Friday, August 31, 2007

all in a family

Wycliffe, Staci, Kami - the decorating crew

at the staff meeting/staff appreciation party

some of the guards playing with one of the babies

at the staff meeting/staff appreciation party

Shadrach at the farm with Gifton and Lucy

me and my pal Margaret "Margie"


Yesterday I got to be present for the Staff Appreciation gathering at the Baby Center. Staci had told the staff it was a staff meeting but then surprised them with a celebration of the heart and soul and sweat they put into their work.

Over the course of the past year several of my friends and family have adopted children from outside the U.S. Hearing their stories has helped me better appreciate what I’ve seen here. The children here may not have a family of their own, but really they’re part of a large extended family, the Baby Center family.

When I walked into the room where everyone was gathering underneath the streamers and balloons Staci, Wycliff (friend, youth pastor at the church next door, and Baby Center volunteer) and I had secretly put up (without any tape!) the night before, I was met with a beautiful sight. I knew Staci had planned for all the babies to come to the meeting so none of the staff had to miss it, so I wasn’t surprised to see the kids there. What was beautiful was to see almost every lap, both male and female, filled with a kid. And the laps all seemed very happy to be hosting their charges.

It looked like a big family of aunts and uncles playing with their nieces and nephews. Staci had told me that all the staff seems to really care about the kids, but it was neat to see it in action yesterday. The guards and farm workers and kitchen and laundry staff were as interested in playing with the kids as the regular caregivers were. From what I’ve heard it’s especially abnormal for Kenyan men to give children so much attention.

It’s been really neat to see that, though the Baby Center kids are orphans, they don’t suffer from a lack of love. They’re getting a good start to life. They’re given experiences and love that kids raised in good families receive in their early days. From playing outside on the playground to visiting the farm and learning about animals to field trips to town to lots of hugs and kisses, the children at the Baby Center are being well-cared for while they wait to be united with their new families.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

living holy

Today I was able to accompany Staci into Nakuru town (the Baby Centre is located a short distance outside of town) on a shopping trip. Later we returned to town for the weekly Bible study gathering of a Young Professionals group Staci’s part of. The group was begun by members of a large Africa Gospel Church congregation in Nakuru, but it’s open to and attended by folks from other churches.

It was very nice to gather with Staci and about 10 Kenyan Christians for a real Bible study. They’re going through a study book on Living a Holy Life. Our study passage tonight was Colossians 3: 1-17. Good stuff. Substantive discussion.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time chatting outside of the discussion time, but for my benefit everyone introduced themselves at the end of the study (while we drank chai and hot chocolate) and told me where they worked. It was quite an accomplished group (Young Professionals is aptly named): a banker, someone who works with a Christian child sponsorship organization, a transportation company guy (runs a matatu company), a woman working for the National Hospital Insurance Corporation, someone working for a micro-enterprise loan company, a couple accountants, and a man who works in college campus ministry (works for FOCUS, an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship international arm).

As I’ve talked with both Americans and nationals here about some of my observations of the spiritual climate of Ghana, many have confirmed that those same kinds of wrong theology (i.e. liberation theology and prosperity gospel type stuff) are quite prevalent here in Kenya as well. Those things are taught in the States, too, so it’s not like we Americans never receive wrong theology, but it feels more prevalent here. Wycliff, the youth pastor at Ngata AGC Church next door to the Baby Centre, suggested astutely--while he, Staci and I chatted the other night--something along the lines of Africa, and Kenya specifically, probably heading the same direction as the U.S. but years behind because the U.S. shed its colony status much longer ago. African colonies have only been free for about 50 years. It was interesting to think about that factor as well as to be reminded that the U.S. shares with several African nations the status of being a former colony.

In any case, it was really neat tonight to see that there are Christians here, as there are in the U.S., who really want to live godly, holy lives and are digging into Scripture with other believers toward that end. There is meat here, to be sure. Please pray that those meaty Christians will be able to be salty Christians as well. May that salt be spread far and near.

From Colossians 3:1-17: “…Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all…Beyond all of these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful…Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

more from A Mile in My Shoes

Trevor Hudson’s book is super relevant to this journey I’m on, so I’m very glad it made the last minute book pile cut on packing day.

“We cannot meet all the needs that surround us, but tragic consequences flow from our failure to recognize the suffering neighbor for who he or she really is. These consequences range from a cold indifference to the human cries around us to cynicism and even resentment toward people’s needs; a lack of engagement with those ‘principalities and powers’ that crush and oppress—to a tragic loss of our own humanness. However (and this is one of the aims of the pilgrimage experience), when we share personally with those who suffer, put names to faces, listen to life stories, receive the gifts they offer, it creates a climate in which we learn to see differently. These personal encounters help pilgrims see the suffering neighbor as a brother or sister made in the image of God and in whom Christ dwells. Such recognition and awareness generates a new way of relating that makes genuine compassion possible.” (p. 44-45)

Hudson then offers several questions to help readers consider how they view others:
· Is my seeing limited by the other person’s color, class or culture?
· Do I focus upon outward appearances in my dealings with people?
· Do I see people primarily as groups?
· Do I view others based on first impressions rather than hearing them out?
· Do I look at possessions as being more important than persons?

It’s so easy to visit another culture, especially one that has acquired the stereotypes and reputations that African cultures have, and refuse to really connect with the people you meet here, to assume that you are different from each other and that friendship isn’t possible. And it’s amazing to watch how that rather simple decision can affect one’s perception of and involvement in the lives of people in this new culture. It leads to always holding back, to always viewing your hosts as the “other” instead of connecting with them as brothers and sisters, as Hudson describes. When this happens, it’s such a loss for everyone involved as it keeps real sharing of God’s love from happening.

In American culture, at least—though perhaps the phenomenon is actually part of human nature—we rush to categorize everything because once we put it in a category we don’t have to think about it anymore and don’t have to really interact with it in order to understand it. The category defines it, and as long we understand the category we obviously understand and know all the things that have been placed in that category. But, when people are so firmly categorized, some of their humanity is stripped away. Instead of a unique individual full peaks and valleys and unendingly interesting terrain, the person is reduced to a measurable, definable entity…which, incidentally, isn’t so far different from what we do to God sometimes, too.

As Hudson says, “Constant media bombardment of human need often breeds a bland familiarity that generalizes suffering men and women into groups like the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the elderly. Within these generalizations we lose sight of the spiritual dimensions present in each human being.” (p. 44)

May we all seek to recognize the humanity, the God-createdness, of each of the varied people we encounter today.

laughing makes my boil hurt

Joel and Julia giving me a tour of the dukas (little shops) around the hospital's premises.

Late night tea party at the Guesthouse: Ann, Bob, Georg, Andrea.

View of the main hospital building and the new surgery building from inside the chapel.

Jims with the souvenirs I bought from him and with all the ones I didn't buy from him.

I'm really not at Tenwek anymore. I've moved on to Nakuru and the Africa Gospel Church Baby Centre, where my host is Staci Wells, who, it's important for you to know, is also a proud Asbury College grad. But, though I've moved on, my blog hasn't yet. I think it's the slower internet connections that are getting it down. Certainly it's not a blog hostess who's busy writing other things.

Monday, August 27, 2007

on the tenwek wards

I very much enjoyed the little community that sprung up between those of us staying in the Guesthouse at Tenwek. There were about eight of us who had lunch together regularly. We were a fairly international bunch, with two medical students from Germany, one from Northern Ireland and the rest of us from various U.S. states (Missouri, South Carolina, Indiana, and Tennessee). Most of those folks are at Tenwek for a few months (three to four months) while one is there for a year.

Since my assigned stories for my Tenwek time didn’t really take me into the actual hospital, it was nice to talk with these doctor and med student friends over meals to learn about the hospital experience. In summary: working here is challenging.

Though they don’t work more hours than they would in the States, the toll of the hours is greater. They see many more deaths here than they do in the U.S. or Europe, so the emotional toll is much greater. One person said that he’d seen more deaths in two weeks at Tenwek than he had in three years of practice in the States. Though Tenwek is a good hospital, doctors still have fewer tools at their disposal than they’re used to. They said it’s hard knowing that some of the patients would have been saved if they had been in the U.S., if they had access to other medical treatments and tests.

Another reason for the large numbers of deaths at the hospital is that people don’t like to come to the hospital because they believe coming to the hospital is almost a death sentence in itself. So many people who go to the hospital die. Because of this perception, people don’t come until their illnesses are so advanced there’s no other option. By that point, there’s often little doctors can do to reverse the diseases. It’s a vicious circle.

Finances are another factor keeping people away from hospitals. Some form of health insurance is available here now, but I haven’t yet really heard anything about how it works or what it costs. One of my Tenwek friends described a conversation he had while walking alongside a man on the road near the hospital. The man was struggling to decide between spending money for his sick child’s care and spending money for the school fees for his healthy child. If the healthy child goes through school, he is much more likely to get a good job and be able to help care for his sibling. If the money was spent to help the sick child now, the healthy child might lose the opportunity to get an education and help improve the prospects of his entire family. Weighty decisions, indeed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Nothing like a nice little (or not so little, whichever the case may be) bulleted list to cover a lot of territory quickly, right? :-)

· Using language like “more or less modern” to compare Ghana and Kenya to America is not really the appropriate way to describe the differences between life there and here. To that end, though, I think I’ve found the cities I’ve visited in South America to feel more Western, more similar to home, than the cities I’ve visited thus far in Africa. That’s probably partly because, as I recall, there were more Western companies represented among the businesses in South America: from gas stations to fast food joints to other things.

· English may be a primary language in Ghana and Kenya but it doesn’t get you as far as you would think. Both places have still felt much like being in non-English speaking countries. In Ghana all the signs and billboards were in English, for example, but if you go into a store and try to ask how much a phone card costs, it could take a while to work through the language difficulties to get an answer. Most of the Ghanaian church services we were part of were translated between English and Twi. In this part of Kenya, most people don’t really speak Swahili even. Instead, their language is Kipsigese. I really enjoy learning languages and normally I would be picking up words by now, but I’m traveling through so many different languages on this trip and for such a short time in each one, that I’m leaning toward accepting that it’s not a great investment of limited time and energy.

· So far the food has been great everywhere! I’m eating better than I eat at home! :-)

· The clothing in Ghana was beautiful. I get the impression that Nigeria is one of the hubs of fashion in West Africa, and Ghanaian clothing reflects that. There were tailor/seamstress shops set up all around Accra, and many people have their clothing hand-made for them, made according to their measurements. I’m sitting here typing in one of the skirts made for me in Ghana (the skirt from the outfit Sintimaa had made for me for the wedding). As Goldilocks said of Baby Bear’s porridge, “It’s just right!.” (I hope I got that quote right. It’s been a while since anyone told me that story! J) From what I’ve seen so far, clothing here in Kenya doesn’t live up to the same fashion standards. But, there’s always a chance that’s because I’m in more rural Kenya. We’ll see what things look like when I get back to Nairobi in a couple weeks.

· People in Ghana carried EVERYTHING on their heads. I loved it. It’s just plain cool, practical and seriously impressive. Those Ghanaians inspired me to set the goal of learning to carry something substantive on my head by the time I leave Africa (I joked that that “something substantive” was going to be carrying my luggage on my head into the airport, but I knew all along that was a tiny bit too optimistic. But, hey, why not set the goal high?). I was expecting to be able to get lots of practice and instruction during the rest of my trip, but so far I think I’ve seen one person here around Tenwek carrying something on his head. I’m quite disappointed because I wanted to create a whole photo gallery/photo essay of people carrying things on their heads. If I’d known I might not get more photo opps, I’d have made those photos more of a priority in Ghana.

· Also, in Ghana one never sees strollers. All babies—in the city and in the villages—were carried on women’s backs with cloths wrapped around them, holding them on. If you saw a woman approaching you, you could guess the age of the baby on her back by checking the size of the feet and legs poking out around her waist. I wondered how they got the children on their backs and finally observed a few women just leaning over with the child laying back there while the woman wrapped the cloth around. With children older than infants, you could tell they knew exactly what to do and they just laid there and held on while they were secured to the woman’s back. Observing all of this led me to create a second goal of carrying something on my head WHILE carrying a baby on my back. That’s what all the Ghanaian women do, and I never saw them lose anything from their head or from their back. Women here in rural Kenya don’t use strollers either, but they appear to carry their babies differently, in more of a sling that can be shifted to their back or to their front. Plus, it’s been cold here so most of the babies on their mothers’ backs are covered up by blankets.

· Cape Coast, Ghana is one of the beautiful places of the world. And its natural beauty is enhanced by the fact that its coastline isn’t developed. There aren’t any awful neon signs to disrupt the beauty of water meeting land. By all appearances, people in the area make their living along the ocean—primarily by fishing—as they’ve been doing for a long time. They walk along the beach daily on their way from here to there. I wonder if they’ve gotten used to the beauty of their home or if they just pass on by every day without really stopping to soak it all in again.

· The Rift Valley of Kenya is another beautiful place, though an entirely different kind of beautiful than Cape Coast. Maybe I just like places that aren’t highly developed. On the drive from Nairobi to Tenwek, I dozed a little, but fortunately I opened my eyes as we were descending from the heights down to enter the Rift Valley. The sight was amazing. So beautiful.

· The parts of Ghana I saw and the part of Kenya I’ve seen so far are both very green but in different ways. Ghana’s green seemed more lush, perhaps more jungle-y, whereas Kenya’s green feels scrubbier and perhaps more forest-y. Think extravagant green versus practical, everyday green. Ghana’s green makes me think of vacation and of relaxing. Kenya’s green reminds me more of home.

· Because of all that green, I still have allergy challenges here in Africa. For some reason I was expecting that I might not be allergic to the African flora and fauna, unlike their American counterparts. No such luck.

· Men in Ghana aren’t afraid to wear pink. Or flowers. American boys, can you step up to the plate?

· Dancing is a way of life in Ghana. It appears to be a deeply ingrained part of the culture that had its origins in village life. In the Ghanaian churches I visited, engaging one’s whole body in worship was a given, mostly a refreshing given to observe.

· We take paved roads for granted. The vast majority of the roads most of us drive on every day in America are paved or at least graveled. That makes a huge difference in keeping everything else cleaner: homes, floors, people, roadsides, fences, walls, everything. I’ve been amazed at how clean buildings and people and floors are in both Ghana and Kenya, in spite of the dirt from the roads. It seems that many of the pictures I see of Third World countries make everything appear so dirty and dusty. I contend that the dirt roads are most of the reason for that. It’s amazing how essential infrastructure like good roads is to changing (improving?) the speed and ease of life in a place.

· Lastly, the two things I semi-jokingly predicted before my trip would bother me most while I was in Africa are these: bugs and bad showers. As my trip approached, I added a third thing, a surprising one, to the list: being cold. So far only 1 out of 3 of these fears has been realized. I’ve hardly seen any bugs at all and almost none indoors. (I have seen some cute lizards, though.) I had WAY more than that in my house In Nashville. The showers have been fine, not stellar but fine. However, I have been cold. Still, I’ve gotten off easy so far on all of those things.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

stick bridge

Yesterday afternoon I finished the last of my interviews here and went for a nice hike with Chris and Diana Clemow, young doctors from the States who are working here for a few months. Diana and I donned skirts out of respect for the locals, but we’re not sure we will keep respecting the locals on any future hikes. Even hardy skirts make hiking much more difficult.

A river borders the Tenwek property. Twenty years ago a little dam and power plant were put in (a huge project, to be sure) to supply the electrical power for Tenwek. It’s rained a lot here lately, though I hear this is supposed to be the dry season, and the river was very high. We hiked a loop, crossing over the river in one spot and circling back across the top of the dam. The terrain was beautiful and we passed numerous houses, small and larger gardens, people washing clothes in the river, sheep, cows, men chipping rock (by hand) to make gravel to sell, and lots of little kids who called out “How are you?” to us. We think that must be one of the first English phrases they learn. It’s very cute to have these little voices backed by smiles calling out to us, all with the same kind of high-pitched cadence to those words.

We began our walk by heading down to the bottom of the waterfall created by the dam. There we ran into John Spriegel and the Spriegel kids who’d been visiting the bats in the cave beside/behind the waterfall. We all hung out for a little while and they accompanied us over the first bridge on our loop.

The first bridge is the stick bridge, and from what the Spriegels said, even the locals don’t like it very much. Rumor is that it’s going to be replaced by a cement bridge in the near future. The bridge is wide and looks stable. But that all changes when you approach it more closely. Sturdy-looking logs stretch across the width of the river and then “planks” of various shapes and sizes run across the main logs. It looks like some mud has been placed on top to help hold everything together.

I was determined not to be bothered by the fact that there’s nothing to hold onto while you cross and to confidently make my way to the other side. However, that wasn’t as easy as I wanted to believe. You see, the logs are of uneven widths, heights and levels of round and flatness, which means you have to watch where you’re walking. Though the pieces of wood are fitted closely together, there are still spaces in between them, which means while you’re looking down for good footing you can see through to the water rushing past (and, remember, the river was very high).

Though I tried hard to focus on the sticks and not the water underneath, after a few steps out onto the bridge, I was still hit by a serious whirl of dizziness. I stopped, determined to make it, took a few more steps and began wondering just how I was going to get across. About that time, Rebecca, one of the 13-year-old Spriegel twins, came dashing back to help me.

Part of me wanted to show how missionary-y and out-doorsy I am and make my way across without help. Part of me didn’t want to need help from a middle schooler (or anyone else, actually). But, I quickly decided not to listen to that part of myself, took hold of Rebecca’s hand and easily went the rest of the way across. It was amazing the difference it made to be able to hold onto someone.

So you can see where this is going, right? :-) The walk across the bridge was just another very tangible reminder of the importance of receiving help from others, of not trying to go it alone all the time and of not letting pride get in the way of receiving the help that makes things easier. This trip has continually taught me the necessity of receiving help well.

I think the issue of giving and receiving help is also fresh on my mind as I’m living in a place where there are a lot of people who need help and some who ask for help even though they don’t need it. But, I’ll get into all that along with thoughts and questions about poverty in another post.

p.s. In case you didn't notice it a few days ago, I added in a post dated Aug 8 that has photos of mine and Erin's travels to Ghana.

it's a small world #1

It was bound to happen sometime, I just didn’t know when. Today was the day.

After enjoying a good breakfast hosted by one of the long-term missionary women here at Tenwek and attended by many of the other visiting folks (6-7 of us), I and the others went to the church service on the Tenwek premises. It was nice to be in a service in which I actually knew all of the worship songs and could fully understand everything that was said. Though the whole experience of traipsing through cultures other than my own is something I enjoy, I still find myself very glad for moments and people and experiences that feel familiar and known and easy to go along with (like finding another American—one who’d lived in DC, too, no less—next to me in the internet cafĂ© in the Addis Ababa airport). So, the worship service this morning was one of those refreshing moments.

The people leading the worship music were part of a short term team that had just arrived from the States, and their names sounded very familiar. Then they mentioned that they were from Pittsburgh and I became certain I know people who know them.

It was fun to chat with Greg and Rebecca Sparks after the service and confirm my hunch. Back when I worked for the
CCO and Messiah College, I helped book concerts for the campus. Some of my CCO co-workers encouraged me to bring the Sparks to campus, but it never worked out to do that. A few years later I heard of them again through another Pittsburgh-based friend (hi, Becky Wimer!). The Sparks also know people I know in Nashville. And, they’re artist types who also have a vision and passion for places outside the U.S. I’ve been quite surrounded by medical folks here. While I enjoy participating in conversations with those types, too, it was nice not to have to ask the Sparks what mestasiademiosis is. (okay, I haven’t really asked anyone what mestasiademiosis (mess-TAY-zhuh-DEEM-ee-oh-sis) is but it sure sounds like something that could be encountered in a hospital ;-) )

Anyway, it was fun to meet an unexpected bit of home today and fun that we just happened to overlap here at Tenwek for a couple days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

after the rain

Thankfully, the rain stopped about the time we began drinking the chai Joyce offered us (not like the spicy chai—Indian chai?—from America’s coffeehouses and store shelves but still tasty). When we took our leave, we were very glad it was no longer raining because that would have made the road back to Linda’s house even more treacherous.

I was also glad for my Chaco’s sandals. Their reputation at least made me believe I could traverse the mud safely and then clean up easily afterward. As we picked our way downhill from Joyce’s house to the “main” road/lane back to Linda’s house (a five minute walk under non-wet conditions) and mud clung to mud clung to the bottom of our shoes, I joked that I was going to take the entire road back with me. I was mostly just afraid of slipping into that reddish mud in my light khaki skirt—one of only 3 skirts I brought from home—and taking out one of my carefully selected pieces of clothing so early in the trip. And, actually, I’m really already (hopefully just temporarily) down to just 2 “home skirts” anyway because the zipper broke on my very practical jean skirt. So, you see, the stakes were high.

High stakes abound around here, it seems. Toward the end of our chat with Joyce, Rachel entered the house. Rachel also lives in the little community of houses around Joyce. She’s part of the Bible studies Linda coordinates and has helped feed (likely from her own meager means) Joyce and her family.

Rachel’s heart is very heavy these days, Linda and Sammary explained to me. (Neither Joyce nor Rachel speak English. Sammary translated their Kipsigese into English for Linda and me.) For 20 years she prayed for her alcoholic husband to become a Christian. Months ago he finally did! And he quit drinking. He’s stayed away from alcohol for four months! But over the past week he’s begun drinking again, to the detriment of himself and his family.

It’s been striking these past two and a half weeks to listen to the stories of women in Ghana and Kenya and discover the ways their stories are similar to those of women in America and elsewhere. When husbands do not let God direct their lives, their families suffer terribly. There are so many women around the world trying to be faithful wives to men who refuse to love them well, who refuse to let God into their lives, who refuse to let God refine them into men who will love well.

Please pray for Samuel to have the strength to give up alcohol again immediately. Pray for Rachel. Pray for husbands and wives around the world caught in the suffering Rachel and Samuel’s story represents.
Joyce, Rachel, Sammary

me, Joyce, Sammary

the two neighbor girls, the neighbor boy, two of Joyce's sons

simple homes

I’ve mostly settled into this week’s accommodations and am very thankful for them. I’m staying in the Guest House in a roomy room that has two desks (that’s pretty much heaven for a writer!); a small kitchen (though the stove is out of cooking gas—there’s a country-wide shortage, apparently) already stocked with cereal, milk, juice, tea, eggs and cooking utensils; a dresser; plenty of great windows with great views outside them; and a bathroom. It’s quite refreshing to have a space for alone time but to be able to find people in the Guest House common area if needed and to hear folks around outside and know they’re easily accessible if needed or desired. I feel like I’m on a writing retreat or something. Perfect. Well, except for one thing: it would be nice if there was a heater. Seriously, it took me a long time to get warm enough last night to sleep well. Yes, contrary to this evidence, I’m really in Bomet, Kenya, not Bomet, Antarctica. But, other than that, perfect.

This morning as I was ready to head out for my day of interviews and the sun was shining so nicely outside, I looked around this cement-floored room and wished for a moment that I could always live like this. Uncluttered (my traveling belongings seem quite sparse in this space). Alone but not alone. Simple. I’ve got my computer, a small stack of good books, enough clothes and soap and cereal, a view of green trees and plenty of things to write about. Nice indeed.

Fortunately, the rain held off until we were inside Joyce’s tin-roofed home. I suppose you could stretch the usual definitions and call her place a condo or an apartment since it shares walls with the units next door. Linda and Sammary (pronounced something like “summary”) and I visited Joyce so we could interview her for a story in which she’ll be the main character.

Shortly after we entered the one-room condo that was roughly 8 to 10 feet by maybe 7 feet, the dark clouds put some power behind their darkness and let rain fall hard onto the tin roof. We stayed dry but struggled to hear each other over the din that would have, though, made for good background noise for a nap. (It really doesn’t take much to get me thinking about naps.)

For much of the interview, Joyce sat on the room’s one bed which was set into the back wall. She held and sometimes nursed her youngest son who will turn one in September. Her four- and eight-year-old sons as well as a neighbor boy sat along the edge of the bed and listened quietly while we adults talked. Sammary and I sat on a lace-like cloth-covered wood bench along the side wall. Two neighbor girls sat beside me. Linda sat on a stool across from us.

I’ve seen pictures of homes like Joyce’s. I’ve also now seen similar homes in person, yet still from a distance, in Ghana and Kenya. But I’ve never been invited inside one. So it was an honor to visit Joyce in her home. A home whose cement floor was clean. A home in which the few belongings each seemed to have their place. A home whose furnishings were sparse. A home that was simple. A home with an amazing view of the hills when you stepped a few feet outside it. A home that was graced by the clear eyes and gentle smile of a woman who’s praying for God to keep her on the right path and provide for her family. Please join her in her prayer.

tenwek hospital

Though it already feels like ages ago, I’m pretty sure it was only yesterday that I traveled for hours over a bumpy road from Nairobi, Kenya, to the outskirts of Bomet to the grounds of Tenwek Hospital, a hospital founded decades ago by World Gospel Mission (WGM) and now officially run, as I understand it, by the Africa Gospel Church (which is now an independent body but was begun through the work of WGM missionaries). Both groups are still very interwoven, though.

I’ve known of Tenwek for a long time, though I don’t remember when I first learned of it. I guess I’ve seen enough slide shows from visiting missionaries (you know, before the days of PowerPoint) to create a visual image of Tenwek that hasn’t been quite correct. I probably saw pictures of a mission hospital in Indonesia that became the default “mission hospital” images in my head.

I suppose it’s correct to say that the property is laid out in a less orderly way than I expected. The hospital is, hmm, less Western, perhaps. Or maybe just different than those other mission hospital photos I’ve seen. And much more of the hospital staff is Kenyan than I anticipated. There are many fewer missionaries staffing things than I understood there to be.

The hospital is now actively involved in helping train Kenyan doctors. Though they accept short term residents and medical students from the States and Europe, they don’t actively recruit them. Instead, their training focus is on Kenyan doctors and nurses. There’s a nursing school here. And a few Kenyan doctors at a time can now come here for their residencies. Almost all of the nursing staff are Kenyan. And many of the other hospital staff as well.

This week I’m mostly working with Linda Spriegel. Linda’s husband John is an internist here. Linda is trained as a nurse but isn’t working in that capacity here. Before she was married, though, she spent 10 years working as a nurse in the Congo. Linda and John, WGM career missionaries, have twin 13-year-old daughters, Julia and Rebecca, and a 4th grade son, Joel. The Spriegels have been here for two years and are planning to stay here for many more.

Linda has been leading Bible studies with local women since the Spriegels returned here two years ago. Around 1000 women are now involved in the studies. Linda meets weekly with the area leaders to go over the study. They’re working straight through the book of Luke. Each area leader then meets with the Bible study leaders who are in her area and goes through the week’s lesson with them. Then each study leader leads her Bible study group through that week’s passage. Some of the area leaders walk 2.5 hours from their village to Linda’s house every week! Linda invited me here to help record the stories of some of the women who are part of the studies, stories of the transformation God has wrought in their lives and stories of the ways God is using them in each others’ lives.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

day 15 in ghana

Day 15 in Ghana, which I believe is now the longest I’ve ever been outside the U.S. And this is just the beginning. :-)

There are only two of us left here now. The other two left early this morning. We remaining two will leave the hotel in just a couple hours. In addition to being nearly done with my last Krisview Hotel lunch (today I just went for fried plantains and french fries), I’m in the midst of repacking my belongings again. Each leg of this trip seems to require a different configuration of luggage content.

I’ll miss the staff here. I feel like we should have a big goodbye moment, but most of them don’t appear to be around today. So that big goodbye moment seems unlikely to happen. And, speaking of goodbyes, I’ve been rationing my last few Ghana cedis, trying to make it through these last few hours without having to change over any more money. Hopefully, I’ll succeed.

My remaining teammate and I went to one more Ghanaian church service today. We visited a very large church here in Accra. When we arrived, police were at the street directing the traffic exiting the early service. The big field/parking lot was starting to fill up with cars for the next service. At the building, people were everywhere. I felt very much like I was driving into the parking lot of one of Nashville’s large churches. The service structure wasn’t vastly dissimilar either. Nor were the announcements at the end of the service.

The question that has emerged for me more clearly today, a question I’m interested to watch for answers to throughout my trip, is this: how should God’s word be presented to the poverty-stricken and down-trodden of the world? How do you teach them of God’s power, including His power to change their circumstances, their means, the bondage of poverty, while making sure they also learn about all the other aspects of God? Should the messages from the pulpits of Africa be different from the messages from the pulpits of America? At what point are the poverty-stricken no longer poor? When they are no longer poor, should the exploration of God’s word with them change? And is eradicating poverty the real point of it all anyway? Lastly, in a leading-the-witness kind of question, do poverty and suffering remove a need to know all of Scripture? Or a need to study scripture in the context of Scripture’s grand narrative and full message?

In the church services I’ve been part of here, I feel like I’ve heard so much about power and victory and being raised up and about having more and about attainment and prosperity and success. I’ve heard much about acquiring God’s blessing and favor. I’ve even seen these things on the African movies we’ve been watching on TV here (we think they’re Nigerian TV movies) and heard them at a big concert we attended as part of Ghana’s 50th Anniversary celebration festivities (i.e. it was a civic, not officially religious, event).

While some of these things are not completely bad or wrong and a sermon here and there about such topics might be fully appropriate in this place, my admittedly very limited observations suggest that many Ghanaian Christians mostly hear only about this one aspect of God. Religion is very openly exhibited here, but sometimes it feels like God’s name is praised because these are the magic words that will open the floodgates of prosperity not because of deep relationship with the Father of the Universe. If you can do the right things to find favor with God, then you will get His blessing. If it’s true that this is the extent of relationship with Christ for most Christians here, I grieve for them. God cares about physical needs, but the emphasis here feels like misplaced, if not un-Biblical, teaching.

So, we will see what answer I discover to my question about how you teach God’s word to those who are poor and downtrodden and destitute and who live in systems and structures that appear to offer no escapes.

While eating my plantains and French fries, I took a few minutes to begin reading a new book. It was given to me by folks I’ll be working for/with in South Africa: A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson, a South African pastor. Here’s an early quote from the Foreward, which is written by Elizabeth Canham.

“In this book Trevor Hudson repeatedly calls us to be people of prayer who learn to listen to the neighbor, the forgotten and oppressed folk in our midst. Only then may we become agents of God’s love and action through compassionate caring…We are all on pilgrimage; every experience, interaction, or roadblock we encounter can become a grace-filled opportunity to respond with loving obedience to the gospel. But we need to pay attention to our experience and willingly reflect upon our journey…Pilgrims learn that encounter, reflection, and transformation take place through the discipline of learning to be present to where they are, who they meet, and what they see as they go about their daily tasks.”

May we all be pilgrims wherever we find ourselves today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

wedding day

This will probably be my last post from Ghana physically, though I'm hoping to write a few more Ghana posts offline and upload them from Kenya.

This week we visited two villages: Nkwateng (pronounced pretty much like it looks except the first "n" is silent) and Akim Aparade (pronounced "akeem" or "acheem" "ah-prada", that'll get you pretty close at least). It was great to meet people in the villages and observe the contrasts and similarities between village and city life. Our Ghanaian friends have told us that everyone here has a village. Even if you grow up in the city, there's a village you refer to as your village. It's the village your people come from and everyone knows where their village is.

Today we're going to a wedding. Sintimaa, one of the Ghanaian friends of the Joseph Alliance, invited us to accompany her. We're all very excited. In her generosity, she also is having dresses made for all of us to wear to the wedding. However, it's around 10 am here, the wedding is at noon, and the dresses still haven't arrived to us at the hotel. It was a rush order for the tailors/seamstresses (we didn't talk with Sintimaa about it until Tues and Wed). On top of that, there have been daily rolling electricity outages around Accra this summer (summer for the northern hemisphere, rainy season here), so the outages slowed down the sowing work. They were feverishly working last night to finish our dresses.

I leave for Kenya tomorrow evening on an overnight flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I'll arrive in Addis Ababa around 7 am on Monday. I leave for Nairobi at 11-something and arrive around 1:45 pm. Please pray for safe travels, that all of my luggage will arrive and that everything I packed into it will still be in there when I pick it up. Thanks for praying, friends!

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Last Friday we finally made it to the Osu Children’s Home. We’d tried to get there a couple other times during the week but fluctuations in our schedule kept us away. Friday morning we were able to spend about three hours at this government-run orphanage that the Joseph Alliance has visited every year since 2005.

The team members who’ve been to Osu Children’s Home before were glad to observe that conditions at the home have improved significantly since their first visits there. Other organizations and churches have been investing in the home, too, and it’s all making a difference.

After a quick tour of the facilities—during which we were often holding hands with children who joined our tour—groups of 2-3 of us each gathered together a particular age group of children to “hang out” with for an hour and a half or so.

Lexi and I were assigned to the 7-9th graders, but we mostly ended up with 10-12 year olds, a couple 9 or so year olds, and a 17-year-old. We had roughly 10 kids, and they graciously joined in a silly name game I pulled out of the recesses of memory from my camp counselor days. We’d planned to play “blind banana,” a game our Ghanaian pastor friends had suggested, but the bananas were forgotten on the pre-orphanage visit shopping trip so Lexi and I had to improvise.

Next we played “two truths and a lie” and then we led into talking about what each kid enjoyed doing, what traits they admired in their friends and what they dreamed of doing or wanted to be when they grew up. Since our age of kids are nearing the age that they leave the orphanage, we were hoping to help them think a bit about the future, to begin planning a bit and to be reminded of their worth and value. We wrapped up the “formal” time (not that any of it was really formal) with reading Psalm 139.

Some of the favorite activities the kids told us about were reading books, playing football (soccer), and listening to music. They like friends who play with them, who are funny, who share, and who are kind. One 9-year-old girl, Mariam, wants to be a nurse when she grows up. Vienna wants to be a diplomat. When he signed my notebook, he wrote his name as Kofi Annan. :-) Lexi asked him if he would remember her when he’s president. He said he would but when she asked him what her name was he already couldn’t remember. :-)

Gifty, the 17-year-old girl, said she wants to be an air hostess, which took us a minute to understand was a flight attendant. When we arrived for group time, Gifty was sitting on the wall edging the courtyard of the girls’ house where our group gathered. At first she declined to join our group, but when we asked her again, she smiled and gave in. I was afraid she wouldn’t like the silly name game but she smiled and laughed along with the rest of the kids while we played it.

While we were talking with our group, a young British woman named Claire arrived. She’s living in Ghana for two months and volunteers at the orphanage every day, I think she said. When she heads back to the UK, she’ll begin training to be a midwife. The kids were clearly glad to see her. When Gifty mentioned her interest in becoming an air hostess, Claire asked Gifty if she knew Sam (I can’t really remember what name she said) who volunteers at the home sometimes. She said that Sam is a flight attendant and helped someone else go to school for that. She encouraged Gifty to talk with him.

Gifty has such a sweet, gentle spirit about her. She said she’s been at the orphanage since she was a little girl. We didn’t talk very much about her life—it’s hard to know what’s appropriate to ask after such a short acquaintance—but she strikes me as a talented girl and I hope she’ll find a good life when she leaves the orphanage. I‘d love for all of you to join me in praying that if being an air hostess would be good for Gifty that Claire will be able to help her get connected to the right people and that if that’s not it that Gifty will have a place to go and a way to earn a living when she leaves Osu Children’s Home.

Gifty is second from the left.

Mariam is in red. I think the boy's name is Frankie. I don't know the pink girl's name.

Finally really reporting from Ghana

I’ve finally stolen away for a bit of alone time. I’m on our hotel’s wonderful large covered rooftop deck/porch/bar that’s empty of people right now. The view of the city from here is amazing. And it’s quiet except for the ambient sounds of life in the streets below. Different sounds from those on the streets of Nashville or DC or other cities where cars and sirens drown out many of the other sounds of life. Little kids are playing outside at the Supernanny Daycare across from the hotel. People are working on scooping rocks from the street across from the hotel on the other side. Things aren’t laid out in a clear grid though, so saying “across from the hotel” probably suggests fewer angles than is accurate. There are sounds of people talking, of music (the radio perhaps?) coming from someone’s house, of an airplane overhead somewhere, now and then sounds of some sort of construction. Pleasant sounds all. And perfect for this brief bit of time alone.

As usual when you’re traveling with a group of people and sharing a room with someone, alone time has been hard to come by. I’ve been eager to begin processing these first couple weeks in Africa before the first impressions fade and have found that I need to write things out in order to do that processing. That’s been difficult to do because the electric converter I brought isn’t the right one for my computer (one of the details there was just no time to confirm in the mad dash to finish everything before I left). But, one of my kind teammates here has loaned me her converter a couple times and is planning to leave it with me when she returns to the States on Sunday. God provides, huh?

The time here has been a good introduction to life in Africa. I’m eager and interested to discover which parts of my experience here are African and which are specifically Ghanaian. The Joseph Alliance team has been a reasonably easy group to slide into, which has been nice since I arrived here so tired. Tired from 48 hours of travel and tired from massive pre-trip to do lists.

We’re roughing it here less than I did on my few other trips abroad (and still I never really roughed it J ) and less than I expected, but many of the people who were part of this team would likely not have even come at all if conditions were very severe. And it has been good for me to work at letting go of my frustration at the way they have entered into the experience here and instead be glad for an organization like the Joseph Alliance that is working to introduce to missions even those who aren’t wired for roughing it, to be glad that the Joseph Alliance can provide a trip that these people are willing to come on.

In the contrast between my approach to this experience and that of some of my teammates, I have also discovered further confirmation that there is something in this type of cross cultural experience that I am distinctly wired for, something not everyone is wired for. Even in these two short weeks in Ghana, I ache to slip into real life here, to live as I would if I lived here all the time, to understand the people who live here and the ways they live, to avoid holding myself as separate from them.

Additionally, staying in a nice Ghanaian hotel (not a Western chain hotel, though I’ve actually seen very few of those anyway) has provided the opportunity to experience the excellent service here. The hotel staff has been really great. Everything is kept so clean. And I’ve seen WAY fewer bugs (none) than I had at my house in Nashville (an infestation—literally—of spiders, probably brown recluses along with other critters). As I type, a man is in the front arrival courtyard below on his hands and knees scrubbing the tiles with a scrub brush. It’s now almost 10 am and he’s been working there since at least 6 am. He’s not a young man.

One of the nice things about staying here for so long is that we’ve begun to get to know the staff here. It feels a bit like they’ve become part of our family. Wisdom is one of our favorite servers at the small hotel restaurant, but we also really like Samuel and Frances. Cromo (sp?) and Patricia always greet us with smiles at the front desk. Samuel (a different, older one) seems to run the hotel well and usually looks serious but has a great smile when you smile at him first. Seth and Beta (sp?) always leave our rooms sparkling clean and great us warmly when we see them in the hallways. Evelyn has helped me get online here in the hotel office.

There are only four of us here for this last week of the Joseph Alliance trip. About 17 or so people were here for the first week (the week Erin and I weren’t here yet), and there were about 15 last week. I’ve found it unexpectedly challenging to be at the mercy of the group schedule for so long. Partly because we’re in Africa and partly because of the nature of the trip, we’ve often had very little warning regarding our schedule. It’s been hard for me to have to turn my schedule completely over to other people and to be unable to plan anything. This week has been slower because there are fewer of us. That’s been nice. I’m ever so slowly getting more sleep. Still, though, there’s been no rhythm to the days here, which has brought tiredness to work against the sleep I’ve gained. And as much as I love people, I am also drained when that people-time isn’t balanced by alone time. So this hour of morning time alone is a gift.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

traveling to ghana

The story of our longer-than-planned travels to Ghana is probably told best (and most quickly :-) ) in pictures...

We thought we were an hour away from taking off for stop #1: NYC.

Our flight was cancelled hours ago, everyone else from our flight is gone, ticket counters are shutting down, and we're still trying to figure out new flights.

It's Friday night at we're sad we're still in Nashville.

But we're happy we've got a good hotel room.

Finally at JFK in New York! We hung out with Jenny and Dani, fellow tired travellers.

When we finally reached London, this was our first stop, just yards, I mean, just meters (or is it metres?) away from the door of our plane. This is the sight that told us we had finally really left the U.S.

Next stop: Accra, Ghana!! Yippee!

Our first view of Africa as we crossed the Atlantic.

We finally made it! Welcome to Ghana!

Monday, August 6, 2007

quick Ghana greetings

Hi, everyone--I've got 5 minutes of internet time remaining, so this must be short. But, I'm here. Things are going well. Hopefully, on my next internet cafe visit, I'll be able to upload photos and longer blog entries.

I've updated the prayer requests section, so please look at that column on the right. I've also updcated contact info.