How is life in Ghana?

(I began writing this post 10 days ago when in a surprising turn of events I got on a plane to return to the States for minor surgery.)

Well, I am on a plane back to America (that’s how the U.S is commonly referred to in Ghana).  It’s a bit of an unexpected trip for medical reasons so I do not come bearing gifts or even for that matter many clothes that fit the cold, wet California winter (for goodness sakes it is a temperature of 102 where we now live EVERYDAY! ).   But what what I am finding is that these moments away, this time of transition is a good time to share some thoughts on the past 7 weeks of our life in Ghana.  If you see me, the first question you will probably ask is, “how is life in Ghana? What is it like?” 

Here is what I might say,

1. It is fascinating!  Each time I step out my front door and walk down the road to hail a taxi – we watch as women walk by carrying enormous bowls on their heads filled with everything from donuts to water bottles to soda to clothes washing detergent.  The roads are lined either with carpenters selling their furniture or gardners selling their plants or artisans their pots or Ghanian fast food of grilled plantains, or fresh coconut.  There is always something new to see and ponder – while we wait in a lot of traffic.

2. Speaking of traffic, I marvel at the patience of the Ghanians.  There is so much about life here that my American-ness might scream, “but wait that is not efficient”, “isn’t there a better, different way?”.  Why is there a tunnel that is only one lane wide and cars must take turns and it creates an all-the-time huge traffic jam? But yet, what I find in Ghanians is a deep peace in the waiting –  they are deeply patient and rest in the waiting.  They are comfortable saying, “tomorrow is ok”.  (I generally have functioned under the motto of – let’s get it done right now.) There is something freeing and surprising and admirable about their patience.  

3. I am struck by my own growth.  This has not been an easy process.  And yet I am finding growth only happens when I am pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to deal with more than we already know.  Matt and I have successfully set up a home for our family to live in and God-willing to thrive in.  There was so much involved in that! We rented a house, successfully paid the rent (with a lot of help States side to get the money to correct account), found a welder and hired him to build burglar proofing on doors and windows, found a carpenter and hired him to build a dining room table, homeschool table, cabinet, and more, figured out how to get clean water to drink, where to buy dishes, how to wash them (clue – no hot water heater in the kitchen), how to wash fruits and veggies so we don’t get sick and more than I can think of right now.  I am struck by how commonplace and overcome-able all these things have become for me.  It is simply amazing.

Tomorrow, I go in to the hospital to have surgery here in California.  And then I begin the couple weeks of recovery to fly back to Ghana.  And I must tell you how much I miss is it.  

I miss Matt and the kids TERRIBLY . I miss their hugs, their smiles, their silliness and laughter, their questions, their prayers and their presence.

I also miss Ghana, the place that has become home to me.  

I look forward to my return.

If you want to get a better sense of what we see on a daily basis in Ghana, here are some video clips I took from the window of a taxi:

Typical taxi ride in Ghana part 1

Typical taxi ride in Ghana part 2

Substitute Teaching

…nailed it!

This was today’s verdict.  Yesterday thumbs would have pointed in other directions, so of course I posted nothing. Moving right along…

Today was really good though. We did reading, journaling, language arts workbooks, P.E., Bible verse memorization, Mac and cheese lunch break, and closed out with an art project!

We miss Mommy, but for now, we got this!

-Matt

Joy’s in California! We’re in Ghana.

Joy landed safely in Los Angeles.  She is spending a long layover with her mom, sister, and aunt before boarding the last leg to Sacramento.  She’ll stay the night with a friend and in the morning will see a doctor.  Going smoothly so far.  Joy enjoyed “Meet the Patels” on the flight and says I have to watch it.

Please pray for healing,  good seamless medical processes and administrative procedures, and for the insurance company to decide to reimburse us for the flight. 

Tonight the other IJM interns and fellows  (Americans and a proud Canadian) came over to keep us company.  We had dinner, then I put the kids to bed, then we played the card game “Nerts”.  The winners had 51 and 59 points.  I had -34.  If only we had been playing Golf.
Here are some pics…

We took a family photo before we put her on the plane.

Visited “Agape” Church today

They also were having an offering contest based on day you were born, like the last church we were at…minus the dancing

Walking home from a little post-church Pinocchio’s ice cream

Turns out this is Hannah’s first time tasting Coca Cola. I was surprised to hear that. Joy, is it OK that I gave the kids Coke?

My little hero! Who is this child? How did I get so lucky? She is taking lots of initiative to help out now that Mommy’s gone.

Please pray for the kids and me.  It is different being here without Joy.

  -Matt 

Prayers for Joy

Dear Friends,  I’ll write more later, but just wanted to give you the quick update that Joy is boarding a plane right now to come back to the U.S. for surgery.  She will arrive in Sacramento  Sunday evening.   It will probably be a minor surgery to repair a hernia, a relatively simple procedure, so we expect her to make a full recovery and be fine.  But there is a chance that her condition could become worse and it becomes a more serious situation, so we invite you to pray with us against that.  Please also pray for safe travels, peace, and a  smooth process to get the surgery scheduled, etc.   

Please also pray for the kids and I as we will miss Joy terribly.

-Matt

Joy Wins Church

I am the proud husband of the champion of church Joy Robbins!  🙂   Explanation below…

Last Sunday, I was a guest preacher at a traditional Anglican Church here in Accra Ghana.  It went well!  Mostly.

  • I woke up at 4:40am, got decked out in my only suit (which is unfortunately made of wool and I live at the equator and it’s the hottest season), and found that my favorite Taxi driver arrived at my house right on time at 5:20. This amazed me.  His name is Yaw Mensah and I met him last Sunday when he drove me home from church and proved himself to be an excellent Twi teacher.  I have turned every Taxi ride into a Twi language lesson!  He taught me a couple of key Twi phrases he said I should throw into my sermon…which I did, trusting that he was not pranking me!
  • Made it to church at 6am, checked in, and entered the 6:15 service as part of the formal processional.
  • Around 7, I learned of a change of plans and I would only preach at the 9 am service, which I did my best to just roll with, saying “I’m here to serve.” Though, I’ll admit that inwardly I was thinking, “Man, I could have slept 3 more hours!”  My family arrived at 9am, while the first service was still going (finished at 9:30) and they were called up front to be introduced to the congregation.  I was worried my kids would really hate that and refuse, but I was so grateful they rolled with it and even said their names into the microphones (3 times each) when they were asked!  This was repeated at the next service and again, they nailed it.
  • Mercifully, I was only asked to preach at this service (the previous week, I was massively out of my element- see an earlier post)
  • The sermon went well!   I think.  I greeted the church with the Tax driver’s words “Me Ma Mo achiyo” (spelled phonetically, I have no idea the proper spelling), meaning “Good Morning (addressed to a group)!”  They understood and seemed to delight in this, so I dropped the 2nd phrase from the Taxi driver, “Enay Yebeka Nyame Asm” (Today we preach the Word of God)!  This drew smiles and cheers.  Thank you Taxi driver for this lesson (and for not pranking me by making me say something crazy like “Don’t listen to me, I am a crazy man.”   Of course, I hadn’t paid my taxi yet, since he was waiting to take me home, so I kind of knew he would not mess with me.
  • Reggie was so great to have as my translator.  He is such a laid-back guy that he puts everyone at ease, while also being a very fun “life-of-the-party” type.  Everyone at the church seems to love him.  So he and I were able to banter and joke and build off each other as I preached.  Occasionally, he would stop in the middle and teach me a word in Ga (while Twi has become the most common language spoken after English, Ga is the traditional language of Accra and of this church) and make me practice in the middle of the sermon!  Of course, this was after I made  him translate “Reggie is the most beautiful man in the world” just to mess with him.
  • I preached on the lectionary text on Jesus’ baptism- describing the way satan seeks to put idols on our hearts such as money, power, and reputation.  When we worship these things we commit the sin of idolatry, which I argued always leads us to the other category of sin, injustice.  For example, if we love money more than God, we will be more willing to harm one of God’s children to get that money, than if our love for God is leading us to love people.  This made the connection to IJM’s work against slavery.  I showed some photos and explained the situation of the boys on lake Volta that are victims of human trafficking and forced child labor in hazardous conditions.  This fired up Reggie and gave him the segue (which I think was unplanned) to introduce to the church for the first time a major Anglican project to build a home for rescued boys from Lake Volta!  We’ve been discussing this with him for a while.  Its the reason why we first met, but it seems this was the moment he unveiled it to this congregation, also announcing that their associate pastor was named one of 4 priests to help coordinate the effort!  The congregation cheered enthusiastically and I think there was a lot of enthusiasm.
  • I then concluded the sermon by calling them heroes in this struggle and promising that we at IJM would pray for them and encourage them as they do this wonderful work.
  • It seems Reggie has promised the congregation that I will be back regularly over the next 2 years as I am doing a sort of learning/teaching program with the Anglican church during my time here.  I think I’ll roll with it.
  • Then came the offering.  Man, offering here is an experience!  Dancing, marching, loud African music.  Multiple rounds!  Even friendly competition!  I promised I would explain how Joy won that trophy in church.  Here goes…
  • On this particular Sunday, it was decided that people would dance up to the front and give their offering in 7 different groups, depending on the day of the week they were born.  Everyone knows the day of the week they were born here, because it becomes one of their names.  I am sometimes called Kwame here because I was born on Saturday.  The IJM drivers all call me Osofo Kwame (Pastor Saturday).  Joy is Amma because she is also born on Saturday.  Well, when it came time for Saturday-born to give offering, Joy and I jumped up and joined our fellow Kwames and Ammas and danced whole-heartedly down one aisle and back up the other- putting some offering in the plate.  (Note: my dancing apparently has been discussed in Anglican circles because I was at a separate event days later and heard someone who wasn’t there say “I heard about your dancing!”  I choose to take that as a compliment.)  Well, the offerings were counted and it was announced that the Saturday-born had given the most, so we were all called up front and presented with the trophy!  Joy was selected to receive it on behalf of Kwames and Ammas everywhere.  We took pictures, had a special prayer for our group, and took our seats.  Joy was blushing big time as she held the trophy for the rest of the service and then at the end (about 1:30pm) marched out with the rest of the priests, acolytes, choir, etc in the recessional!
  • After church, the ever-hospitable hosts took us to a local restaurant owned by a church member for a quick 10 minute snack that took a couple hours, but was very good and very generous.  Then Yaw Mensah took us home, as I regaled him the tale multiple times of how his Twi phrases went over in the sermon, much to his delight.
  • We all returned home almost 10 hours after I left for church that morning, exhausted, but grateful.  God is good.
  • At some point the night before, I remembered something and was at ease.  It was this: I was not going to “make a presentation to strangers.”  I was going to worship God with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  I love the church, and they are the church, and Jesus is in their midst.

 

TroTro

Today we went for what we thought would be a simple walk to a fruit stand with our housekeeper, Hannah, who is Ghanian! We needed some fresh fruit for a dinner we are hosting tonight.

This is how the kids started out:

Then in a surprise turn of events we crossed a road (still following the lead of Hannah, who is also new to this area of Accra) and boarded a TroTro (a local way of getting around – essentially it is a small van with three rows – it is very cheap and travels along a set path with frequent stops).  We thought we would go just a few stops and get off (this was our first time riding a TroTro).

But the fruit stand she was looking for  was not on the street we were traveling  – so we continued on the TroTro all the way to the heart of Accra to find another one she was familiar with. Meanwhile we are packed into the TroTro with all three kids sitting on my lap and equally surprised and upset by the new experience – there was of course no AC, no seat belts and only space for the adults on the seat.

We got off at a major stop, called 37 (for the military hospital that is nearby) and were at a market that had multiple nice fruit stands. 

After all three kids had a cold drink in hand (I’ve decided that in this hot of an environment the occasional soda is a worthy cause) we were ready to shop for fruit.


For 60 cedis (approximately $15 US) we bought one watermelon, 4 mangoes, 3 papayas, lettuce, one cucumber, 3 plantains and 2 pineapples and the fruit vendor put in a bunch of chives as a gift! 

I did not bring much extra cash (because I thought we were just walking down the road, lesson learned!) So back on the TroTro to get home! The children ride the TroTro for free (on laps of course) so the total cost for round trip was 8 cedis (slightly less than $2 US).

Hannah carried all our fruit on her head on the walk home from the TroTro (just under a mile) and I carried a very tired Abby on my back!

I can’t believe how much I LOVED this experience.  It was very Ghanian! As “Obronis” (white people) it is easy to do much here in a modified way of what we would normally do in the States – call Uber, drive a car or rent a taxi to get places.  And there was something magical about stepping out of what we were comfortable with and squeezing between many Ghanaians in the back of the TroTro, piling the kids on my lap and going off to buy fruit. 

It also struck me how generous the Ghanians were with my children – I bought two sodas and the shopkeeper gave us a bottle of water “as a gift”, the fruit vendor gifted us some chives and Hannah gifted us a bag of plantain chips (that helped the kids survive the TroTro drive home).  I am blessed and honored and invigorated by this unexpected blessing of an afternoon!

-Joy

Return of the Accidental Anglican

So, last week I had quite an experience at an Anglican Church here in Accra, which I won’t recap here, but you can read about it a couple blog posts down.  Well, it’s a week later and I’m 12 hours away from jumping into a taxi and heading across town back to that same church, this time to preach.  To be honest with you, I’m pretty stressed out and would love your prayers.

Why am I stressing you ask?

Top 10 Reasons I’m Stressing about Church Tomorrow

10. I’m always stressed before I preach.  It’s a scary thing to get up in front of a crowd of people and hope something appropriate comes out of my mouth.  What you thought that because I am a preacher that I’m not frightened of preaching?  No way!

9. I am in Ghana.  I have never preached in Ghana.  Have you?

8. I have a thick Obroni (white man) accent.  Will they understand me?

7. I am a white man from America trying to talk about human trafficking in West Africa, namely, in the former Gold Coast- as in the epicenter of the transatlantic slave trade- the departure point for the infamous middle-passage.  The historical ramifications of this and the potential foot-in-mouth pitfalls that this creates daunt me.  I must put on piles of humility when I get dressed in the morning.

6. I have to leave my house by 5:30am to get across town for a 6am clergy meeting to begin the first worship service at 6:15am.  I don’t own a car.  I called the taxi driver that brought me home from church last Sunday.  He says he’s coming.  Do you think he’s really coming?  I honestly don’t know.  If he doesn’t come, how easy will it be for me to find another taxi at that time on a Sunday morning?

5. My sermon is supposed to be only 20 minutes long.  25 Max.  If you’ve ever heard me preach, well, you’ve never heard me preach for only 20 minutes.  Peaching long is easy.  Preaching short takes massive discipline and focus.  I have about an hour’s worth of material.  Hmm.

4. I just realized that 50% of my time will be my new friend Reggie translating my English words into Ga.  That means I actually have only 10-12.5 minutes.  Doh!!!

3.  I don’t know the people to whom I will preach.  It is so much easier when you are preaching to your own church family.  You know them.  They know you.  There is a relationship.  I know that they will know when I am joking.  It’s like home-field advantage in a sports game.  The only thing the folks of this wonderful congregation know about me is that I messed up a lot last week with routine liturgical procedures, necessitating the head guy saying, “They worship differently in Matt’s church.”

2.  I’m afraid they will expect me to do more liturgical things tomorrow that I am unprepared for.  Come on Reggie!   You’re my lead-blocker in this.  If I’m expected to chant- I hope you jump up and chant for me.  If I’m expected to do the incense- I need an assist.

1. I haven’t finished writing my sermon.  Hmm… hmm… maybe I should stop blogging and work on it.  There’s a thought.  Gotta run!

-Matt

p.s. But before I go, since I’ve laid out all the reasons I have for stress and fear, I should also name the reason I have for hope, confidence, and courage:

My Lord Jesus has seen me through much worse than this moment and I am still standing.  The Lord has used me when I was much weaker to do strong things.  He has never abandoned me.  He has always carried me.  And the reason I preach is not because I like it or because I’m good at it or because I’m unafraid.  I preach because I have found that Christ uses me in this particular way to build up His people and Glorify His Name.  I delight in that.

Please pray for me.  I am going alone because the service is so early in the morning, so long (2 services running from 6:15am to 1pm), and so far away.  My family and boss will come for the later service, but I will head out alone before dawn for the first.  I would be very much encouraged to hear from some of you that you will be praying for me.  I know that Christ will be with me, but I also experience the nearness of Christ through the presence of His people and their prayers and encouragement.  Thanks for reading.  Please drop me a line in the comments section.

 

Update (4 hours later): Thanks for your prayers dear friends.  I believe you that you are praying because I feel in a completely different place now.  I have been feeling a breakthrough in my heart as I begin to focus less on myself and my own feelings and my own fears and even my own “material”, and more on the people, and their best interest, and the hope and help God has for them.  I am now so fired up to preach tomorrow that I might not be able to sleep!