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.

Love tastes like bananas

Very few of you know me well enough to know this, but my entire life I have hated bananas. I couldn’t stand even their flavoring in muffins or other baked goods.  Now, I can't get enough of them!  Ghana has changed my taste buds in many ways. The headmaster of HCA has been bestowing on me gifts of fruit (pineapple, watermelon, bananas, etc) for the past year. Fruit is definitely at the top of my list of favorite presents! Today I ate 5 bananas and loved every bite. I am beginning to think that these bananas are doing more than delighting my tastebuds, they are actually teaching me a lot about love. Something that I thought I knew and understood suddenly tastes so different to me, and the same is true about love. I know I have blogged about it several times, but I just can’t get over much I feel like it’s all that matters in this world.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13: 34-35

The experiences of the last seven weeks have carried the intensity of what feels like years. Through all of it I have come to develop a deep sense of peace that God is at work through even the most challenging of situations. I have been learning incredible lessons about the nature of God and community. It leads me to want to pursue a greater understanding of Christ and his ministry. So, I did something new the other day. I sat down and read through the whole gospel of Luke in one sitting. The story just enthralled me. Luke is such a great story teller. Throughout his writing several messages resonated with me. They are consistent with other thoughts and books that I have been reading recently. Luke clearly portrayed that Jesus wasn't interested in the half-hearted or the followers of a self-righteous rule book. It’s all or nothing. When we decide that we are living a life in pursuit of God it means we sell out. All in. It should transform our lives completely. Christ demonstrates to us what it means we live a life of love. We tend to be so selective with our love. I am continually learning to redefine what that looks like in my life. It is so easy to love those who love us. But we often opt out on love that doesn't give back, love that is awkward, or that doesn't fit in our schedule. At least I do. What would the world be like if we really learned to love? Ghana is teaching me new dimensions of community and love. It is an insightful journey in understanding myself and the love that I have to share. I am learning from women like Adjoa, children like Ebenezer, and mothers like Gina what this love looks like. Loving without reciprocal expectations is indeed difficult, but such a incredible way to live.

We have around 80 boarding boys that attend our school and they are supervised and cared for by the housemaster Joseph and his wife Kate (along with their 4 young children). Kate spends all day every day being a wife/mother: cooking, washing, cleaning, taking care of boarding boys needs, and trying to sell items to students for a small income. She is quite insecure and shy and on top of that isolated from the rest of the female staff by location and social boundaries. I have developed a close relationship with her and her family over the course of my time here. Kate has taught me incredible lessons about love. She gets so thrilled to see me each time I set foot in their little shack, it’s incredible. If a day passes when she doesn't see me, she will send a child to check on me to see if I am around. She uses small parts of their meager income to send me gifts of Sala mangoes (my absolute favorite!) and sometimes surprises me by fixing me a whole meal and sending it to me. Despite her limited literacy skills she also writes me letters at times. The other day she even offered to wash my clothes for me whenever I need it. I am humbled by her love. I don't feel worthy of such generosity of love and spirit. It is humbling to receive such love.

I could name countless other examples of such love that I receive here. Often appreciation takes a tangible form instead of a verbal form. So this week I received bread, mangoes, bananas, papayas, fufu, etc. from various people as demonstrations of their love. If love tastes like fruit I'm all for it! :) I am so thankful for this community of people and the love they share with me. What a blessing to receive their love and learn from them.

On the other hand, I have to learn to love the teachers and community members with which I have no common ground. There are many who would never acknowledge kindness, appreciate hard work, or make an effort at a relationship with me and yet I am called to demonstrate to them the same love I have for Kate, or for the children. I am learning. Learning to love without restraint kids like Joseph, who would suck you dry of all your love and affection without so much as a thanks. I’m learning to not to reserve my love for those of whom it is easy to share. I’m learning a new kind of love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Tribute

Ghana has given me a new perspective on death. Death here is treated with a sense of fatalistic expectation. They realize that if we see a new day, or another year it is” by the grace of God.” When speaking of future plans they always say “if God wills.” The reality is that death is common and often sudden here. Grief is not much of an option, the way to cope is just to accept and move forward. I continue to appreciate the brevity of life and the manner with which we spend our time. So often we feel ourselves immune to the possibility of death and the

However, this last week was a week of grieving for many of us. We lost a beloved member of our community, Adjoa.

She was the reason. The reason that the compound was kept swept clean, the reason kids retuned to class after breaks on time, the reason that resources were finally being pulled off the dusty shelves and used in classrooms, and she was the reason that I came back to Ghana after December. Madam Adjoa inspired and encouraged the best in everyone. To borrow the overused metaphor, she was the glue that held the students and teachers of Hope Christian Academy together. Her passion and love for the children shone admirably against the dull indifference of so many others.

Madam Adjoa was a 4th grade teacher who was moved into the role of curriculum coordinator this year because of her capability and commitment to positive change at HCA. From the time that school opened until now my relationship with her continued to deepen along with my respect and admiration for her. I spent hours a day working with her and talking with her at the school. I appreciated her honesty , intelligence and love with which she worked. In a culture of secrecy it is often difficult to know what is going on, but she began to open new doors for me to work and to reach new levels of understanding at our school.
When I returned in January I was informed she had not yet returned from the Christmas break due to illness. When I inquired as to the cause I was told it was a breast wound. I was a bit unclear about the whole thing and went with Tommy to visit her. I was completely unprepared for what I encountered. I cannot recall a time that compares to the utter shock and grief that I felt in that room. Before we even entered the home, I could hear groans of pain coming from within. I did not immediately recognize her, in fact I scanned the room and was disappointed not to see her. The two women in the room did not resemble the Adjoa that I knew. The pain had so much transformed her face that I did not recognize her as she sat in front of us with her aged mother.

Adjoa proceeded to tell us the story that had unfolded over the past seven months since she had discovered a lump in her breast. It had led to a “biopsy” which left her with a festering wound that led to a serious infection. I was in tears listening to her labor while trying to speak. It took all my strength to keep from weeping at the pain she was suffering. I left her house crushed at the state in which I found Adjoa and the dim prospects for the future.

Over the course of the last week since we received the news I have taken every opportunity that I can to try and help the children grieve and process our loss.  It has been wonderful to hear from the girls who were closest to her the impact that she made on their lives.   

I am reminded yet again of the words of James, What is your life? It is a mist that appears for awhile and then vanishes (4:13-14). I am grateful for the life and example of Adjoa and all that I have learned from her and the love that she had for these children. I continue to find in the times of the greatest pain and chaos that God moves beautifully through us.       

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Liberia’s civil war caused many refugees to flood into Ghana years ago. There are still communities of refugees living in Ghana despite the war being over. They had nothing to return to, and so many have stayed in Ghana. One of these communities is just a few miles from the VOH. It is called Buduburam. It has been in existence for about 20 years. The UN initially provided some support for these refugees but it seems that support has dwindled in recent years. In August I went with a group of VOH visitors to visit a children’s Bible program conducted by a Liberian refugee minister. I was amazed at the heart of this man for the needy children of his community. Hundreds of children in this camp are unable to attend school because they cannot afford school fees. Deacon Greene and his wife have seen the gravity of situation and decided to do something about it. Despite the fact that Deacon Greene is blind he has conducted Saturday Bible class programs for 200+ children each Saturday. He has also solicited help in securing funds to create a free school for these refugee children.

Ever since my visit in August, I have been thinking and praying about Deacon Greene and his ministry in Buduburam. This last week, the same group of ladies were here from the US that had connections to Deacon Greene. We went to visit him and learn about the progress he has made in his school project.  God is so good.  One of the visitors here in August has taken this school on and has raised funds to rent a building for this school.  We visited the proposed site, it is an abandoned school with 10 classrooms.  It is perfect for what they are hoping to do! I am so excited to see this dream come to fruition and see the many lives it will touch in its offering of free education to some of the country's most destitute children.  It is so exciting to see God's people at work ministering with passion and love for others.  How beautiful it is to see the dream of Deacon Greene and his wife taking shape. They are hoping to open school this fall! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It was wonderful to sleep, eat, think, drink coffee and be spoiled by the love of my family and friends while at home. It was a much needed sabbatical. I walked straight back into the crazy hectic life I live here. The first week I left home for school in the morning and returned home between 9-10pm each night for the first time completely worn out. I moved out of Tommy's house and into a house with Corrine, a retired American nurse who moved to VOH last April.  I walked into a completely empty room with my few belongings in trunks. The only piece of furniture being the air mattress that I brought with me.  Thankfully Tommy has graciously loaned me some furniture to use for a few months.  The harmattan is here, and I swear it blew the entire Sahara desert into the house.  Everything was covered in such a thick layer of dust I felt as if I were in a house that had been abandoned for years.  I have never seen such thick dust.  I have also returned to the land of creepy crawlies.  The ants are in and on everything, mice have been constantly spotted in the house.

It took a few weeks but I think the last of the Harmattan has past, and the last of the mice have been killed. (I won't relay the story of the mice flopping in the mouse trap, but you get the idea...) I have also finally started to settle back in my routine.  There are still some kinks to be worked out in my school schedule, but that will happen with time.  I am officially a student of Twi now.  Twi is the language most commonly spoken by locals.  I really would like to be more proficient in communicating.  It makes such a huge difference when they hear foreigners attempting to learn their language.  I have also begun driving.  As most of you know, I got my license last October.  But, had no car to drive.  While I still do not, Tommy Drinnen, a missionary who works as one of the managers here, has allowed me to drive his car whenever I need.  It has been so freeing!  I have learned rather quickly how to fit in with the local drivers.  The rules are pretty simple: dodge large holes in the cement, go around any car that is slow and in your way, honk often, drive closely behind anyone you meet, and be prepared to stop at any time.  There is nothing like driving a stick shift in Ghanaian traffic.  I love it! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

I am not sure it is quite possible to articulate in the slightest the journey that I have been on the past few weeks. From the moment the thick Ghanaian air hit my lungs stepping off the plane until now the things that I have seen and felt during my time here have been with me with such intensity and tangibility of the very air I am breathing. I think I am finally starting to become more cognizant of and adept at processing my own thoughts. How to describe to you the dynamics of my relationships or work here tends to leave me stuttering something about lots of reading classes and beautiful children.  The truth is so much deeper.  I tend to blog about events because they are so much easier to explain. I wish I could truly give you a glimpse of life here.  A visit for a week or two would help, but that only scratches the surface.  The truth is that when you look deep into someone's eyes here you realize how similar we all are.  That a mother's fears for her children here are the same as anywhere, that they are fed, safe, educated, and well behaved.  Mothers spend their days cooking, cleaning, and working desperately to provide for their children.  Children yearn to feel loved and safe.  I can never look at a national geographic picture, newspaper image, or television newscast the same again.  I read recently in the book Half the Sky (a necessary read for everyone) a story about women in Haiti who expressed it poignantly "we are human too."  We often forget and let what is comfortable triumph over what we know to be true.  When you know it changes you.  It leads you to live in such a way to demonstrate love in a way you never have before. I have been on a journey in Ghana of learning what it means to live a life of love.  I am so thankful that I have come to a place in my work and relationships here as well as in my faith that barriers are being removed and true understanding is beginning to form.  I continue to hope for  greater depths of insight.