Monday, December 12, 2011


I just logged on to this site for the first time in months.  I am headed back to Ghana to visit my children for the first two weeks of January before my next semester starts!  I will be partnering with Amy Hubble, and Martha Bulley (one of the teachers at the VOH) in order to establish a vocational training center for women in Fetteh.  (the village near the VOH)  I will share some stories about that soon!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dear Mr. Falker

There are many events and stories which I feel obligated to share that took place during the month of May. I realize that I am quite behind in writing them.  However, their impact is still written deeply on my heart and I would therefore love to tell you about them.

The first week in May I was asked to conduct a reading seminar for the entire teaching staff of Hope Christian Academy.  This means it was around 40 teachers from pre-school through 9th grade.  I was quite overwhelmed at the prospect, not only because it was new territory for me, but because of the large range of ages and subjects represented by the teachers in attendance.  I was unable to prepare to my satisfaction due to the busyness of the days prior to the workshop.  I felt quite anxious the first morning.  With the help of several wonderful educators I had decided to focus on the areas of comprehension, fluency and vocabulary.  Skills that could be applicable across all subjects and grade levels.

I should have known better by this point, but I still over-prepared material.  I needed to be simpler, the whole "less is more" philosophy.  However, the teachers responded beautifully.  They immediately engaged in discussion and contributed questions, observations, and suggestions.  I was pleasantly surprised by their involvement.  I concluded the first day on vocabulary feeling much more confident about the next two days to come.  Teachers were asking for copies of my powerpoint and everything.

At the end of the third day I concluded by sharing my personal journey with reading and why I had become so passionate about teaching literacy skills.  I shared with the teachers my lack of interest in teaching literacy in college, and how the children of the VOH had changed that for me.  I choked back tears as I thanked them for allowing me the opportunity to work with their students and challenged them to continue to ensure our children can not only read, but read well.  I was surprised at the intensity of emotions as I felt the urge to reflect and share about my love for the students and desire for them to read.  It hit me that I had devoted hours, days, weeks, months towards this goal and it was so important to me that it continue.  My final contribution was to read them a story by Patricia Polacco entitled Thank You Mr. Falker.  The book tells the personal story of the author and her inability to read until her teacher Mr. Falker took the time to teach her in the 5th grade.  I closed the book with a heavy sense of finality and in a sense passed the baton.  I want to be that teacher, I want all of them to be those teachers who make the difference in a child's life.

Mr. Bulley, the education manager, asked the staff individually to share their reflections and thoughts on the seminar.  A few mentioned things they learned, but the majority gave personal reflections on me and my time at VOH. I was completely unprepared for this.  It felt like the goodbyes had begun.  I sat humbly on the brink of tears receiving their kind words and observations.  I was overwhelmed at their comments.  One teacher said that after the seminar the previous day he had gone home and gathered the kids in his community and told them he would teach them to read in the evenings, the secretary shared that she had observed my passion and wondered quietly where it had come from- she shared that she too was going to change her life's goals because of her work with the kids at VOH.  Other teachers suggested that reading be a part of the daily class schedule for primary students, one teacher brought up parent involvement and reading materials.  Honestly, it could not have concluded any better.  I left with such a sense of hope.  I came to the VOH to teach 6th grade social studies.  I didn't plan to implement or change anything.  I am so thankful that God allowed me to be a part of something much bigger.  Even when I started teaching reading classes I thought it was only about me and the kids.  God always thinks bigger than I do.  He had in mind something to begin to transform the school and the teachers as well.  I am overwhelmed when I look back and see how it all unfolded and the way in which I was able to play a small part.  The conversation about reading and literacy skills has started, and teachers, administrators, and students are taking part.  I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Way

The last few weeks the phrase the only nation is humanity has been ringing in my mind. Tonight I had the most beautiful depiction of that, and I'd like to share it with you.

I have written on several occasions about Joseph and Kate the boys boarding house parents at Hope Christian Academy. They never cease to amaze me. Their energy and passionate spirit for the work seems to be unending, despite the fact that their days work consists of caring for children from before dawn until long after dark. They have 60 boys under their care as well as their own four small children. If I were to write the exhaustive list of their duties, it would be an entire blog entry in and of itself. While I was in the states in December I had the privilege of telling their story. I am honored to be able to tell others about the manner in which they live their lives and their ministry here. Two families at my parent’s church responded by saying they would like to help support this family to pay the school fees of their children.

I visited Joseph and Kate the other night with an envelope full of cedis (the local currency) for their children’s education. I sat and talked with them about the money and where it came from and how it was to be used. Kate told me she had seen a poster recently with these words “God will make a way, where there seems to be no way.” She said she didn’t know how the song went, but the words had been on her heart the past several weeks so she had been teaching a song to her children with those words in it. All four children instinctively began singing “God will make a way.” Tears came to my eyes as I sat and watched God make a way. He made a way for a family that has had to beg for extensions on payments each month in order to pay the fees for all their children. And he made a way through the love and compassion of people who love him on the other side of the world. No political border or language barrier should be the limit for our compassion. When I see people who love Christ sharing with people across the world it brings me deep joy. God brought us into this world to live in community. God uses his people to make a way for others, even when they live across the world. I have watched time and time again as God has provided in the most unexpected and beautiful ways for me and others living here in Ghana. Jesus told us that he is the Way, and his first followers were called those who were in the Way.  I witnessed what it looks like to live in the Way each day from the Aboagye family, and was so blessed to witness their joy at God's provision from others across the world living in the Way.  The way of love, compassion, and community. Joseph jumped up and started dancing, unable to contain his excitement as Kate and the kids sang. It was a moment that I can’t imagine forgetting. What a beautiful sight when people live in the Way. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Good Idea!

Every day in Ghana brings me surprises in the form of such great ideas I have never thought of before. I just can’t keep these good ideas to myself. Occasionally I may have to update you on the good ideas, they are just endless here! For today I have these few to share with you:

1. Take your chicken for a taxi ride. Hold it by its wings and give that fowl a joy ride.
2. Make every ceremony as long as possible. Church services, graduations, matriculations, funerals, dedications of buildings/babies, weddings… by the end your guests should be so tired, bored, hot and hungry that they will never forget the event.

3. Dry your cassava stalks by the roadside amidst the dirt and ants.

4. Name your business: Onlookers are Worried.

5. Paint your chicks pink so the hawks won’t eat them.

6. Pour half a bottle of oil in everything that you cook.

7. Stock up on Tummy Tuckers, the reject exercise product of the 80’s and sell it by the roadside in Accra. I’m sure they will sell like hotcakes.

8. Propose to a complete stranger, just because they have white skin.

9. Give a 5 year old a machete

10. Measure the door frame after you have cut the door.  Its like a fun game, see if you got it right! 

11. Load three times the capacity of cargo to be delivered on every truck, it might make it.

The BIG one

I feel like I have left so many gaps in my story here at the VOH, I wish I had time to write to you about so many things.  If you want to hear more just take me to coffee when I get home and I’ll talk your ear off.  This last week Caitlyn came back for a few brief days before flying out last night to the states.  I talked her and Tommy into going to see the biggest tree in West Africa. I have a fascination for trees, and couldn’t resist the chance to go and see the biggest one around.  It is tucked away in the rainforests a couple hours west of the VOH.  After a beautiful drive through rural villages and tall green trees we abruptly arrived at a signboard by the side of the road announcing the tree’s presence.  The tree was discovered over 400 years ago by a hunter wandering the forests, but must be at least 1000 years old.  My eyes were riveted to the tree from the moment we entered the clearing.  There are trees surrounding it so all you can do is stand by the trunk and stare up hundreds of feet into the branches and leaves of this beautiful natural masterpiece.  I seriously considered taking up residence in a hammock nearby or making myself a nice tree house to forever reside in the forests and drink the deep beauty of these ancient trees daily.  However, I had to settle for a nice late morning stroll through the forests listening to the sounds of the birds and insects humming and singing.   And you will have to settle for the cheap imitation rendered in this photograph.  

The loves of my life

The past week has been such a joy. I have rediscovered the joy of just being with the kids. They finished exams last week on Thursday and it has been so wonderful to just be with them and not have to be in the role of disciplinarian and educator all the time. The last 1.5 years I have scheduled myself in such a way that I barely have time to just sit down and have conversation and play soccer with them. I am excited about trying to do as little “work” as possible in the next few weeks so that I can just spend time loving on the kids. I am always jealous of visitors that come and get to just play all the time! I know it can’t always be like that, kids do need to know how to read, but for a few weeks I will relish this time.
There have been so many moments in the last week that I just stop and my heart bursts with love for my children. Yesterday I sat down next to a kid in the grass outside of my house, and within a matter of minutes we had a whole crowd sitting with us, Joseph with his tough exterior and heart just crying for attention, Francis with his sweet notes and gifts of mangoes, kids shouting my name from the field every time I pass, hugs from high schools home on break, walking the to the library for reading night and the Linary house children were fighting over who got to hold my hand, playing soccer for endless hours in the sand, reading stories with kids sitting on the steps, high fiving our 9th grade students as they walk out of their BECE exam room every day this week, watching groups of girls singing as they walk down the path to fetch water… I feel so blessed to be able to share love with these precious children. This week I have had such a renewed sense of joy at just being with them. With every knock on the door and request for batteries, bandages, pencils, etc. I strive to see the child whom Jesus formed and loves endlessly and my heart is full.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's paining me

I came to Ghana almost two years ago with something resembling answers. I think we all do. We enter into ministry or missions with big ideas. At least I was certain that answers existed to the educational deficits in Ghana. We often start out as idealists and end up as realists. Change is not simple. There are no easy answers to the persisting economic and social problems ailing our world. If you had asked me a year ago (and some of you did) what my life plan was, I would have given you a convincing outline of how I was going to design and implement a program modeled after Teach for America in Africa. I was convinced that was my calling, convinced for a few short months anyways. Time has given me greater insight into the complexities of educational reform in Ghana. I don’t have answers. In fact, I feel as if I am more unsure than ever about the means to bring sustainable change to educational institutions in West Africa. The problems seem so great it is often tempting to run home and forget they exist because I don’t know how to begin to address them. But I have found a different answer. Live in the questions. I don’t have to have solutions or answers. I just have to be willing to participate in the suffering, pain, and injustices that victimize the poor and marginalized. I have to be willing to live with and among those who are suffering in order to share with them in the problem and hopefully live our way into some answers together.
“…None of us can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with our whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process. Who can take away suffering without entering it? It is an illusion to think that a person can be lead out of the desert by a person who has never been there…” Henri J. Nouwen

I recently read these words in the book titled The Wounded Healer and they have been echoing in my mind for weeks. We can keep on pretending that we are serving, helping, and ministering to people, but until we are truly willing to share in the burdens of others we are only fooling ourselves. We want to help without it costing us anything. We are afraid of the personal costs of becoming involved in the suffering of others. We don’t want to suffer the expense of discomfort.

This morning as I sat on my flight I paused at these words which epitomized to me the reaction of the world’s wealthy to encounters with pain and poverty: “The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money.” The author, Tracy Kidder, writes about the incredible life of Paul Famer, an infectious disease specialist giving away his love and life to the world’s poorest. Writing checks is useful and certainly necessary.

I am entering the last 7 weeks of my time in Ghana without reserve. I want to listen well, love deeply, and give foolishly. As I look towards graduate school I will walk into without solutions rather only with questions. I will take with me the voices of the poor in Ghana and hear the wisdom of the educated and try to make sense of it all. I don’t have a life plan. What I do have is a commitment to participate in the suffering of the world. I want to be a part of the suffering, so that I can also be a part of the healing.

In Ghana when something hurts you, you say "it is paining me."  I am learning to enter into the pain of others and share it with them.  While the suffering and questions of life is often painful, I understand that is part of the human experience.  Our sin and selfishness has brought such pain and suffering into the world, and learning how to bear each other's burden is a central part of Christ's teaching.  If it is paining you, it should also be paining me. 

I invite you to risk the unknown, risk entering into the pain of another. Whomever or wherever that may take you. I am convinced that is what it means to love.