This is a favorite roadside foodstand for IJM staff. They’ve got a rice and beans combo pronounced “wa-chay”. I also got a little vermicelli, and some “pepe” sauce and some tomato sauce, both spicy. I declined the fish. Maybe next time.
I really wish at least one of you was with me. Any one of you would have keeled over laughing at me. It will be impossible for me to do justice to my experience this morning, but I will try.
Some background… I am part of the Outreach and Engagement Team for IJM Ghana and last week we met with Reggie, an Anglican administrator and friend of the Anglican Bishop of Accra (and all-round cool guy with a heart for trafficked kids). Our meeting was to discuss a potential partnership between IJM and the Anglican Churches in Ghana for our work against child trafficking (slavery) here. In the meeting, Reggie asked me to preach at one of his churches on March 5th, in which I can also educate the congregation about the issue. To help me prepare, I attended the church this morning to learn the culture, style, format of the service, and something about the people so that I’m not going in blind next week when I preach.
Here’s where I went wrong…. I told them I was coming today. Big mistake. Reggie met me there at 8am during the latter part of the 6:15 service (they have two Sunday services, each runs 3 hours and 45 minutes!) and introduced me to the bishop and a host of others. Reggie then put me in their hands and said they would “take care of me.” Reggie left.
In between services, I was ushered into a clergy room where I was given a white cassock and a green stole to wear. Now, if you don’t already know this about me, you should know that I’m not from a very “High-Church” background. I’ve been a pastor for over 10 years and I’ve never worn a clergy robe. In fact, I’ve barely seen a pastor wear a robe since I was a kid. Well, now I was all decked out. I just went with it because they said “Wear this so you can sit with us.” Okay. No problem. Only, I found out later that my hosts believed I was an ordained Anglican clergyman (doh!) and they wanted me to help officiate the service. Problem. Big problem.
If you’re a low-church protestant (your church is casual and contemporary) or perhaps you don’t go to church and then you suddenly find yourself in a “High-Church” setting, you feel out of place. That happened to me a couple times in college when I went with some catholic fraternity brothers to Mass and I didn’t know when to stand up or sit down or whether I was supposed to take communion or not.
Well, picture that kind of situation, but now you’re all dressed up as an imposter Anglican Priest, you’re sitting in the front of a huge church with hundreds of people from another culture looking at you and then they expect you to help lead parts of the service!!! For 3 hours and 45 minutes!!!
What could I do? I was already in way too deep. I just had to roll with it. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that half the service was in a local language called “Ga”, which I obviously don’t know. Also, I was the only Obroni (white person) in the church, so I had no hope of blending in.
Allow me to share with you everything I muffed up in this service. They asked me to read the New Testament passage. I thought “No Problem!” This is something I know how to do! Problem. They wanted me to chant. I am not kidding. The presiding minister demonstrated for me how to chant the introduction to the reading- sort of half-singing-half-saying. There was no freaking way I could pull that off so I disappointed and surprised him by confessing I can’t chant. So when it was time, I spoke the introduction and read the scripture (marginally aware of a bunch of guys with candles standing around me) and sat down. I saw many awkward smiles. Apparently I “forgot” to do the incense. Apparently I was supposed to pick up the chain with smoking incense that they were trying to hand to me and consecrate the Bible before reading it.
Fast forward to later in the service, I was thrice (yes, 3) called to the middle of front to ceremonially pray over various things. If I understand correctly, I blessed the communion servers (that can’t be right thought because later I served communion), I blessed a newly-wed couple (I sure hope I got that right), and I blessed everyone with a Birthday in February. Well, that’s what I prayed anyway. I can’t guarantee it was appropriate. I was shown how to put my hands on each man’s head and each woman’s shoulders as I repeated the word that it sounded to me like the head guy was saying. Then lots of confusion about where I’m supposed to stand, when to kneel, etc.
Fast-forward to the Eucharist (in various traditions called Mass, Communion, Lord’s Supper)… They called me up to the altar and I realized it was to help consecrate the bread and wine. I knew I was way out of my element. I’ve done this a hundred times in my church in Davis, but that is a very simple process compared to this and I begged them to let me sit down and observe since I had only come to learn. They agreed. I sat, until they called me back up to serve it! They had me take it while they held the cup and poured way more than I was expecting down my throat. I may have gagged a bit because they asked me if I’m ok. Then after fudging my way through serving people around me, I was put in charge of distributing the wafers to everyone who came up to kneel. People opened their mouths and usually put out their tongues and I just started rapid-fire putting communion wafers on peoples’ tongues (a totally new experience for me). Some people held out their hands, but I was confused by this and decided to just stick a wafer in their mouths anyway and maybe skipped a couple of those. After about 10 of those confusing hands people, I learned that these were folks that wanted the wafer in their hands to dip it in the cup. Whoops! Turns out these were MY PEOPLE and I didn’t even know it.
After all of that, I am apparently still invited to preach next week. I hope Reggie breaks it to them that I’m not Anglican in some kind of tactful way so I can just preach next week and leave the rest to the professionals. Whew, that was a wild ride!
Before I close, I want to also share that there were things about the church that were wonderful. The service was beautiful, the people were awesome, and the traditions were inspiring. About half way through the service, the music changed to a more traditional African style and people started dancing. My favorite part was the offering. Picture long lines of Africans all dressed up in bright traditional clothing dancing and swaying and celebrating as they brought their offering down the aisles to lay before the Lord, whom they love and trust and adore. It was a beautiful sight to behold. I even found myself dancing…in my cassock.
I have a dear friend who often reminds me that God’s mercies are new every morning. What an exquisite joy and hope that brings to each day. Of course there are days (like the previous week) where I am so bogged down in the difficulty of life , I cannot raise my eyes or mind to remember this. This week it was brought afresh to my mind with some of the simplest – yet joy bringing things!
1. I made scrambled eggs this week for our family- hurray!! I cannot tell you the joy and moral boost it was to do something normal – even if it was just cooking some scrambled eggs. This means I have a working stove (or “cooker” as they say in Ghana), I have a pan to cook in, utensils to use, a store to buy eggs at, plates to eat on. This is huge!!
2. I got connected (thank you Facebook) to a homeschool playgroup that meets weekly. And my kids had a blast playing with other kids for 2 hours. (This is after three weeks of barely seeing other children.)
3. One of the four moms at this playgroup lives on the SAME street as me! Amazing!!! (This is crazy rare here.). And she has three kids – girl, boy, girl. All just a year or two older than mine. We have walked down to their house three days this week and the kids have gotten to play. It is AMAZING! And such a gift from God!!! My heart really swells over this.
4. My washing machine works again! After two weeks we can finally wash clothes again. It turns out that the bolts at the back of the machine – that we asked if we should remove and were told by the store – no, no just loosen them. Well, they needed to be removed. Live and learn!!
5. Despite the lack of bookshelves and drawers, we are feeling more settled and comfortable in our home. Most security measures are now up and running. Which also means less workmen tromping through the house. Hurray!
6. We have hired a young woman to help us with cleaning the house. She came for the first time this past week and made such a difference in the dirt level in the house. (Houses here are not well sealed and this one sat empty for about 6 months, so you can imagine the dirt – despite all our hours spent cleaning.) We are finally getting out of camping mode and into regular life.
7. Lastly, as hard as this move has been on all of us – I see the first fruits of this experience. Hannah has written me two notes, appreciating all the hard work her father and I have put into this. Really?? Where did this kid come from? I was floored!! No one suggested this to her – she just took it upon herself to thank us. Praise Jesus!!
One week ago we moved (via TroTro) from the guest house to the house we have rented. It is much closer to Matt’s office.
Addresses and maps are not relevant forms of information here. Areas of town and landmarks are entirely more reliable forms of communication- but if you are new to the city (like we are) you can imagine how difficult that is. After moving our boxes we went to lunch at a restaurant that was halfway to the mattress store that we needed to go to – so we could have beds to sleep on that night. As we were waiting for our food we got a call from the appliance delivery man that he was on our street but couldn’t find the house. Matt tried for 30 minutes to describe the house and direct the man, even putting one of the Ghanaian servers on the phone to describe it in the local language. It did no good. Matt & Peter eventually got into a taxi and came back to the house – only to the find the delivery man parked in his truck ONE house down from ours.
Nothing is simple or straightforward. We eventually all met up again at the mattress store only to discover that the bed frames that came with our house were not standard sizes – either by Ghanian or US standards. Special mattresses could be made but then how could we get sheets for them? So we decided to buy bunk beds for the girls’ room and standard size mattresses to match. Matt is so tall that the longest bed in Ghanaian sizes is exactly how tall he is (190cm). – so we bought a bed and quickly told our carpenter we would have to turn the bed frame so the width (it was wider than it was long) could become the length! All that out of the way, we loaded the mattresses and bunk beds on to the back of a truck. Feeling triumphant we began the drive home.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever – if it can at all be avoided drive across town between 5 and 7pm. The traffic is HORRIBLE! And this statement is brought to you by an LA girl who knows the 110 and 405 freeways. People were getting out of the TroTros and walking 10 times the speed we were moving. There were no accidents, this is apparently just normal traffic. I do not think it was more than 3miles we had to travel when we hit traffic. And for the next 2 hours, the windows of the taxi were rolled down (it was crazy hot, no AC) and we were breathing in diesel fumes. Bleh!!
Do not assume the electricity will work. After all of this, we came home and turned the lights on – only to find the lights didn’t turn on. The few that did had a strange orange glow. Huh? When we turned them on the day before they were just fine. And then we were told we were experiencing low current. Ugh! At least we could get one AC in the girls room to turn on and one AC upstairs in the guest room to turn on. So the five of us squeezed into the girls room (Abby shared her new bed with Peter and Matt & I put our new mattress on the floor, which was crazy dirty but what can you do? At least there was some plastic to put under it.) Since this time we have had another day of low current and two days of no current at all. The generator that came with the house does not seem to be working properly.
Do not count on workers coming when they say they will come. We have waited day after day after day for an electrician, a plumber, an internet installation team. This is a HUGE adjustment for us coming from the United States where generally if someone says they will come 75% of the time they come. Here it is only about 10% of the time. This is a very difficult lesson in patience when none of the bathrooms work properly, the washing machine needs to be hooked up, the sink is backed up, there is no electricity and the generator does not work. It is difficult to sit around the house and wait and no one comes.
On the upside we have found a wonderful welder named Sam who is putting in more burglar proofing for us (this is a whole other area of learning for us, but I think I will let Matt write about that). Sam calls and shows up when he says he will. Also because we have been so in need of a plumber – he brought one with him today – who fixed all the leaks and stoppages! Hurray!!
I think that is all the learning I will share for today – maybe you are feeling just a bit of the overwhelmingness we have!
On a light note – this is how we test burglar proofing in Ghana. We decided to try to send our 6 year old through the bars. 😉
We are just finishing up our second week here in Ghana.
I began this week pretty sick from a salad that I made for myself – turns out the vegetable wash that they sell in the grocery store which is iodine based, doesn’t do exactly what it says, or at least my stomach would say so. So now we are over the hump of the first round of sickness and have some important learning under our belts about how to clean our food.
After 12 days of experiencing the cramped taxi rides, smokey air, much bargaining over prices, and busy streets – I feel accustomed to it enough that I don’t feel the need to sit in a dark room for a couple of hours at 5pm to decompress from all the stimulation.
We found a wonderful ice cream shop that also serves delicious wood fired pizza.
And we are close to moving into our home. Today we spent hours as a family cleaning the house and getting it ready to move in on Monday (fingers crossed!).
We have enjoyed our time in the guest house immensely! It has been a wonderful place to land – with a large tennis court,
We are sad to say goodbye to the guest house and the Ghanaians here who have loved us. And yet after two months of being without a home of our own, living constantly out of suitcases – it sounds lovely to unpack and settle down….for awhile!
Many of you may be wondering, how are our kids doing?
They are doing surprisingly well! The two girls who did not want to come to Ghana – are now enthusiastic about it.
Right now they are enjoying the fresh mango and random playgrounds (no green belts here) at coffee shops, restaurants and the guest house where we are staying. Please pray they get some opportunities to meet other children!
We all had jet lag and took turns sleeping and being awake at different times as our bodies adjusted to the 8 hour time difference from California. I think the kids are now finally on Ghanaian time! Hooray!!
The heat is taking a toll – it is about 90 degrees and 80% humidity each day. We are drinking loads of water
and enjoying A/C every opportunity we get. Peter’s bright red, sweaty face is becoming a daily sight. And five of us piled in the back of a taxi (it is the only way we can get around right now) without A/C certainly does not help it.
Lizards are everywhere and the kids enjoy pointing them out and chasing them! This lizard with a bright orange head especially catches their eye.
This small lizard likes to hang out on the window of our room. The kids and I are hoping he eats all of the bugs!
We had our first African rain storm this week and the kids LOVED playing in the rain!
Dana is our friend who has come to help us travel as a family and get settled this first month. And she has RockStar status with our kids. They LOVE her and are fighting for turns to sit by her at meals and take pictures on her phone! She is patiently breaking up sibling fights and handling meltdowns in the back of taxis.
The mosquitos love biting Hannah and she is NOT loving them. (Just picture lots of red welts on her legs.) Both Hannah & Peter have quickly learned how to swallow medicine because chewing their anti-malaria pills was terrible!
One of the highlights for the kids was going to the botanical gardens playground at the University of Accra and going on the zip lines yesterday! It was something we had looked at on the internet a few months ago and they were delighted to experience it in person. Dana and I quickly got hot and tired – running the kids and the zip line back to the platform (there was no where to get off at the bottom of the zip line – so we pushed them back to the start about 20yds).
Of course there are moments of meltdowns, fear, sadness at leaving Davis and more. But they are bouncing back quickly!
I look forward to how they continue to develop, adapt, grow and giggle in Ghana!
In the lead-up to moving to Ghana, I tried to get a handle on the challenges we would face. I now find myself reflecting on how my expectations match or don’t match reality. Analysis below:
Heat and humidity : it is pretty hot and humid, but tolerable in the shade. I think it will be hotter in March. It is actually already getting hotter, but…
VERDICT: it is better than I expected. I guess I was braced for living in an oven.
Traffic/congestion/chaos on streets:
There is a lot of traffic and people sell things on the streets through taxi windows, but mostly they are not pushy and very polite. Most people seem to follow traffic rules and obey stop lights, etc. I have seen much worse in Cairo, Amman, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Rome, and downtown Los Angeles
VERDICT: way better than expected
Mosquitoes: I get bit everyday, but the Mosquitoes are small and the bites don’t bother me as much as the ones in the states. Now, this is very different for Hannah. Her bites on her leg become very big and itchy. We have creams to help.
VERDICT: better than expected, except for Hannah it is much worse. We are working on that.
I have been in much worse in Cairo and Kolkata but since no one mentioned the air quality here, I did not even think of it beforehand. I have read that we are here in the season where dust blows south from the Sahara and that is what I think I am experiencing. I seem to be the only one affected by it or noticing. Last night I think someone was burning trash nearby.
VERDICT: Worse than expected.
Feeling lost/getting around
This is going great! The combination and prevalence of competent taxi drivers and the functionality of Google maps with GPS tracking is making this a breeze! I am also growing greatly in my friendly bartering skills with Taxi drivers. My next line to try “20 cedis for this route?!?!?! What do you think I am, an Obroni (white man)?” I predict they laugh and knock it down to 15 cedis.
VERDICT: way better than expected
Being constantly asked for money
There is definitely a lot of need here and there are people on the streets asking for money through car windows, but they have been so polite and delighted when my kids smile and wave at them that they switch into fun conversation mode. They are so polite and non-pushy that Hannah remarked yesterday that she has been surprised that there are no people in Ghana asking for money, like people told her. She says there are more in Davis. We are happy that we can ease her and the others into seeing and understanding and caring for the needs around us, without the kids feeling overwhelmed by requests.
VERDICT: way better than expected
I have loved the food so far, though we have not yet tried traditional Ghanaian food. We’ve had great Turkish food twice and I finally had Lamancu (la-mahn-ju) for the first time since I was in Turkey in 2003. Great! We’ve also had a shirt of shawarma wrap and a burger. Kids have found Mac and cheese, pizza, etc. Breakfasts have included scrambled eggs, waffles, French toast, etc. We are drinking lots of tropical fruit smoothies and eating lots of mangoes ND banannas.
VERDICT: incomplete, I want to say great, but I feel I have not yet ventured out of my comfort zone.
I wondered if all our luggage would arrive, and in one piece. Mostly, it did! Once plastic bin arrived shattered (the only one of that brand), but they kept all the pieces and 3 men carried it out by hand to me. One bin went missing but arrived on the next flight 24 hours later. I waited at the airport for 2 hours, but got it. Some bins had been searched by TSA, but all were re-zip-tied.
VERDICT: better than expected!
I wondered how my kids would fare in their first introduction to a very different land. They amaze me! They have great attitudes most of the time! They are resilient and strong and wonderful. There is laughing and joking and playing. Of course there is also whining and bickering, but not more so than in the past. My kids are brave and creative and awesome. They have dealt with a lot. I thought Hannah would flip about the lizard in our room. But after a couple minutes, she said, oh, whatever and ignored it.
I think we found a house! It was kind of overwhelming when we were going around with a local real estate person, but then a life-long missionary (23 years in this city), came to our rescue, spent 6 hours with us, fed us in her house, showed us the house she would choose, and BAM, we’re taking it (way cheaper and way better than what we had been shown earlier by the agent). Thank you God! The one obstacle was security, but IJM investigations staff (a 30 year veteran American police officer and a 20 year veteran of Ghanaian military) gave us a long list of security improvements on the house we should make, that when done will meet their standards.
One thing I will forever be grateful is the help of Dana Armstrong, whom I have known for 9 years and who has volunteered a month to be with us here and help us get our lives up and running. As I write this, she is watching our kids while Joy and I spend the morning at a coffee shop, praying, Journaling, blogging, and discussing what we need to do. Thank you God and thank you Dana!
Blessings to you all! Please do comment on these posts as it let’s me know that people are reading, which inspires me to keep writing!
We love you all!