is strange and disorienting to celebrate a major custom like American Thanksgiving 10,000 miles away from home. Of course, Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Ghana, so life is going on as if today is an ordinary day. The children are off of school – for today only – but that is only because they attend the American school. We are far from the family we are used to celebrating with.

There is not the least hint of fall, or coolness in the air. It is probably 90 or so here, and definitely over 100 in the kitchen where the oven has been going all day. We will not be able to watch the Macy’s parade on TV, as we prepare the Thanksgiving feast, and we will not sit down to watch the A&M-Texas Thanksgiving Classic after the meal. Of course, this might be a good thing for us Aggie fans, as we are probably going to get thrashed! And if I am really motivated, I can listen to the game on the internet – providing the internet is working and I want to stay up until the wee hours.

But the thing I miss the most at the moment is cooking with my Mom, and my sister. We ran my Grandmother out of the kitchen a few years ago – she is now 97+ and has cooked enough Thanksgiving dinners to give her a bye for life! And now, my niece, Shannon, has joined in the tradition. I am cooking the same foods I would be were I in Atlanta, or Houston – turkey, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy and sauerkraut - but I am having to do it by myself. I cried as I chopped onions for the dressing this morning, but I couldn’t tell if it was just from the onions or from homesickness too. I think the latter. And who is here to help me decide if there is enough salt or sage in the dressing?

I called home last night to ask Mom about quantities of the dressing recipe, as I was trying to figure out how much to make for the thirty people or so that we will celebrate with today. I had just put my cornbread in the oven. I found Mom and Shannon, my 14-year-old niece, in the kitchen, with their cornbread in the oven. So it did feel a little like we were cooking together, even though we are oceans apart. I also thought about the first pilgrim women and how they must have felt the same. Homesick in the strange new land God had brought them to, missing family and friends, yet thankful for the blessings of the year. At least I have modern communications to help me connect back home!

There is one benefit to celebrating in a place where it is not a national holiday, though – if you forget anything or run out at the last minute the stores are all open! And later this afternoon, we will gather together with the rest of our Mission Society team – both Americans and Ghanaians from all over Ghana – to celebrate. There will be plenty of food – all the traditional favorites, including green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. And maybe someone will have a podcast of one of last years’ football games that we will project on the wall and watch. We are so blessed to have this new family, complete with sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, here in Ghana and thankful to be able to gather together to celebrate.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done. Psalm 105:1 (NLT)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Drum Lessons

Mary Kay writes:

I spent a pleasant hour a couple of weeks ago sitting under the nim tree at the Kumasi Cultural Centre with the drum carvers. The head on Chip’s djimbe (one of the African drums) had split, and I had taken it back to the carver Wednesday to have it repaired. Of course, when we returned today before heading back to Accra, it wasn’t quite ready yet, but we were promised the wait would be “small”. Hint: one never knows exactly how long “wait small” means here, but since I wasn’t in a huge hurry, I decided I could wait for about an hour rather than try to figure out how to get it to someone else to bring to me in Accra.

The morning was overcast, so it wasn’t too hot yet. I sat under the shade tree and watched the men work on Chip’s drum, as well as other projects. And an African drumming and dance troupe was practicing in the background. A beautiful day in Ghana.

There were drums in all stages. Some whole logs were still waiting to be rough carved. One apprentice was working on the rough shaping and carving for two large ceremonial drums. The master was carving intricate detail into a beautiful drum, and several drums were awaiting new heads. There were drums of all types: beautifully carved drums that may well end up as decoration in some tourists home in the US or Europe, funeral drums covered in black cloth, ceremonial drums covered in real! ocelot or leopard skin, and much plainer, more functional drums. But all with the same purpose – to add beauty, both decorative and musical – to our lives.

I was especially fascinated by the finishing touches being put on Chip’s drum. The head had already been replaced, and was being tightened. When the apprentice started, the drum had no tone, just a dull thud sound. But he worked his way around the drum pulling on the strings, tightening them as he went. By the third time around, the strings were so taut that he was twisting them around a stick, which he then used as a lever against the drum itself to pull them tighter. It looked like at any moment the strings would break under the tension, and we would have to start over. But then, he was finished, and the drum had the beautiful ringing high pitches, and deep low tones of a Ghanaian djimbe.

As I watched, I thought about my life. Sometimes I feel stretched to the limit. I think, if one more thing goes wrong, I will just break. I can’t handle any more. But the Master Drum Maker continues to stretch me anyway. But it is in the stretching that I am transformed. The stretching strengthens me and transforms me, so that I am better able to worship and glorify God.

How has God stretched you lately?

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Peter Bread"

Charlie writes:

The Ghanaians speak an English closer to British than American. A prominent feature for me coming from New Jersey is that the letter 'R' is rarely pronounced. Normally this is not a problem once you get used to it, but we found an interesting mis-transcription of our favorite Lebanese flatbread at the store this week. As you can see from the scan, what we would call "Pita Bread" is marketed here in Ghana as "Peter Bread!" which sounds the same to Ghanaian ears.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Raising Global Kids

Mary Kay writes…

Our children are growing up in a very different world than we parents did. The changes in travel, immigration patterns, communications, and the like have created a global environment. But how do we raise our children to succeed in this environment and to be aware of the differences around them? How do we teach them to understand and value that future co-worker who comes from halfway around the world?

Charlie and I both grew up in fairly homogeneous environments. Everyone was pretty similar to us – same language, same culture, same general values. Being different in my elementary school meant that you either had just moved into the neighborhood from somewhere else or you were one of the Jewish children (there were three in my grade). But by the time we were leaving our jobs to come on the mission field, we were working in a completely different environment. Charlie worked in one group at Lucent that had group members from the US, Nigeria, China, the Ukraine, and India. Throughout my consulting career, I worked with Indians, West and East Africans, a Jordanian, Eastern Europeans, Russians, Taiwanese, Koreans, and more, as co-workers, as subordinates, and as clients. Boy, had the world shrunk since my elementary school days!

I recently received a missions e-mail on raising global kids, which really got me thinking about this issue. What had we done, prior to moving overseas, to help prepare Chip and Ken for life in a global society? What were we doing now, and how was it different?

We always tried to raise our children’s awareness of global issues as they were growing up. Our first strategy was to send the boys to our local elementary school, Chesnut Charter School, where at the time we attended there were students from 26 different countries, speaking 13 languages in the home. We introduced them (OK, not so successfully for those of you who know how picky an eater Chip is) to foods from around the world. We had a globe and an atlas and we would look up places that we heard about on the news. Eventually, we hung a world map in our hallway and placed a dot in each place that we had friends living, so that we could see it and remember to pray for them. It was amazing how widespread our network was, even before we entered the mission world!

We also traveled, trying to show the boys other parts of the world. This started the process that landed us in Ghana – we came to visit friends who had moved here. Ostensibly we just wanted to show the boys another part of the world, a place very different from suburban Atlanta, but God had a different plan. We had no idea when we visited in 2002 that we would all fall in love with Ghana and her people, much less end up living here!

We moved our children overseas to Ghana 2 years ago when they were 15 and 12. It has been amazing to watch their transformation. We had always lived in a fairly multi-cultural environment. However, in looking back on it now, that was still an environment where all these children from all over the world were trying to become American (except on International Festival Day). The difference in being in a (no more diverse) international school is that everyone brings their own culture to the table. If I were looking at schools back in Atlanta now, I would definitely explore sending the children to an international (expatriate) school there, as a way of growing global kids.

The other thing that has really impacted us is listening to, watching, and reading non-US news media sources. With the internet and cable now, you can listen to or watch BBC, Al Jazeera, and other similar networks. It is very interesting to compare and contrast their reporting. Our local Ghana news TV station shows 30 mins each of CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera each morning. It is eye-opening to watch the same news stories covered from three different angles. With older children such as ours, this has given us a real opportunity to discuss media bias and discernment when watching any single source. Other programs, like the BBC Africa radio call-in show “Africa Have Your Say” have been the basis for many interesting dinner table discussions on topics we would never have discussed in the US, such as the merits (?) of polygamy and the torture of female circumcision (try discussing that with teenage boys!). As with anything, we work to bring a Biblical perspective to these topics, but I daresay they would never have even surfaced in the US.

As we visited colleges this summer, one of the experiences most often promoted is the college semester abroad. These are great experiences for any of our young people, opening their eyes to new worlds! I really applaud those students who choose to go to the hard places like Africa and India, rather than just hanging out and having fun in Europe. But Chip had an interesting comment on this: “If my family lives in Africa and I am going to school in the US, are all my semesters considered semesters abroad?”

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Cor 9:22 (NIV)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MUCG B-School Dress Code

Charlie writes:

The dean of the Methodist University College's Business School has posted this announcement regarding their take on appropriate dress at the University. Not sure if I will be expected to wear a tie when I am teaching classes with BBA/MBA students, but I've packed one in my office desk to be safe.

Having worked at United Parcel Service headquarters, I recall having been concerned that I dress according to the style expected of lecturers here. The Principal set my mind at rest, saying that there was no formal dress code at the school last year. I understand that the "casual Fridays" rule at UPS Headquarters may be extended to the non-summer months - it seems that in the US, dress codes have fallen into disfavor. During the 1970's when I worked at Chevrolet's Central Office, we were required to show up in suit and tie, but could park our suits in a closet in our office unless visiting customers/clients.

Another interesting aspect of the document is the use of a wide variety of fonts. The Ghanaian, once he masters the use of a computer to typeset documents, tends to go overboard with the idea of clip-art and weird fonts. This particular document had only one font family (Times Roman), but included three different sizes, bold, and ALL CAPS (which from my perspective seems like I am being yelled at). Not sure that the Ghanaians feel the same way, however.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lord and Master

Mary Kay writes:

I am currently reading through a series of excerpted devotionals from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest that deal specifically with missionary topics. The devotion I read today (September 22) is entitled “The Missionary’s Master”. Chambers talks about how poorly we understand the term Master. We tend to equate it with “boss” – someone to be obeyed. But the word means much, much more. As Chambers writes, “To have a master and to be mastered is not the same thing. To have a master means that there is one who knows me better than I know myself, one who is closer than a friend, one who fathoms the remotest abyss of my heart and satisfies it, one who has brought me into the secure sense that he has met and solved every perplexity and problem of my mind. …In the Bible obedience is based on the relationship of equals, that of a son with his father. Our Lord was not God's servant, He was His Son. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience . . ."”

As I read this again, I am struck by how differently Ghanaians would interpret this than we Americans do. We take even the roles of father and son pretty lightly in our culture. So many want to be “friends”. The respect and absolute trust that obedience often requires is frequently missing, even in our parent/child relationships. Therefore, we see the son’s obedience to the father as optional – something the son does if he wants to.

Ghanaian sons would only at great personal peril (not physically perhaps, but relationally) disobey their father, or even their extended “fathers” – uncles, family friends, others in authority. Charlie and I were really struck by seeing a drama of the story of the prodigal son. At the end when the father tells the older brother to go join the party, the brother did! We had always just assumed that he stayed outside sulking – what many of our North American reactions would be. And at first, I thought that this better mirrored how God wants us to be in relationship with him. Not only obeying when we want to or it fits our agenda, but obeying always, without question.

But now as I write this and continue to ponder, I think that Ghanaians miss the mark too. For they often obey out of fear or cultural pressure. The father-son role is often very authoritarian and dictatorial. Again, though for different reasons, respect and absolute trust are missing.

I remember hearing someone (Max Lucado?) preach one time about being a father – and building that relationship of absolute trust. He told an anecdote of being in a situation where the child’s life was threatened by a poisonous snake just behind her feet. The father knew that if he told the child about the snake, she would freeze in fear and probably be bitten. But he also knew that if he just told her to slowly walk toward him, she would because she trusted him and would obey. After she was safe in his arms, he could tell her about the snake.

Oh that we could be the same – obedience to God not when we choose or desire it, and not out of fear, but out of total trust. Absolute trust that He knows what is best for us, even when we cannot see it.

"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am." John 13:13

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Famous Last Words

Mary Kay writes:

The week of Pentecost, I was asked to preach the sermon at the Methodist University Chapel Service. My first reaction was, “I can’t do that – I’m not a preacher!” But a good missionary must be prepared to pray, preach, or die at the drop of a hat…. And I received three preaching invitations within two days, so it seemed clear that this is something God wants me to take on. Then I looked at the lectionary text for that week – talk about a “gimme”. I think any missionary anywhere could preach on the quintessential missionary Bible verse – Acts 1:8. Ironically, the text for one of the other preaching assignments was Matthew 28:19. So maybe this preaching stuff isn’t so hard after all! Here are some of my thoughts on Acts 1:8.

Imagine with me for a minute that you are one of the Disciples. Think back on the emotional roller coaster that you have been on over the last month and a half:

  • 43 days ago, you watched your Teacher and Master brutally tortured and put to death on a cross. You then hid away in The Upper Room for fear that the authorities might come after you next!
  • 40 days ago, you awoke to shouts from some of the women in your group that the tomb was empty. You may have even been in the group that ran to verify what the women were saying.
  • Later that day, Cleopas comes running back to the Upper Room to tell you that he met Jesus on his way home to Emmaus.
  • Since then, Jesus has visited your group several times – both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. When He sent you back to Galilee, you must have wondered whether that was the end, and you were being released back to your old life again. Were you one of the ones who returned to fishing?
  • Your emotions have swung between the depths of despair and total elation. Jesus has been teaching again, but you have barely been able to take the lessons in, in the wonder that He has risen from the dead!
  • And now He has disappeared again – taken up into the sky. You start to compare notes with the other disciples around you. What were those last words He said to us?

Last words are very important. I think about when I first started leaving our two boys at home by themselves. My last words were things like, “Don’t open the door to strangers.” Important commands that I wanted to make sure they obeyed – for their own safety and well-being. Or they were words like “I love you”, that I want them to carry with them always.

Or think about it like this – the forty days the Disciples had just been through were like Revisions Week. They had sat at the Teacher’s feet for three years, taking in His teachings, watching Him perform miracles, seeing how He interacted with a hurting world. Now, it was almost time to write the examination. So for a final few days, the Disciples are given the chance to once more sit at Jesus’ feet and prepare for the upcoming exams. When you sit with a Lecturer during Revisions Week, if they tell you to pay attention to a particular concept, you can be certain it will show up on the exam!

So what did Jesus think the Disciples needed to know for the exam? What were Jesus’ last instructions to the Disciples and by extension to us? While they differ slightly in the details, each of the four Gospel writers record the same final instructions – “Go and tell everyone about me.”

The big question for me is how do I live this out on a daily basis – whether here in Ghana, or at home in Atlanta, or traveling to some other destination?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Optical Fiber Deja Vu

Charlie writes:

Thursday afternoon, I walked over to the Lartebiokorshie campus of Regent University to listen to Prof. Steve Squyres of Cornell speak on the Mars Rover expedition. Turns out his elder daughter is visiting Ghana while a student at NYU, and one of the Rover drivers is a Ghanaian in the diaspora who was a classmate of a lecturer at Regent. A great talk, followed by some inspirational comments made by the provost and president of the college to the effect that with "Spirit" and "Opportunity" you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Dr. Squyres let me have a copy of his presentation which I shared with Chip and Ken that evening.

On my way over, I passed an unusual scene - dozens of Ghanaian men working with picks and shovels, digging a four-foot deep trench all along the road, preparing to bury a fiber optic line for MTN, the multinational African telco that sponsored the recently completed Africa Cup of Nations 2008 soccer tourney in Ghana.

The contrast of seeing people selling used clothing, tropical fruits, and repairing appliances adjacent to a high-tech telecom installation was jarring. You have the open gutters clogged with water sachets and rotting peels, dirt and dust. And of course, all the PVC water and drain pipes which were chopped open by the workers and then patched back up. Reminded me of the time BellSouth was trying to lay fiber in our Briers North neighborhood back in Atlanta, and they seemed to hit water and gas lines even with them supposedly being marked ahead. The idea of marking such lines in Ghana is ludicrous to even consider.

Having worked in a factory where we made such cables, I tried to see what brand they were pulling, but was not able to make it out.

After the stories in the newspapers about the Electric Company of Ghana not being able to keep copper cables in stock (they are stolen from locked storage areas and hocked for the copper inside!), I was interested to see what techniques MTN would use to keep people from stealing their fiber cables.

As you can see, they worked it from both ends: HIGH POWER LASER INSIDE-- DOES NOT CONTAIN COPPER.