Monday, August 29, 2011

"You come with one hand extended, but we receive you with both arms.”

Calvin Students First Visit to Adenkrebi

It’s been a wonderful week, with first the celebration of two student birthdays — Stephanie Walker and Justine Kelly. Our Calvin College cook, Charles Quansah, baked a HUGE cake and we all enjoyed it thoroughly! These two women are such a joy to have in the program and were thrilled to celebrate their birthdays together.

In general, we are bonding together as a group extremely well. Every student has such unique gifts and sensibilities, and I honestly think as we get to know one another, the spirit of community will only grow in faith and love. We are incredibly blessed to have this group of students together.

On Saturday, we headed up to our sister village of Adenkrebi, to introduce the Calvin students to the village where they will be living for a few weeks during the semester. To begin, it was a misty rain day with a mild breeze which made it excellent for travel, but not so great for hanging around outdoors in this ancient village.

We arrived around 10 am, and first went on a tour of the first Presbyterian Church built in the village in 1836, still standing. And in fact, they were painting it when we visited. It’s just a simple one-room church, but it’s simplicity reveals its beauty. After the church, we visited the villages’ two school buildings – a primary school and a junior high school. The village has a real struggle with quality education, with attracting and retaining teachers who will live in such a rural place and dedicate themselves to the cause of the education of these people. Our students will have the opportunity, while living in the village, to read to the children and help in the schools. One of my favorite things at the school is a children's merry-go-round that generates electricity as the children play on it! Very cool:

When we returned to the center of the village, we were greeted with an official meeting of the village elders who offered us a libation of palm wine, which we all drank from a gourd. It was fabulous stuff! And while this wasn’t fermented, I can imagine that it would be quite potent if aged properly! As it was, this stuff is delicious. We made some official remarks about our communities and I offered our sincere thanks that the village offers themselves to us as a home in Ghana. In fact they said to us, “You come with one hand extended, but we receive you with both arms.” It’s a beautiful Ghanaian saying that we were very happy to hear.

We spent the afternoon playing traditional Ghanaian games (see pictures below) and some of our medically trained students did blood pressure checks. This was a small service that we could offer and were pleased to give.

They gave to us an afternoon of pure joy and a real sense of home in this country! AND we finally were able to meet the chief of the village right before we left that day and he also extended his welcome and officially invited us to stay in the village this semester so that we might learn about Ghanaian life and build the kingdom of God together!

Ellen REALLY wanted a baby tied to her back!

A highlight of the day was this beautiful fruit straight from the village trees that they shared with us and Ivy found HUGE spiders crawling through the maze of bananas and these lovely spider eggs! Despite that, they were the best bananas we have EVER tasted. Heavenly.

And then, at the end of the day, we were blessed with the gift of coconuts! You know, the coconut is one of the wholest foods on the planet, providing essential nutrients, fats and amino acids that we need for survival? Here's the group, enjoying the bounty!

What Blessings!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hooting at Hunger

Homowo Festival and Accra Orientation

Last Saturday, August 20, we visited the Homowo Festival in the Grand Rapids Sister City of Ga West, specifically Amasamadan. Homowo means “hooting at hunger” in the Ga language and is a festival that celebrates the end of a great famine. Every year, in the month of August (usually the last two weeks) this festival is celebrating with a tribal procession, led by the village or district chief. He sprinkles a ceremonial mixture of maize and oils around the village, signifying the end of hunger because now we may “spill food on the ground.” And this ceremonial sprinkling ends at the village cemetery where the ancestors are also fed this special mixture by placing it on their graves. You can see the excitement and joy in the procession in the photos.

One element that was wonderful about the procession is how the people of the village embraced us and became friends with us, holding our hands and teaching us to dance and to “hoot at hunger” with them.

After this, a shaman performs a ritual re-enactment of the famine story and then there is a second procession of the chief and queen mothers entering for a grand Durbar of speeches, ending in a feast.

And then, I just fell in love with this dress and hat ensemble! Splendid!

We met the chief and the mayor and the queen mothers and many more chiefs from surrounding villages. It was so much fun! One of my favorite moments is when we left to go visit the mayor, who was supposed to be speaking, and we found him still in his office, holding up the entire day's events! He welcomed us, gave us cokes and fantas to drink, sat with us, took a photograph and THEN he finally went to the Durbar to give his speech. It was quite the fiasco!

The following day, we toured the city of Accra: Makola Market, the Bus station, the National Museum, the Cultural Center, James Town, the Jaynii Beach Foundation which supports local homeless children in a shelter, and ended with a lovely group dinner in Labadi Beach. Here are some photos of that journey too!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eating with one hand

“After suffering starvation, eat with only one hand.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Charles Prempeh, our graduate student assistant on the Ghana Semester, is full of so much knowledge about the culture here. We are extremely blessed by him. He doesn’t know the North of the country well, so we will take another Northern guide along with us on that trip. Anyway, Charles knows many Ghanaian proverbs, including the title of this blog entry:

“After suffering starvation, eat with only one hand.”

You think about the meaning of that for yourself, but I was thinking about it in terms of the spiritual retreat we just took the students on to the Akrofi Christaller Institute in Akropong, which is situated in the hills above Accra.

On our way to Akropong we stopped at the Aburi Botanical Gardens – learning about all of the incredible plant life that is in this country. These are just a few of the photos we took there (you can see all of them on our Facebook page Calvin Ghana Semester). My favorite plant of all was the nutmeg as seen here. Such an incredible piece of God’s creation! And so tasty in Apple pie! (I’ve promised the students I would eventually make Apple pie while we’re here).

It was a beautiful three day retreat where we spend the first evening learning about the Institute itself and the history of the Presbyterian missions in Ghana. The institute was founded by one of these missionaries who began a long legacy of Christianity in the country. Now the institute is a theology school, giving out masters and Ph.D. degrees focusing on the study of African Christianity. And it’s just a wonderful place to visit, so if you ever have the chance…..!

After our first night and a bit of a battle to get water in our hostel so that we could all bathe, we awoke the next morning to spend the day learning about Ghanaian customs and worship, Christian Islamic relations in Ghana, and many of the underlying ideas about the concept of indigenous worship mixing with Christianity, which is a major feature of African Christianity. We also watched this wonderful documentary about African Christianity by James Alt. It hasn’t been released yet, but I hope he does it soon so that the rest of the world can see what ‘s happening in Africa with the spread of the gospel! Such exciting stuff…wish everyone could see it!

On Friday we spent the entire day hiking and basking in Boti Falls where the students bravely swam in the water and took an incredibly strenuous hike up to Umbrella rock. Take a look at some of these wonderful photos!

We returned to Legon and spent the evening on our own.

One of the things we created on our journey is a group covenant. Each person’s hand is on the convenant, outlined there with personal symbols, and we committed together to things like taking risks together, supporting patience and piece, learning and developing our spiritual disciplines together, and making sure that we don’t allow technology to dominate our lives while we are in Ghana. Together we prayed over the covenant and dedicated ourselves to it and we ask for your prayers as we continue our journey together.

Here’s a picture of the covenant we created first back at my home in Grand Rapids last May and we finished it up in Akropong.

We are full of new life here, and trying to eat with only one hand, taking in this culture bit by bit because it can become overwhelming at times!