Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

That's All She Wrote

Ah, ah, airport lounge at last.

While Allan and Patsy offered to stay at the Landing restaurant while I waited for my departure, I was ready to sit down, wait and get comfortable in mindset for the next 30 hours of travel. Well-equipped with iTunes, eye patch and Ambien - I am prepared to be on about the Father's next business.

When I stepped out of the car the humidity and heat was a furnace blast reminding me why I need not bother with any hair "do" or products. My hair has kinked and curled, pasted to my face in rebellion to the weather - it is a fright. But soon I will be home.

As I lay in bed this morning, with my pillow over my head in my own little "cave", I was reluctant to rouse. Everything was already packed and I had no real need to be up. However, by 7:00 am I could relax no longer. I decided to make breakfast for my gracious hosts this last morning. French Toast African style, enjoyed on the porch with the morning breeze, the melodious chimes and a gaggle of geckos. We remained large and uninvited guests.

The last Oswald Chambers devotion had us all reflecting on "The Call". It reminded me what a value it has been to study and share his wisdom with my African friends.

Pastor Ohene and Ken arrived for a final farewell and accounting of the week and distribution. Future goals and needs were discussed and placed safely in the Father's hands. I am anxious to see how those needs are answered. Ohene accompanied us to the airport to continue his discussion on the amount of boxes needed to complete the next two days of outreach. His calculations on the average number of boxes per carton created a 4,000 gift shortage - not good.

I was first in line and cleared the process quickly. A few more hours and I'll be off - a lot more after that and I'll return to my side of the world - where my "cave" consoles me, restores me and reminds me - there is no place like home!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Their Mouths Were Filled with Laughter

An early wake up to set off down the familiar road to Dodowa. Today's distribution would compensate for the first and second days we missed due to the hold up in boxes. We covered eight schools and passed out over 2,000 boxes. That's a lot of little hands receiving a gift.

These sites were off the "beaten" path so to speak, but many of these paths are really just that. Allan was a bit concerned as we made a few turns "over the river and through the woods". We lumbered past villages and their inhabitants gleefully waved us on. Something was happening and they wanted to be a part of it.

At each school site - deep in the bush and past the villages - those who had watched our van and truck negotiating the trail, soon encircled the gathered children to see what we had to say.

At our second stop, the program kept getting interrupted by the chickens and roosters clamoring and clucking through the school house. The headmistress kept a long switch in her hand for sending them fluttering on their way.

As in the prior days, when Allan and Pastor Henry share the Gospel and the way of salvation children are eager to raise their hands. Sometimes the religious cynic in me questions their comprehension and understanding. They know something "else" is awaiting (a brightly wrapped gift box) and perhaps their "acceptance" is part of what is required.

But I have to marvel when the villagers standing on the fringes, who have NOTHING to gain from a "closed-eye hand raised" respond. They understand we are not there for their benefit. We will have no gift to hand them, and still their hearts respond.

In these past two weeks over 9,000 boxes have been delivered, another 5,000 children and adults have heard the Gospel, 75 pastors and lay teachers have been trained, souls have been ushered into the Kingdom - and the angels have been rejoicing!

UPDATE March 20: The Villagers who committed their hearts and lives to the King contacted Pastor Ohene and requested a church be started in their village. The cynic is silenced.

False Pride

"Pride comes before a fall..."

Ory Main, Southern cotton plantation owner, and George Hazzard, Northern industrialist gentleman, face off - each arguing their position. Defensively, Ory shouts at his best friend "you can't just come down here and change our way of life."

"the truth will set you free"

I was born and raised in Texas. And Texas, really is like a country of its own! Perhaps because for a short period of time after we fought and won the war against Mexico, we were a country. That fact, allows Texas to fly it's state flag the same height as the American flag, all other states must fly their flag lower.

Texan's have a strong sense of nationalism and pride. I have capitalized on that fact. It raised my self-esteem (something I could lay claim to) and established my sense of self. I might not be much but I AM from Texas! I never really considered what I was proud of; what being from Texas meant; how being born in the south prejudiced me towards certain notions.

Several years ago, for the first time, I drove to the East Coast. I made my way through Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. I passed through Gettysburg and saw the battleground now teeming with tourists walking the slaughter fields. Unfortunately, I didn't follow up my curiosity to learn more about the Civil War from the North's point of view.

Schools teach Civil War and US history pretty early in academic development. I remember very little "facts" about the War Between the States, aside from the reality we (the South) lost the war at a very high cost of life and pride.

I remember hearing tales of Northern "carpetbaggers" who came down and took advantage of the decimated Southern economy. I know the date when the emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, TX because my grandmother was born 47 years later on (Juneteenth - June 19th). But the rest has been lost to a school child's understanding (you only need to memorize these dates until Friday's test).

I ordered the series "North and South" on DVD to present as a gift to Allan and Patsy on my 5th delivery for Samaritan Purse - a sort of anniversary celebration. The first time I came to Ghana they were airing it on TV and we continue (over the last six years) to utilize the exaggerated southern accents we heard during the telecast, from time to time when we speak to each other.

"Are you ready for a WAA-A-A-R (war)?" "Have you been to GEE-OAR-GEE-UH (Georgia)?" It always brings a laugh and reminiscence - because after all we share the same heritage. We are all Texans!!

As we watched the progression of the series, friendships formed and the cultural clashes faced between two proud young men, I began to wonder what and why had I held on to my Southern "pride"? It seemed growing up, being schooled in the south, "pride" was a heritage - the only thing "THEY" (them damn Yankees) could not take away from us.

We are ladies and gentlemen down here. It is not uncommon for us to refer to one another as "mam" and "sir" from time to time. It is a form of politeness that has roots as deep as the magnolia trees that bloom here. The legacy of courtesy overshadowing a very dark past.

Watching "North and South" here in Africa, in Ghana - one of the largest slave supplying regions - has been cathartic. Thinking about a society steeped in traditions of etiquette and politeness while yet propitiating human enslavement and cruelty, is something I just can't get my mind around.

And even though I can safely protect my sense of security, almost 150 years from the South's slavery past, I can't deny that I grew up in a household where "they" had their place and we had ours. My parent's forbid the use of the "N" word, but it was still heard in my grandparents house, and in a can of mixed nuts, everyone avoided the ones from Brazil because we all knew they were 'nigger toes'.

"You shall know..."

Pride is a funny thing. Based on some "belief" system (you are better, bigger, smarter, richer) that places you above and someone else below your rung on the ladder. We fool ourselves into believing something about the sentiment is based on "truth". We get far enough away from the facts to hold our head high above the rest because we "know" who we are. But do we really ever?

Sounds like sin, and the lies the enemy perpetuates in our hearts. Telling us our "feelings" about ourselves are more valid than the "truth" about ourselves. Preventing us from the cycle of confession and redemption and God's heart towards revealing and healing.

I have committed to learning more about my heritage - I have repented of my pride.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


“This is the sacrifice pleasing to God…”

Saturday was leadership training day. The International Central Gospel Church had arranged and promoted a teacher’s conference for children and youth workers. Some had traveled over 100 miles away! Now that may seem like a distance to us, but to people in Ghana who do not own cars, it means rising up at 4:30 am and standing out on the road to wait for a “trowtrow” (crowded with as many as 25 people in a 12 person van) and riding down perilous roadways.

It is a sacrifice.

I’m not sure those gathered understood what they were attending, or exactly who the “speaker” (a clown for goodness sake) would be. But come they did and I shared my whole wealth of experience and knowledge - that took five minutes.

The remaining 2 hours and 35 minutes – God shared His love and wit, laughter and joy. The church pastor remained for the whole seminar and at the end of session one, stood and followed up with what he had taken away from the workshop. “Write this down: come as a child… write this down: you are speaking to Jesus…” It was evident the lessons were nothing I conceived on my own – God shows up faithfully again!

“your bodies…”

After a refreshing snack and walk around break, I introduced the practical application of our time together. They broke into groups, put together “skits” based on Bible stories and after 10 minutes, gave their “performance”. They laughed, acted out, changed their voices, and did fabulously well. I think they were all surprised at themselves. When we think of sacrifice, our first thought is often money – “oh I hate that tithing sermon.” Our second thought reaches for the heroic – the martyr “yes, Lord, I would give my life…” But we view our life as breath, flesh and blood. Perhaps, we need to look at our “sacrifice” as our “will” as well as our “willingness” to lay that down – when called on to use the foolish to confound the wise – to win the heart and soul of a child for the Kingdom.

I tried to stress as “teachers” of children our greatest gift to them is not necessarily imparting 15 memorized verses by the end of the year – our greatest gift is to illustrate Christ’s love. I told of my Sunday School teacher and shared my remembrance of her. Although I don’t remember her name, there are several very critical things that made an impression on me as a child.

First, she only had one arm. Where her other arm should be, she had a wooden one that was always covered with a beautiful white glove. But here is what I really remember. She would let us “knock on wood”. She allowed her class to touch her weakness, and in that weakness she was very strong indeed. That is how she illustrated that she loved us. I don’t remember one lesson from my childhood class, but I remember my teacher loved us children – I think she liked us too.

I hope the participants of the seminar walked away understanding sacrifice without love is mere ritual, but sacrifice with and for love is redemption!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lead Me Home

“His grace has brought me safe this far…”

4:30 am is early. Especially when the night has been spent alternating between sweltering and needing a sweater. While our accommodations in Kumasi were reportedly a three star rating, the air-conditioned rooms regulated much the same way the music systems here do – full blast or off.

So, there you have it – some suffering for Jesus – ideally it becomes more comic relief than actual peril or persecution. I gladly sweat for the sake of the call.

We were back on the road by 6:00 am and life had already begun. Children walking miles to school have to get an early start. Physical laborers also out by dawn to escape the unforgiving heat of the African sun. We dashed and dodged on through the fog, the jungle roads, the small villages, and people selling whatever was available.

About two hours into our journey the truck started “missing” – when you are in the middle of nowhere – car trouble is not an option. There is no AAA in Africa! We prayed. I checked the clock and calculated Central Standard Time, “Father, wake up Your warriors, we need to make it home!”

The reality, as well as the unreality of it all sank in. What if… surely not… okay Plan Z, into action – get those people praying. With each pothole we hit, with each acceleration of the engine, the problem grew more evident. We made it into the capital city and we praised God for the distance and asked for a parting of the “Red Sea” of commuter traffic that was still before us.

After 45 more minutes and a 20 mile stretch of desolate highway, we exited for Tema. At the stoplight the soon failure of the engine was obvious. “But Lord… we are almost… there…” The truck turned down the roads with our beseeching over the belching combustion. We finally turned into the Fulton’s compound and as the iron gates (which bear the Ginayme national symbol meaning “except for God – nothing”) shut behind us – the truck died.

We all turned to look at one another and laughed. Surely, Allan’s foot had just slipped off the accelerator, or putting the gear into reverse had slowed the gas flow. After 15 minutes of trying to revive the engine, much thanksgiving and praise, it was very clear – He had carried us safely as far as we needed to go.

His grace (and mercy) had lead us home!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Road to Heaven is NOT Paved

Enter through the narrow gate

We have put some miles on the new APF Ministry van, traveling back and forth from the Dodowa Region to Tema; to the port authority for bureaucratic entanglements with the boxes; deep into the African bush to distribution sites in the heart of the savannah. Tires have displaced a great deal of dirt, because the majority of the roads are just that – dirt. If we were lucky, it would be somewhat smooth. Today was not one of those days.

Up with the chickens and out at the “crack of dawn” by 6:00 am we were making our way to the former capital of Ghana. Kumasi, home of the Ashanti tribe, is still ruled essentially by the tribal king, who is in control of the regions #1 commodity, GOLD.

I could hear echoes of Betty Davis’ famous line “fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride”, as we made our way through the morning commuters, already on the road at this early hour.

Allan was excited to see the new highway was complete. Unfortunately, no one has taught the drivers that a four lane highway has two side by side lanes going in the same direction – each side of this freeway carried bi-directional traffic, in spite of signs and arrows indicating otherwise. Once the erratic “new” road ended we were back to normal; avoiding pot holes, pedestrians, goats and those sellers maneuvering between the stopped traffic for a “sale”.

Although these are “major” roads are often the only thing connecting two cities, it is not easy traveling, and our excursion requires an overnight stay for to travel these roads after dark, is to risk your life and endanger many others. In our 4 ½ hour drive we saw 4 traffic accidents, 3 overturned 18 wheelers – lorries with lost loads and a fair share of road kill. Although for some it was lunch.

It is days like today, down roads I would not know and never choose, that the mission clarifies. No map could bring us to our destination - only destiny can! The love and interest of the Living God, knowing where the need is, where His lost sheep live brings us down the road less traveled.
A Danish businessman we encountered (a true God-incidence) made a poignant statement: “there are people here every night who cry out to God for help. God is using those listening to answer their prayers.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Reflections of an Old Prophet

… God answered: write this. Write what you see.” Hab 2:1

Michelle wanted it on video tape. I confess, having heard my Texas-twang on tape, I was not quick to comply. “Ah, come on, I’m going to miss you” she insisted.

“Moses Wiring and Plumbing Fixtures”, I blurted as we passed the next “sign/SIGN”. The van broke out in laughter, as the utterances of a “stranger in a strange land” were captured on tape for the sake of posterity.

I take my mission very seriously. Seeing the sights and hand of God at work in the world is a great blessing, but also carries responsibility. I pray to have the ability to convey the vision. The God-sized task we each are asked to join up with.

Poverty has moved the women to tears on more than one occasion. But what has pierced their hearts is how little it takes to bring great joy. Each one of the women on the team are involved stateside in a variety of ways, with Samaritan’s Purse: one an employee full-time of the Operation Christmas Child project; one a regional coordinator, one district coordinator, and two volunteers who donate quantities of boxes they have assembled, as well as their time.

Each collection “season, they spend uncounted hours, organizing, coordinating and collecting, hundreds of thousands of boxes. I’m sure they have seen promotional videos and materials to inspire their commitment and hard, thankless sweaty hours. And while a picture may be worth a thousand words – flesh and blood are priceless!

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk took a look around his world. It was a wreck. Evil seemed to prosper, the innocent suffer and he didn’t even have a 24 hour worldwide news service like CNN to fill him in on the details.

The Message translates Habakkuk 1:1:
The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it.

The problems he saw 2500 years ago are the same we see today. Poverty, despair, innocent children suffering, the weak oppressed and unchecked violence; not only here in Africa but in America as well.

This is the problem as God gave Charlynn to see it...

I ask less “why” questions after ten years in ministry, and I try to faithfully follow the same instructions He gave old Habakkuk.

“Write what you see. This vision message is a witness pointing to what’s coming.”

Available Medicine

I seek out pharmacies in foreign countries. Here in Africa, medications for skin ailments, malaria, and prescription strength drugs are available over the counter and quite affordable and sometimes downright cheap! In Sri Lanka, for example, the malaria medication that sells for $9 per pill in the US, cost me $4 for 500 pills. I could start my own cottage industry to missionaries traveling to mosquito zones.

But the kind of balm from Gilead I seek the most in my travels is not the kind that comes in a tube, box or bottle.

Love is patient, love is kind…

When a salve is used for a wound, the first question the victim asks “will this hurt?” Sometimes it does, but the one dressing the injury offers reassurance, “it will make it better.”

For God so loved… John 3:16

The first thing I saw was the brilliant white of her teeth. Her smile broke out across her whole face. Her eyes were sparkling and as she spoke she threw her head back as if to accentuate what she was about to say. “I love you so much! I just love you” she grinned.

“I love you too.” I sincerely replied. Her shower of affection was infectious. “I’m glad you are happy and you had a good time.”

Sometimes the outpouring is hard to receive. My flesh carries the memory of unloved rejection; feelings of unworthiness, and of being unseen. When a child thousands of miles away from my world and reality approaches to apply balm over my wounded heart, inside I flinch. But these doses I receive, of foreign medicine, go a long way in towards my heart’s rehabilitation.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bringing in the Sheaves: Martha's Melody

“I will not leave you as orphans...”

The last week has bonded us together. We have shared much laughter, many tears, and the joy of serving the Lord, no matter what, no matter where. We have coped with hours of frustration, days of delays, and time on our hands. We have spent a great deal of that time in the car, traveling to and from places hard to visualize, encouraged by the road signs which became our “SIGNS”.

“God’s Time is Best Motors and Carburetors”

To pass the time, we have praised. Eight Baptists in a car can come up with a lot of hymns! Martha, our resident wise one, even confessed to playing the piano for the church in a crunch. However, she was limited to those written in the key of C (no sharps no flats). We got a good laugh on that one because there were only about three standards penned in the simple key of C.

As we belted out the classics: Old Rugged Cross, He Lives, Victory in Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers, somewhere in the back (the names changed to protect the innocent – but God knows who they are) the comment came “can’t you sing something that’s at least from the 20th century!?” To which Martha replied “but we were just about to get to Bringing in the Sheaves, that’s one I can play on the piano.”

A huge roar of laughter erupted and when the chuckles died down, we started with the more modern “This is the Day.” We grew quiet as the sights and sounds, smells and uniqueness that is Africa, closed in around us. The sign on the taxi ahead read “Persevere – To God Be the Glory.”

Our final day of distribution was to four orphanages. Each one I had visited in 2004. The children had grown feet, not inches since that time and were eager to hear more stories, see new “tricks”.

Once the program ended, the gifts handed out, we had time to enjoy the children. We watched as they opened with great anticipation their gift box – see their eyes light up with seeing familiar items like flashlights and of course candy! We were ready with a demonstration when they pulled out and Etch-a-Sketch or jigsaw puzzle.

They proudly donned their new sunglasses, ski hats, knit scarves and gloves – and held up cars, trucks and dolls with a big toothy grins.

At one of our last stops the children asked if they could sing a song for us. “Of course” we said as we took out our cameras and turned on the video.

“This is the Gathering Song” the leader informed and with a one, and a two, and a three, they began:

“Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness… we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves…”

Perhaps it has been explained to these children about sowing and reaping for the Kingdom. They may actually know what “sheaves” are. But when they began the chorus, it was clear – God’s favor and delight was upon us.

And for Martha, through her tears of joy, hearing one of the only hymns she could play on the piano from orphans in Ghana, she saw a small portion of her very own sheaves.

Yes, we left rejoicing!

Growing Old

“Seeing and not believing, hearing and not listening…”

Age has its benefits to be sure. I finally feel as though I am old enough to be taken seriously; although I have been serious my entire life. People approach me as though I actually might know something and have a few of life’s mysteries figured out.

But along with the bonuses of growing old gracefully, come the drawbacks of gravity. Your body doesn’t just snap back to place, there are noticeable changes all over the place, wrinkles, failing eyesight, loss of hearing, oh the list depresses me and adds a few more grey hairs!

Sunday was our Sabbath. The team decided to rest, reflect, and you may have guessed – sleep in. After nine hours of a very quiet night (no distant drum beats or faulty circuitry) I woke feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready for whatever this day, that the Lord had made, would bring.

I grabbed my Bible, my current reading book (Don Miller’s Searching for God knows What) my journal AND my magnifying glasses. Without them, it would be an exercise in frustration trying to adjust the distance to accommodate my failing vision.

I went out to the second story sun porch and sat. There is a comfortable breeze early in the morning and the sun has yet to bear down its relentless and debilitating heat; the humidity just enough to curl my hair.

I listened to the morning. The wind stroking the leaves of the fan palms, the rooster roused and ready to work better than the best alarm clock, the neighbor’s baby crying from hunger or who knows. The wind chimes distinct and unique daily melody, and the variety of birds, cooing and chirping. In other words, I heard the morning.

Back in the city, I am sure each “a.m.” carries a distinctive set of sounds. But I am not listening. I am busy hearing my internal list of things I need to get done, things I should get done, things I can’t get done, and things I just will not get done! It takes 22,000 miles to focus my listening. And in listening, back home I hear lots of arguments opposed to foreign missions. “We have poor here in America”: There are “lost” in our own backyard”: why do you have to spend thousands on airfare, when you could just send the money.”

All good reasoning aside, when I am at home, am I really “seeing” those problems? Do I really pay attention to my neighbor who is a Christian Scientist? And while I may be somewhat award of my own sins and short comings, are the folks making a case against my overseas focus doing anything about those backyard issues? Or do the arguments cancel out the need for action?

At the start of my performance, before a sea of a thousand black faces, I tell the children what I am about to share with them will make their eyes pop wide open. I take my hands and open my eyes extra wide (which they imitate). I say “Oh what you are about to see will make your mouth go like this” and I drop my lower jaw as low as it will go and stand with my mouth agape while they let loose peals of laughter. And last but not least, I tell the children their hands will go like this – as I clap wildly and dance around my makeshift stage.

Being removed from one’s spiritual and emotional comfort zone does make your eyes jump wide open. You see the “real” world. The way most people struggle, live, cope, earn a day’s wage, and have enough or not. There is the dust, the dirt, the tattered and torn clothes, no shoes, women washing dishes in filthy water, children squatting to relive themselves on a school yard, flies, lizards, and nakedness.

Your ears take in the noise. The sounds of nature, the cry of humanity, the despair of poverty, “madam, please something for my baby.” “Madam, please, please.”

To be sure there are sights and sounds and smells all around wherever we find ourselves. But somehow, God works to reveal Himself better; when we are far away from the ways we insolate our hearts; where the world is raw and its brokenness evident. He is able to show Himself working. He is here, He is alive and well. We have seen and heard Him in Ghana and He is happy we have joined Him here!

“And all the trees clapped their hands in praise.”

Friday, March 03, 2006

Those Who Sow in Tears

“So those who went off with heavy hearts, will come home laughing with armloads of blessings” Ps 126 The Message

It was easy to get off by 7:00 a.m. We had stayed up late packing and loading the car the night before. All we had to do when daylight arrived was load the last carry-on luggage, say good-bye to the “giant woodpecker” air-conditioning noise, grab a granola bar and go.

The last day of the school distribution, because of the delays we encountered, was our first full day. We had six schools to cover and over 5,000 children to hand out boxes to! We were going to be busy. As Michelle had prayed, we were going to need a “holy hustle” to accomplish the task set before us.

We arrived at the first school and had to hastily get underway with a “short” program because it seemed the Dutch were on their way with a program of their own. We sped through the singing, and the “tricks”, but for the Gospel we took all the time we needed. The children were well-behaved and formed lines quickly to receive their boxes. Once it was over we were off to the second stop.

The door to the van slammed and Pam buried her head in her hands. The tears came from a tender heart, touched by the conditions of the children. The amount of love God pours out from them back to us can be overwhelming. The gratitude and joy gushing from children in torn school clothes, no shoes, hungry bellies yet full hearts, humbled us.

Our next stop was a school deep in the savannah, where herds of cattle crossed the schoolyard on a regular basis. We drove up and saw the original school buildings (mud huts) still being used. Children stood, waved, jumped up and down and gathered for the program.

Our arrival is quite an event. Cars this far back off the main road are few and far between – much less white people in cars. If you have come this far you have a reason – it is a God reason. The children understand they have a reason to be excited, they are about to benefit from this visit. In this part of their world, the only reasons the white come is to give them something, build something, or bring medicine. This is not a tourist spot; there are no animals for “safaris”.

The sight of 500 children clapping, jumping and singing praise songs with a backdrop of the African hillside are amazing. I am often reminded of the verse “out of the mouths of babes you will ordain praise” and praise the Living God these children did.

I ask the children at the beginning of the program the name of their school and village. I ask if it is found on a map. They laugh. But it is a visual they can relate to. I did not know where they were but God knew where they were! I am always blessed by the number of praise “choruses” they are familiar with. There were God-believers here before us, and there will surely be God-believers here after us.

Pam’s tears watered the seeds we sowed, and are guaranteed the harvest in the Kingdom.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Delivery Deliverance

We knew before turning in the night before, there was little reason to be up at the crack of dawn. The boxes would not be loaded for delivery until 10:00, which would put our long awaited first distribution around 1:00 pm.

We made a plan (Plan X) to go into Accra, do a little tourist shopping at the round-about to kill time and continue to wait out the delivery and God’s perfect time.

“Every morning You’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life...” Ps 5

Our team has developed a certain peace and pace about the way things have worked out. None of us is too anxious, the only thing we have complained about is the late night noise of the air conditioner (our very own resident giant woodpecker), but even the complaints have been good natured and carried more laughter than aggravation.

We knew the day would come, the boxes would finally make it into the hand of the waiting children, and we would be bathed in a sea of smiles and thanksgiving to God. As we traveled the now familiar road back to Accra, we continued to shout out the “signs” for our “SIGN” today was going to be THE day!

“Prayer is the Master Key” was printed on the truck in front of us, and in unison the van said “amen”.

Allan’s cell phone signaled the final AMEN with news the boxes were on their way to the school and we should head to Atheniyae.

“We’re in no hurry God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with Your decisions” Is 26:8

We took a left turn by “God’s Shadow Fashion Salon” and drove up the very steep, rocky rutted dirt road to arrive at the school compound. We were hard to miss. A big silver passenger van, filled with shiny white faces. I’m not sure whose smiles were bigger, theirs or ours.

The children started pouring out of the classrooms, shouting greetings and waving wildly towards the van. The World Vision Director instructed us to drive farther up towards the school buildings, and as we made our final stop – just before reaching two young girls relieving themselves in the middle of the courtyard.

A school serving close to 1500 children had no facilities of any kind. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go – and in Ghana, wherever you stand … you can.

We watched where we stepped as we made our way to the first group of gathered children, while the cartons filled with gifts were off-loaded. First we taught them the “Joy, Joy, Joy” song and then a short program, and Allan following up with an invitation.

In everything we do, what is stressed is the “real” gift, the one that will not fade, the one that is eternal. Hundreds of decisions for eternity were made.

I went from the gathered groups of 350 children, tried to hold their interest long enough to give Allan a chance to make his way down for the follow up and tried not to get over-heated in the 100+ยบ heat.

The shoe boxes started getting passed out, the excitement and shouts for joy could be heard from my 100 yard away position, and the children just got happier. They stood patiently in the afternoon sun, wiping their faces with handkerchiefs, watching as we handed out the variety of brightly colored gift boxes. Most of the girls would curtsey and say “Thank you madam”, while the boys would offer a big grin and “thank you’s”.

One young lad approached and offered his hand to Michelle for a shake – but thought better of it and hugged her. A big shout went up from the girl’s section “wooohooo” but both he and Michelle were glad for his brave and loving gesture.

As all the boxes were handed out, the neighborhood arrived. Children from other schools, mother’s with babies, the teachers, all began their earnest petition “Please madam, something for my child, please something for me…”

It is hard to walk away from such great need – even more difficult to face the reality that in spite of good intent, best efforts, or all the money in the world, the need is greater still. Our part is not to meet that with our pity – but to have clarity on the responsibility to share the gift money cannot buy, bring water from the well that never will run dry and to offer food that is life sustenance itself.

It is not indifference to the physical. It is acknowledging the spiritual. The God job. When Jesus left this earth, there were still sick, hungry and dying people in Israel. The population was still oppressed by a cruel dictator and the religious system was a mess.

But when Jesus left that behind He did make the twelve a promise. A promise that 2000 years later is still good in Ghana.

“I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be with me also”

As we piled back in the van, hearts full, souls spent and poured out like drink offerings, tears of joy for THE day welled in our eyes. We had seen the “delivery” we had offered “deliverance”.

“To those living in darkness, say to the captives be free…”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Photo Opportunity

“With many stories like these, He presented His message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. "

We’re not from around here. We don’t look the same, we don’t dress the same, we don’t talk the same, and we certainly stand out in the crowd. And there seems to always be a crowd.

So much of what we see everyday is totally different from our lives back home; for one, the shops on the side of the road are often just goods and wares on the side of the road. Those that do have “walls” are often named with a Christian slogan: “God Have Mercy Beauty Salon” “Jesus Lives Carburetors” “If Jesus Says Yes Electrical” “There Will be No More Tears Printing”. We have taken great delight in shouting out these shop names and seeing the signs as “SIGNS”.

Amidst the constant commerce are the vendors who actually carry their wares through the traffic – hawking everything from bananas and toilet paper, to fish caught fresh from the sea.

I said things are different here. And to “carry” something here does not mean an armload of goods. Items are placed on platters, in bowls and boxes and then balanced on top of the merchants head. We have seen a wide variety of these top-heavy toters walking through the streets. Head held high, moving confidently and ably ridding themselves of merchandise along the way.

When we stopped and parked on the road for our school program – we had a few minutes to photograph the ocean, the “signs”, the discovery of where in the world the “Happy Spot” was among other snapshots of African life.

Walking up the road, was a woman laboring with a huge stainless steel bowl full of fresh fish parts atop her head. Now, we thought she was a sight to see, but I could venture a guess that as many times as the woman had made her way up the sea road, she had never encountered eight white people in her way. We were as big a curiosity to her as she was to us.

The women easily engaged each other in conversation and curious questions: “Why are you here?” was her biggest inquiry. While ours ranged from “how heavy is that?” (too heavy for us to even lift) and “how far do you have to carry it?”

She laughed, and was pretty good-natured about the inquisition. A quick camaraderie developed and wanting “a remembrance” of the conversation and curiosity – one asked “can I have a picture of you?”

Seeing we had no interest in purchasing any fish heads, but realizing “she” still had something to sell – the woman answered, “give me some money.” Disappointed, the would be photographer replied she didn’t have any cash on her, and she didn’t have much else on her to give the woman in exchange for the photo.

Undaunted, the merchant noticed the woman’s hair clip. “Well, give me your hair clip.” Without hesitation she took the clip out of her own hair, placed it stylishly in the woman’s, and agreeing they had made a fair trade – she posed for the camera.

Of course when our day ended, and we recounted the “photo opportunity” we heard the “real” story, and saw part of “His” picture.

The clip as it turned out was a gift from Russia; given by a loving husband as evidence and a small token of his love and sentiment towards his wife while he had been away on a mission trip. The “giving” had not been casual – but it was immediate. It was easy for us to see the “picture” of Christ’s extravagance towards us in this meaningful exchange between tow strangers who happened to meet on a road in Africa.

One, on her way home – one willing to come this far to share His greatest gift. One, having no idea the “value” of what she had asked for, one, willing to sacrifice as evidence of the value of all people Christ puts in our path.

“We don’t see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us. Knowing Him directly, just as He knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation. Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly. And the best of the three is Love.”
1 Corinthians 13

Wednesday's Child is Full of Woe

WEDNESDAY: wake up call 5:30 am. Our eager team was scheduled to depart for Tema at 6:30 am. The generator ran most of the night so the noise was quieted, sleep more restful and energy restored. Our morning schedule was to give a performance for one of Pastor Ohene’s Good News Clubs in the Ashaiman District.

This area, as Ohene described to the passengers, “it is different” he said with a reserved chuckle. “I think you would call it a slum in America – it is very different.” The girls exchanged puzzled glances, thinking silently to themselves “what have we seen that wouldn’t be considered a slum in the US?”

But as we soon saw with our own eyes – Ashiama was very different. 90% of the buildings are “lean to” corrugated tin structures. The streets are vary narrow, there are thousands more people, and the overwhelming poverty, seemed to hang like a dark cloud over the crowded streets.

We were stuck in the traffic, in the throng, in the mire too long, too late to make it to the school. Flexibility, allowed us to head back across the bridge and make it to another school (Mexico) near Tema for a morning program.

More than 300 children were gathered in the school room to receive their completion certificates for Vacation Bible School. They proudly waved them at our request for photo opportunities. They sang praise songs with unequalled passion and fervor, and they enjoyed our presence as strange witnesses of their joy.

The Apple Tree Story created an explosion of laughter and exclamation as their very serious teachers were drafted into acting out the story. The were “wowed” and we were “wooed” as our woe over the lack of boxes was temporarily forgotten. Too soon, we left the smiles behind, hopeful to have good news about delivery of the containers.

We napped, we prayed, we sent emails, we ate. We made plans, but in the end, our plans were not His.

"Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is – salvation." 2 Peter

By 1:00, we moved on to “Plan W” and headed out for a short program at a school just beginning the Good News Club. We only had a short time (1 song, 1 trick, 1 evangelism invitation) but that was all the time some of the children needed to make a decision for Christ.

And as we return to our “waiting” posture, I have to marvel at how important those children were. This is the “third day” we have had no gifts to bring. We are close to 5000 children behind in the process of distributing gift boxes – but….

Would He leave the 90 and 9 to find the one sheep that was lost?

It Became a God Story

As our team of eight traded stories and untold tales, I had an opportunity to share portions of mine. The birth of Sunshine After Rain Ministries, and the tears shed that God has long redeemed. I contemplated after the emotional evisceration, “how long is “he” going to be part of “my” story?” I felt like my whole life has been told as part of a man’s story: my father’s damage, my love’s scar, and the current vacancy, of “a” man.

This storytelling process is painful. As we’ve traded and shared, the humorous part of my keeps interjecting “Chapter 5: Foods We Miss” “Chapter 7: Worst Toilets in the World” “Chapter 10: Gross Physical Maladies – including Boils and Blisters”. We laugh and process and joke, but the underlying truth is the “Chapter” sideline; it is not the book of our life.

The movie “The End of the Spear” has been a topic on more than one occasion. The account of the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador, marked the 50th anniversary this year.

Each of us had additions we had heard to the story in our own geographic locations. I shared seeing one of the missionaries sons, speak in Seattle. Another shared additional information found in the book account of the story.

And that’s just it, here’s what I saw in the telling of my story, alongside the telling of one 50 years old. At the right and appointed time, comes the realization “it is a God story”.

I'm sure each of the men had their own “chapters" to add to make them laugh, to recount the tears, to enable and equip them for the story God would tell through their very short lives. Their widows and now 50 years later, their grown children and grandchildren, have their “chapters” and additions. Each person over the last 50 years who has heard the account has something to add to the size of the adventure. And soon through the millions of voices added to the chorus of the tale, it is easier to see it is not a missionaries story, or even a martyrs. It is a God story, because it is God-sized.

Now, admittedly – their life, work and death have received a great deal more retelling than mine – but mine is no smaller or lesser of a God story. Both are written by the same author.

Chapter Forty-Six: Waiting and Watching in Africa