What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

DSC_0099

DSC_0172

DSC_0035

DSC_0217

DSC_0184

 

Day Four: Puff Bread, Bed Nets, and Little Girl Dresses

Today is Friday. We are halfway through our time here in Ghana, which is hard to believe. We visited more families today, and made a stop by Ama’s business to treat the staff to Puff bread. The consensus is that everyone in Ankaase should try Ama’s Puff bread! I really wanted to start marketing for her – brand her shop, get some signage, advertise in the village. But she’ll be responsible for drumming up business, and so far she seems to be doing well. She was thrilled to get some t-shirts from Laken, who has connected with her because of their similar businesses. Laken also sells pastries – Lick Your Lips Mini-Donuts.

DSC_0094

DSC_0097

We also visited a family who received bedding from Evergreen Baptist Church in Tulsa. The youngest daughter, Afia, is bright and a good student, but she had been missing many days of school each term because of malarial symptoms. Now that she has a bed and is sleeping under a bed net, she is in school every day and she is thriving.

IMG_1054

And the stitched items are coming along. Jennifer has made incredible progress and is now stitching items that she will send back to the U.S. for purchase. She is so proud of her work. She seems more confident and hopeful. If only we could continually bring items from Ghana to the U.S. so that Abigail and Jennifer can have added income. (That’s a hint for any of you that travel here regularly).

IMG_1053

Tomorrow we will meet with all the orphaned students in our program and bring them letters and gifts from sponsors. We have five new students, so we’re excited to meet and greet!

It’s earlier tonight than when I usually post, so I’m going to enjoy a much-needed phone call home (if the WiFi will cooperate).

So…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Connecting Across the Continents

Today, it felt like Ghana – hot, sunny, and a little humid. No, actually it was very humid. Yesterday, Chris wondered where all that hot weather was that I had promised her, so today Ghana delivered it. Ah, this feels like the Ghana I know and love.

This was a day to catch up with old and new friends and to share greetings from our friends back in the U.S. We brought photo albums for our Income Generation women with postcard greetings, letters, and photos of women in the U.S.  We also brought t-shirts from the churches who raised money this summer during Vacation Bible School. We love connecting women and families in the U.S. with families here. Here are photos to show you how the connections in the U.S. made their way here.

This is Kwadwo and his t-shirt from Fellowship Lutheran Church

DSC_0140

 

Joyce and Ama looking at her letters and photos from women in the U.S.

DSC_0146

DSC_0154

 

DSC_0031

And lanterns that were provided by First Baptist Church, Tulsa

DSC_0008

Never underestimate the value of these connections. On both sides of the ocean, they are a blessing. Joyce and the other Income Generation women know that they have new friends in the U.S. who really do think of them and pray for them.

Today, we talked with a mother of two young boys in Nantan who had just been evicted from her house by her mother-in-law. Her husband has left and she has no idea where he is. It doesn’t seem to be enough to say to her, “We’ll pray for you.” And yet, sometimes our ability to get involved in the lives of others is limited to prayer. Most of you will not travel here and some are unable to give resources, but you can pray. And some of you can write letters and encourage these women. Everyone can do something to make a connection. We promise that we’ll do our part on this end to facilitate the connection.

We’ve just finished a delicious dinner of groundnut soup and rice balls. Chris lost. She didn’t clean her plate. On the other hand, I went in for a second helping. We’ll give her another chance tomorrow night when we introduce her to red-red and fried plantain.

So, we’re getting ready to welcome the staff back for another evening – this time for an official staff meeting. It looks to be another late evening, so I’m finishing this post and turning off my WiFi.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where there is a beautiful full moon this evening!

 

Day Two: It Rains

IMG_1049

We brought the rains – at least that is what Isaac says. I started this post writing in my little Wexford 50-sheet notebook with the rain pounding the window and a muddy red river of flooded road washing beside. We were traveling back from Kumasi, and as I looked out the window, I realize that when it rains in Ghana, life goes on. We passed a soccer field where three groups of boys were continuing their game – jerseys soaked, but splashing through the puddles anyway. So in the spirit of playing – and working in the rain, we’re returning from a day of fabric shopping to meet with the Rising Village seamstress apprentices, Jennifer and Abigail, to plan more items they will be stitching. This is a busy week for them as they sew necklaces (yes, that’s right), aprons, and some items of their choosing to sell in the U.S.

The rains continued after our meeting at Esther’s seamstress shop. We sat with Jennifer at the Mission House and talked about what it means to be a woman who takes pride in her work and is able to care for her children because of the income she earns. As Jennifer’s daughter Betty grows up, she will watch her and will know that her mother wanted a better life for her, and worked to learn her craft so she could give it to her.

“Be proud,” Chris told her. “You are doing something wonderful for your daughter and for yourself.”

The rains continued as Isaac drove around to pick up our Rising Village Ghana staff for dinner. It was the first time we had met Solomon and Victor, and our volunteer staff Charles and Martha. We reunited with Eunice, who has been with our staff since January. It is four and a half hours later and both the U.S. staff and Ghana staff is still sitting around the table talking politics and religion – two popular subjects here. I exited the table a few minutes ago, but I’m listening in as I write and I realize that we have an intelligent, curious, and opinionated staff. This is good.

The power in Ankaase is out, but we have the generator running, music playing, good conversation and I suppose the night is still young. And life goes on – in spite of rain and darkness and all the things that could divide us. But as Victor said just a few minutes ago: “We are one.”

Yes we are.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where inside this house there is light and life.

We’re Back in Ghana: Half of Day One

This is last night’s post, but the WiFi was not cooperating, so I’m once again posting after the fact. Just pretend it is about 3:29 p.m. yesterday, which is when you would have been reading this if all things technical hadn’t fallen apart. 

We’re here! Four hours of sleep in 48 hours makes for one exhausted team. But we can’t complain. Our only delay was a turnaround in the air when we were in the process of landing in Kumasi. After about 35 hours of travel (and four hours of sleep in a guesthouse in Accra), we were so ready to be on the ground and on our way to the mission house. But the president of Ghana was landing at the Kumasi airport just as we were about to land, and so we were not allowed to join him. I guess when the president’s plane lands, the airport has to be cleared. So,we flew back to Accra, waited the requisite amount of time – which turned out to be an hour – then flew back to Kumasi.

We unpacked our seven pieces of luggage, then went to Esther’s seamstress shop where we picked up ten more Ankaase bags and five more tote bags. The quality of these stitched items is very good quality, and Esther is really helping the apprentices learn to make these products. They are so excited to be sewing and earning income for the work they are producing. The more opportunities we give them to stitch, the better it is for them and their families. We’re looking forward to bringing quite a few items back, just in time for Christmas!

Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting all the apprentices and bringing greetings to them in the form of letters, postcards, and photos from those of you who have connected with them in the U.S. On Thursday, we’ll visit the IG women, Ama and Helena, and bring those same greetings. It makes these visits much more special when those of you who have made connections enter the picture and join us in encouraging and walking alongside these women.

The power was out when we arrived, so we were able to use some of the solar lanterns that we’ll leave when we return. These are the same lanterns that Isaac and the staff delivered to Dumakyi village in September. We realize that when it’s dark and you are eating a delicious dinner of Jollof rice and chicken, it’s good to see your food. So we dined by solar lanterns, which seemed fitting.

I’m turning in early so this is a short post with no photos, but we’ll be rested and full of energy tomorrow. So now, the moment I’ve been waiting for: crawling into bed for a full night’s sleep.

Thank you for your prayers, They are felt and we are grateful.

Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Orphan Sunday: Rise and Go

 

riseandgo

It seems perfectly fitting that on Orphan Sunday we are boarding a flight to Ghana – a country I was introduced to through the faces of five orphans. Three years ago I looked at photos of the children taken in their orphanage, and a few months later was on a plane to meet them. At the time I thought that adoption might be in the plan, but it wasn’t. That was difficult for me to accept until I realized that there was another reason I was led to Ghana.

Orphan Sunday is a day to learn about, speak up for, and find ways to care for the millions of orphans around the world – including the ones in our own city. I am somewhat familiar with the plight of orphans, since thirteen years ago we adopted a daughter from China, and my husband directs an international adoption agency. But I wasn’t as knowledgeable about what all this looks like before a child is abandoned in a crowded market or brought to an orphanage. What are the circumstances that lead up to someone handing over their child? And what happens to children who are shuffled into the home of a relative after the death of their parents? Now I know the stories of some of these children, which is why I keep going back.

We began Rising Village for the purpose of identifying parents and caregivers who have little resources and find it difficult to provide for their children. It’s these families who are often at risk of placing their children in a local orphanage, or worse, being targeted by child traffickers – of which there are many in Ghana. We also decided to come alongside the families who have taken in orphaned children so that we can help provide education through high school and beyond. We want these families and the children to have every opportunity to remain intact and be a strong and vital part of their community and their country. It’s a big goal, but one that we believe in. We’ve seen the other side of it. Each one of us who is traveling today has visited orphanages, brought orphans into our family, organized orphan awareness events, sponsored children all over the world and participated in Orphan Sunday in years past. This year we will participate by boarding a British Airways flight that will take us to Ghana. We go without fear and with resolve.

We will spend time with orphaned children who live with relatives. We will continue to work with single mothers who have started businesses and entered apprenticeships so they can provide for their children and become strong, purpose-filled families. We will visit those who have received bedding to help prevent malaria – a disease that kills parents and children. All of these things help us fulfill our mission of transforming villages through family preservation. It happens slowly and not by our hands only. The people who live in Ghana are capable and ready to join in this mission – we simply bring resources, encouragement, and love to our brothers and sisters who are there. And we go with the blessing and support from all of you who have joined in the mission here. Your prayers and generous giving of your time and money have allowed us to begin and expand this work. We are grateful and humbled.

So this begins my travel journal on this Orphan Sunday. As always, I’m praying for reliable Internet connection so I can send the stories and photos back to you. We have seven pieces of luggage, so I’m also praying for a joyful reunion with that luggage in Accra. We’ll be staying in the capital city for one evening, and then we’ll fly the short distance into Kumasi, then drive to Ankaase. So you and I will meet up again in a couple of days when I’m able to post again.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure. We feel your prayers already. It’s an interesting time to travel to Africa, but along the way we have had continual affirmation that God goes before us, with us, and will bring us safely back to continue the work here – for families there.

IMG_0971

 

 

 

Books, Lanterns, and Backpacks

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 3.27.35 PM

We’re packing the luggage, gathering the passports, and preparing for another trip to Ghana in early November. I’m so blessed to be able to work in that part of the world. It’s joyfully noisy and replete with complicated cultural nuances that I’ll never completely understand. The people are gracious, the children are full of energy, and the food is spicy and delicious. I’m looking forward to all of it. It challenges me and stretches my faith every time I’m there. Ghana has captured a piece of my heart, and each time I travel there it feels a little like going home.

There are so many people here who help get us there. If you’re interested in being a part of this trip, please bookmark this blog and check back often for pre-travel updates and stories from our journey. You can also be a part of helping us provide a few things for our sponsored students and some families we work with. I’ve created a Wish List on Amazon.com that is so easy it’s ridiculous. You simply choose an item from our list, purchase it, and it will ship to us. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. We would like to bring a book to each of our sponsored students – these are teenagers who have been orphaned and live with relatives in one of the five villages where we work. For new students in this program who don’t have sponsors yet, we need a few more backpacks. And we’re taking three solar lanterns we will use while we’re there, and then give them to families when we return home.

We know each time we walk through the villages in Ghana that we aren’t doing this alone. People here provide what we need to help families and students rise out of poverty. We hope that as we move our feet and hands to serve, give, and love, that we will all see how God is restoring and renewing. Can a backpack, or a book, or a lantern help fix what is broken? Maybe. God has used less likely things (and people) than these. If you would like to see other ways you can join us in helping families rise, visit our website.

Thanks in advance for helping us give, serve, and love in Ghana!

Please Join Me for The Village!

The Village is this Thursday, October 2 and I want you to come! If you don’t know what The Village is, then here’s the scoop: some friends and I are going to share stories about connections that we’ve made with women in Ghana through Rising Village Foundation. If you’re going to be in the Tulsa area, I’m giving you this personal invitation to join us because I really want to share this evening with as many women as possible. Okay, I know this invitation is not as personal as us talking face-to-face, but it’s no less sincere. The Village will take place at First Baptist Church, located at 5th and Detroit in downtown Tulsa. We’re going to have dinner together at 6:30 p.m., and then my friends and I are going to introduce you to five women who live in villages in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Through video, photos, and stories, we’re going to talk about how our villages look different, but how our lives can interconnect in some very special ways. Some of the women in Ghana make products that we’ll be selling right after the event is over, so you’ll want to stay and shop.

I have tickets, and you can email me at lisa@risingvillage.org to purchase for $10. An easier way is to purchase online directly from the FBC website (it’s totally secure): Purchase tickets.

Consider yourself personally invited! I hope to see you there.

P.S. There is childcare. Call 918.594.5028 to reserve a spot for your little ones.

thevillage

Let’s Honor the Mothers Together

My mother died six years ago this month. I remember the Mother’s Day after her funeral when I sat on the back patio and watched a nest of baby birds with their tiny heads turned toward the sky and mouths open, waiting for their mama to return. “Lucky you,” I remember saying to them, “at least you know she’s coming back.” I was pretty crabby that entire day and to be honest, Mother’s Day remains a bittersweet thing for me. I have children so it’s still a day to celebrate, but they’re at an age when they don’t know much to do except feed me and give me a book. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m continually sustained by food and books, but gone are the days of the cute handmade cards and the recipe holder with the picture of my child smiling painfully (my favorite).

I still miss Mom, which becomes a bit of an issue during the lead-up to Mother’s Day. So this year, I’m dealing with it this way: I’m putting together an Open House this Friday to honor both my mother and some very special mothers in Ghana. We’re raising funds so that Rising Village can continue its mission to transform villages through family preservation. Basically that means our organization finds solutions to problems that tear families apart – namely poverty in developing countries. We don’t do this from 30,000 feet. Instead, we are on the ground in three villages where we provide: 1) resources for women to start or expand a small business, 2) school fees so children can attend school, and bedding so families are protected from the deadly illness of malaria. These things matter, so I’m giving myself over to our mission in Ghana. That means I’m going to spend most of my time finding ways to fund our programs, which are in the very capable hands of our Ghana director, Isaac.

Two years ago I heard Pam Cope, founder of Touch a Life, tell a group of women that we could spend our lives nibbling on the chicken scratch that’s scattered on the ground, or we can choose to feast at the table. “You make the choice,” she said. “If you want to settle for a life that focuses on the little stuff, go ahead. But as for me, I’m going to feast on something bigger.” I walked around the rest of the day in a daze, realizing that most of my life had been spent with my head down nibbling on chicken scratch. I wanted a seat at the table. It was time to look around and see what God is doing in this big, wide world, and then jump into it, even if it was scary and uncomfortable. So I did just that. I was pretty ignorant, but sometimes that’s a good thing because if I had known everything that was going to happen, I might have put my head back down and stayed with the chicken scratch.

So back to my Open House, which I’m calling a Mother’s Day Shopfest. I’m asking everyone who wants to join me at the table to come shop at my house and buy something for your mother, mother-in-law, daughter, yourself. Every penny you spend or donate goes straight to Ghana. Or just come to learn more about these amazing mothers that we serve in the villages. If you think Mother’s Day isn’t for you because your mother is no longer here, then let’s honor our mothers together.

This is your official invitation to come to my house between 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. this Friday, May 2. Email me at lisa@risingvillage.org for address and directions. Until I see you on Friday, take a look at a few of the beautiful mothers we serve in the Ashanti region of Ghana.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

IMG_1857

IMG_1589 copy

jennandbetty

IMG_1923

Ghana Day Six (Last Day): Meet James, Yaa, and Eunice

Our last day in Ankaase was great weather. Cool this morning and dry and warm (okay, a little hot) this afternoon. But definitely my kind of weather. I should be preparing myself mentally to return to winter snow, but I’m trying not to think about the weather.

We handed out Rising Village t-shirts to the headmasters of the DA School today. I love our t-shirts. The front says, “When you pray, move your feet.” It’s an African proverb and that sentence encompasses how we feel about what we are doing (please see James 2:14).

IMG_1397

After visiting the DA School, we took a break then walked to the home of one of our students whose parents have died. James lives with his grandmother who is in poor health. We were all moved by James’ story of losing his parents. When Isaac met him, he was sleeping on the floor in a crowded area just outside his grandmother’s room. His bed is a piece of foam about an inch thick and he is not sleeping under a net. Isaac assessed his situation and asked if we could fund bedding for James. The funds were availalbe thanks to donors who gave during our GiveGood Fundraiser at Christmas. Isaac asked that the family find him a private area to sleep instead of in the walkway of a crowded room. They cleared out a small room and now James will have a bed of his own in a room of his own. He is thrilled. We took him a backpack and gave him the news that he now has a sponsor who will cover his school fees for an entire year.

IMG_1507

IMG_1536

It was a good day for James. His grandmother immediately stood up with great difficulty and thanked us. I never know what to say to these expressions of gratitude. It isn’t me who she should thank. It’s all the donors and sponsors who have so generously given to Rising Village. You have come along on this journey with us, and I want to pass along the thanks to each one of you, not only for James, but for all our families.

Our next stop was to visit a Yaa Dufie whose husband died last year. She lives in one room with her five children.

IMG_1589

She has been given a Business Build Grant to begin her fish-selling business and will begin next week. While we were there, she showed us where she and her five children sleep: on one mat on the floor.

IMG_1563-1

I thought about my bed back home and the bedrooms that each of our three kids sleep in. I tried to imagine sleeping with my family on the floor. I couldn’t. Here’s the thing: I want the same thing for Yaa’s children that I want for my own children. At least that’s how it should be. I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes it becomes easy to believe that these children matter less than my own. They don’t.

This is what I have tried to remember with each step we have taken this week. And now, I want you to meet Eunice who is our newest staff member in Ghana.

IMG_1480

She is a teacher at the DA School, and will be assisting Isaac and coordinating the Classroom Connections program in the Methodist and DA School. We are so fortunate to have Eunice on the Ghana team. She is answered prayer. We don’t want Isaac to carry the load of serving and ministering to our families alone, and now he won’t have to. So we all wore our t-shirts today.

IMG_1465

This week, the four of us have prayed, and we have moved our feet.

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me.” – Frederick Beuchner

I carry something of each person we have met with me, and I will summon you back to my mind every day. That’s a promise I can keep.

So, one last time, Goodnight from Ankaase.

Ghana Day Five: Jubilee Dinner

About a week before I left, Kyle and I had the idea to throw a dinner party for the Rising Village families. We thought this would be an opportunity to build relationships and encourage them to get to know one another better. We also wanted to communicate that our work in the village is a direct reflection of our love for God. We’re just doing what we think He would do. We felt the best way to do this is to serve, give, and bless each family with a meal and gifts of school supplies, and family photo albums.

It came off without a hitch, which is saying a lot considering Isaac had to leave us with the families while he traveled into Kumasi to get the food. This wouldn’t have been so bad except that Colin and I don’t speak Twi. I carried my Twi cheat cards out to the veranda where the families were gathered. They laughed when I tried some phrases on them. This is always a good feeling – not really, but that entertainment didn’t last long. Enter Eunice. Not only does she speak Twi, but she is a teacher in one of the village schools so she was able to quickly coordinate a craft time with the crayons, paper, foam cards and stickers we brought. When we exhausted that activity, I wrote everyone’s name in bubble letters and they colored it – even the parents.

IMG_1151

IMG_1085

IMG_1038

This was either the most awkward party or the most awesome party ever. I decided it was the latter. We don’t speak each other’s language well enough to make small talk, but this worked just fine since Ghanaians don’t do small talk. If they have something to discuss or something humorous to share, they will. If not, they are perfectly comfortable sitting in silence together. This makes me nervous. I feel the need to chit-chat so as to not be rude. They don’t need it, and sometimes I think my incessant babbling make them nervous. Relax, I can just hear them thinking. Don’t try so hard. So today, I learned how to sit down and shut up. I didn’t force Eunice to translate things I didn’t really need to say. Instead, we talked about things that matter. Then we served them lunch, which was beautiful. Most of these families eat only one meal a day, and several of them must scrape together food that barely feeds their family. We filled their plates up, and there were no plates with any food left in them when we carried out the trash box.

IMG_1129

And have you ever thrown a dinner party, and the children began to clean up for you? I haven’t.

IMG_1159

It was humbling to see these families all together at the same time in the same place.

IMG_1290

For those of you who are already involved in their lives, we are grateful beyond words. We couldn’t do this without you. The individuals we serve wouldn’t be able to enter school, start businesses, and receive safe bedding without people who believe in what we’re doing. When I look at each of these families, I see my own. We are not that different. I care about my children’s education and I want them to be healthy. Kyle and I want to have the dignity of caring for our own children, and not having to turn them over to someone else to meet their needs. These parents want the same things. It was a day to celebrate and to remember that God desires the very best for all of us. He loves us that much and I want to love in that same way.

Tomorrow is our last day in Ankaase, which is hard for all of us to believe. The work here in Ghana is in such good hands. Tomorrow I will introduce you to Eunice, who is our newest staff member. She will assist Isaac and coordinate our Classroom Connections program. They are a smart, capable, and compassionate team. What I have learned is that I really know almost nothing about working here. I have to rely on those who live in and know the culture, speak the language, and can discern and make decisions far beyond what I would ever be able to do. It’s humbling and wonderful.

I wasn’t able to post last night because we had to buy more data, so most of you are sleeping while I write this. We’re up early and heading out to another village school to meet with teachers, and then to meet James and Yaa Dufie’s families. I always feel as if I’m leaving some things unfinished. There are more people I want to meet and so much more I want to say to the families and our staff here. There are more pictures I want to take and so many things I want to observe and write about. When I get home, these opportunities are gone, but this is what keeps me coming back.

So this time, it’s good morning from Ankaase!

Ghana Day Four: Babies, Farms, and Betty!

IMG_0997

When I land in Ghana, sometimes it takes a couple of days to emerge from the slight culture shock. I feel as if there is so little that is familiar here. I look around and wonder what we have in common between the cultures. I’m always screwing up: getting my greetings confused, shaking a hand with my left hand, making small talk when it’s time to just sit and be silent, asking continuously, “So, when do you think the electricity will come back on?” But then something happens and I am reminded of  the things that are the same between home and Ankaase. Babies remind me.

IMG_0996

This is Ama and Kofi’s nine-day-old infant daughter. Babies aren’t named here until they are 10 days old, so she is just, “baby.” She’s daughter # 7 seven for Kofi and Ama, and child #8. If you were a part of donating to either Kofi or Ama’s Business Build Grant, you have already made a difference in this child’s life. Both parents are preparing to start their new businesses in the coming months. We traveled out to the farmland where Kofi will begin his cocoa farm as soon as the dry season ends. He is in the process of clearing the land, which after traveling there on the motor tricycle, I am convinced is located at the officials end of the earth. We took the motortrike as far as we could, and then walked quite a distance through brush in a heavily forested area until we came to what will soon be the cocoa farm. Kofi has a lot of work to do, but he also has this new baby girl and the other children to feed. He is surrounded by motivation, and now he has the funds to give his children a better life. We spent the afternoon talking to him about the plans for his farm. We’ll walk alongside this family as they build their businesses. Ama will be starting her Puff bread business on April 1. In the meantime, we’ll continue to help them pay school fees for the children, and provide the girls with new school uniforms. This is just an example of what they have been wearing:

IMG_0935

Would you want to go to school every day wearing that? Neither would I. There are good days ahead for Ama and Kofi, Charity, Margaret, Abigail, Dorcas, Rebecca, Samuel, and Baby. So I surrounded myself with the girls and Samuel for a photo, and I was so thankful that we were color-coordinated.

IMG_0879-1

IMG_0828

So I also had to show you this photo (below) of Betty, Jennifer’s daughter. Jennifer is learning to sew with a professional seamstress and she is learning fast. We’re so excited to see the products she makes for us to sell, and she’ll receive the proceeds from those items. In case you don’t know what Betty is doing in this photo, she is trying to tie this “baby” on her back. She grew very frustrated, bending over to wrap the cloth around the “baby” just like the mamas here do it. But she never could get “baby” secured. This was the best she could do:

IMG_0770

What we’ve learned about Betty is that she is stubborn. She was not happy that her awkwardly shaped baby would not bend enough and she spend quite a bit of time yelling about it. If you have children, you’ve probably seen this look before:

IMG_0757

There is so much that draws us together. As we continue to work and build relationships in this village and beyond, I want to focus on those things about us that are the same. God has created us all, and we are all equally loved and cherished. We take that truth and continue walking, shaking hands, hugging, taking meals together, spending time getting to know one another, and sharing our resources with those who have little. We believe this is what God has called us to do here in Ghana.

We’re having our Jubilee Dinner after church tomorrow with the families. I’m so excited to have them all together at once: parents, children…and babies!

Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase (we’re going to sleep really good tonight).

Ghana Day Three: To Kumasi and Back

I’m not a shopper, but we trekked through the streets of Kumasi (no small feat, see photo below) and when we returned to the Mission House late this afternoon, we officially all dropped. Isaac collapsed on the couch, Colin stretched out in the recliner, and Eunice was slumped to one side in a chair. But we had success! Wax fabric and beads have been purchased and a few other surprises we’re bringing back.

IMG_3377

IMG_3379

We didn’t meet with any families today, but we purchased the fabric and beads for the items we’ll sell to help these families continue to rise. I’m not going to start marketing  our items in this blog post, but stay tuned to see what you’ll be able to purchase in the coming months. Hint: You’ll love shopping with us! The proceeds are going to go directly to the women who are in our income generation program.

Tonight we finished our groundnut soup and rice ball and have been sitting in the living area and singing along to hymns on Eunice’s cell phone. The singer is Sammie Badu, who I did not know before tonight. It’s amazing that I am sitting here singing the same hymns with my Ghanaian friends that I grew up singing in my grandmother’s church. They sing much better than I do, by the way. But get this: my friends also love Dolly Parton, Jimmy Reeves, and Kenny Rogers. Surprise! Eunice has “Coat of Many Colors” on her cell phone. This has completely made my night and not because I love Dolly Parton, but because it reminds me how small the world is. We’ve talked about everything from Illuminati to Snoop Dog. We don’t believe in either, by the way.

So tomorrow we’re walking to Kofi and Ama’s little house to meet their family and see the new baby (#8!) Then we’ll climb into the back of a motor tricycle and travel to Kofi’s farm where, thanks to donors, he will begin planting cocoa after the dry season. Ama will begin her Puff bread business after is back on her feet, in about a month.

The rain has brought a cool breeze that is making the curtains flutter just the slightest bit. I have old hymns running through my head and friends around me. I’m a little homesick, so I am grateful for these blessings. It’s been a very good day.

Until tomorrow, good night from Ankaase.

Ghana Day Two: Chicken Bones and Comfort Zones

Here is what I didn’t know about eating in Ghana: we eat the chicken bones, we don’t leave them on the plate. I’m not picky about my food, but I’m not sure about eating chicken bones. Colin did pretty well and gnawed around on his drumstick, but this is really is out of our comfort zone.

I could make a list of things that are out of my comfort zone here, but if I stayed where it is comfortable I would have never met this group of Junior High teachers. They are dedicated to their jobs, despite a frustrating lack of resources. These teachers and their headmaster at the Ankaase Methodist School are determined to get the students excited about learning, and so we sat under this tree for over an hour and talked about ways to do that.

IMG_0579

IMG_0581

We all agreed that the students are worth it.

IMG_0621

We reconnected with our friends at the SDA School also, and this afternoon we got a visit from Kadri and Maria. For those of you who prayed for Kadri last summer, he is able to walk now, but unable to speak. His right foot was swollen from some kind of injury he couldn’t explain. He tries to communicate, but even Isaac was unable to understand him. Please continue to pray for this sweet boy.

If I stayed in my comfort zone, I would have never traveled to Nantan, a very tiny village on the outskirts of Ankaase where we spent the afternoon. We first met with the village chief to get his permission to continue on through the village and meet with our new family. After receiving his blessing we walked to where Janet lives with her relatives. Her parents were sent out of the village because they were thought to be mentally ill, so Janet remains behind with her aunts and their children, of which there were too many to count. Janet is not in school, although her cousins are. Often, children who are taken in by relatives are given what is left, which is not much in most cases. We’re committed to walking alongside Janet to make sure that she is given as much opportunity as possible in her environment. We have someone who wants to sponsor Janet (we seek sponsors for children whose parents have died or are no longer able to care for them).

IMG_0699

And we want to provide mattresses and bed nets for the room where Janet sleeps. Each night, her grandmother sleeps on the bed frame with two small children (and no mattress), and three other children sleep on the floor nearby.  Bed nets are in use, but they won’t work because they have holes.

IMG_0682

Mosquitoes love bed nets like these. By the way, we were told that the baby sleeping under the useless bed net has malaria. So we’re replacing these nets and providing mattresses for the children and grandmother. Here is the way we look at it: if we wouldn’t want to sleep in these conditions, why do we think they should? And an even better reason: lives are lost for lack of a good bed net and the education about how to use it.

I have to be honest – I’m exhausted today. Sometimes seeing the needs drain my mind and heart and I am suddenly overwhelmed. If I pull back and try to figure out how we’re going to meet all these needs, I get panicky. And then I get emails (literally in the middle of writing this post) from someone who wants to partner with us at $25 a month, and another someone who wants to sponsor James, one of our newest students and an orphan who also lives with relatives. And I remember that I only need to look at the next place where I’m supposed to put my foot: the next step. God doesn’t give me the responsibility to nail down every detail, but instead He gently reminds me that He is in the details, and I am in this place – outside of my comfort zone – because this is where He has placed me. “Walk by faith,” I remind myself with each step I take in these villages, “not by sight.” It’s becoming my mantra.

I’m okay with being out of my comfort zone at this very moment, but tomorrow I’ll probably have to wake up, take a deep breath, and start chanting. That’s good because it reminds me that this is not about me. Not one bit.

But I’ve decided that I’ll pass on eating the chicken bones. That’s just too far out of the zone. Or maybe next time.

So, the next step for me is a Skype with Kyle, and then on to bed. Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase and Nantan.

Dresses, Backpacks and Bibles

Colin says that I have a technology curse. I think he might be right.

So, we had to drive into Kumasi today – our first day in the village – to exchange money and purchase a modem. It seems that every time I come to Ghana it gets a little harder to access the Internet. My handy little Vodaphone thumb drive modem failed me, so we took the plunge and purchased this little wireless modem that allows me to be typing this right now. We’ll see how this goes. I have yet to upload photos. If you seem them below, then the modem was a success. If not, then Colin may be right.

We met our seamstress apprentice, Jennifer:

IMG_0348

For those of you who helped fund Jennifer’s Business Build Grant, she’s already stitching dresses! Jennifer will be stitching new bags – a smaller version of the Ankaase bag, scarves, and headbands using the traditional Ghana wax fabric, and she will receive income from every one of those products sold. This income will help her support her mother, and daughter, Betty. They are in need of income to help improve their housing.

And these are four of our students:

IMG_0422

These are Yaw Mensah’s four children. He has been left alone to raise these children. After an injury, he is unable to walk without crutches and his wife left him soon after the accident.

And this is Philomena and Maxwell, who are receiving the Bibles they were given by their sponsors, the staff at First Baptist Church, Tulsa.

IMG_0398

and our newest hairstylist apprentice, Mary and her son Samuel.

IMG_0409

Besides the technology problems, everything here is great. Colin and I feel blessed to be walking the roads of Ankaase, and tomorrow, the village of Nantan.

Right now, I have to go tear apart the bedroom to hunt down all the things that I know I brought but can’t locate. There are suitcases all over my bedroom filled with all the things I packed but didn’t organize. I can’t find anything.

Thank you for your prayers, your support, and all the ways you have encouraged us. We are exhausted, but blessed to know that there are people back home who walk beside us as we walk beside these families.

So until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Sunday, but Monday is Comin’

suitcase3

We’ve packed the cheese and the onesies, the flashcards, the chalk, the extension cord and the conversation hearts, along with just a few other items. Every nook and cranny of our three suitcases is filled, and we’ve redistributed until we’re certain none of our luggage is over 50 pounds. We have luggage that is airline regulation weight. Believe me, it’s a first.

It’s Sunday night and for two days we’ve packed and repacked because, well, Monday is comin’. The tickets in my backpack say that we’ll board a flight at 12:45 p.m. tomorrow on Delta airlines (I swore “never again on Delta”, but cheap airfare always wins the day.) Every time I travel to Ghana, it sort of feels like a first. I look at the map and marvel that I”m able to sit on a plane, fly across the ocean and then walk dirt roads on another continent. I’m amazed that I will see in person friends I know, and meet people I have only seen in photos. In 24 hours I will be in Africa. This blows my mind just a bit. And makes me feel a little jittery. Not a lot, just a little.

Then, I think about all of you who have supported us and Rising Village Foundation, and I find this a good time to say a from-the-bottom-of-my-heart thank you:

  • to those who donated school supplies to students and village schools
  • to those who donated funds for our travel
  • to those who have signed up for Rising Village partnerships
  • to those who have committed to pray
  • to those who have purchased jewelry, t-shirts, and string art to help fund the programs that serve village families
  • to our board members who have come alongside to help direct this organization
  • to every single person who has listened politely and patiently while I rattled on about malaria prevention, income generation, and the importance of education for every child in the village
  • to everyone who reads this blog

I’m inviting each one of you along on this trip. I’ll be sharing the stories here and a few will show up on the Rising Village blog. God is really good, and as we enter the villages of Ankaase and Nantan, we hope to share love, joy, and peace with each person we come in contact with. My friend Shannon told me tonight to “live by the list,” so I’m taking her good advice. If everything is checked off my list, then I have nothing more to pack. It’s done. I’m kicking back and taking a deep long breath because Monday is closing in fast.

Goodnight from the U.S. for one more night. See you on Wednesday morning in Ankaase, Ghana!

Would You?

I’m posting this because we set a goal and it would be so wonderful to reach it before we leave for Ghana on Monday.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering if it’s appropriate, but I’m taking the risk and praying that you don’t run the other direction when you see me coming. So here is my ask: We’re looking for 20 people who will make a commitment to give $25 a month to Rising Village Foundation.

RiseUP

I could tell you that $25 a month is such a small amount that you wouldn’t notice if it was pulled from your monthly budget, but that’s not true for everyone. What I can tell you is that the $25 you give each month will be used to change some stories for families in a part of the world where life is hard.

My blog is titled One Good Story, but it seems that it is easier to focus on the negative. Sensational, frightening, fear-inducing stories seem to be everywhere and cause us to worry and lament where our world is headed. As a news junkie, I can easily fall into this, but I think we need voices that call us to something different. What if we told those stories with hope? And what if we used our resources to become that hope for those who desperately need it? I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that actually changes stories for someone besides myself.

I want to tell Yaw’s story with hope. He is a father of four children who was injured two years ago and did not have the financial resources to seek medical help. What little money he brought in to care for his wife and five children was gone. Yaw’s wife, overwhelmed by her inability to be the sole source of income, fled. She had little education and perhaps feared watching her children go hungry. Yaw was left alone with his three sons and daughter.

1511598_10151875413405205_1504922100_n

For two years, he has depended on the charity of other impoverished family members in the village and this has left him drained of the energy to take care of his children. They attend school sporadically in worn uniforms. Yaw needs medical attention. His children need education. The entire family needs better healthcare and improved living conditions to become strong. We want them to be the kind of family that can make the village a better place to live. And yes, this is possible.

Our model is one family at a time. So I’m asking 20 of you to help us by clicking this link on the Rising Village website. It takes you to our partner page, where you can sign up for a recurring payment of $25 a month. If that seems like too much, we have an option for $10 a month. Or, $50 a month, and on up. Every little bit helps as we continue to walk where God is leading us. He provides, but He does this through people whose hearts have been moved by the stories we tell. And we believe these are stories of hope.

I know I’ve been making lots of asks these days, but we all give in different ways. Some donate school supplies, some write checks, some give their time to help direct and volunteer, some pray. I am grateful for any way that you choose to join in the work we are doing.

I’ll be posting here while we’re in Ghana, so don’t leave the blog because I asked you for money, promise? You won’t want to miss the stories  we’ll be sharing. And now, I’m off to the packing room!

Such Love

IMG_0018

You people amaze me. Today, I had all ages of friends coming to my door with sacks of school supplies for children and teachers in Ghana. One little girl bounced up my sidewalk with bright backpacks. Another friend who lives in a retirement community brought colored pencils, chalk and Cinderella flash cards. “It’s just a dab,” she said, and I told her that it was the “dabs” put together that would fill a suitcase for orphans and vulnerable families in the small village where we work.  It was a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

We leave for Ghana one week from today. In the meantime we have a Rising Village board meeting, I have paperwork to finish for our Ghana NGO, tax receipts to generate, sewing patterns to print…and packing to start. It’s enough to make me turn in tiny circles, trying to figure out how it will all get done before we board the flight. There is “business” that must be done, but what really matters is the Rising Village families and the growing number of people who are helping to make life better for these families. Throughout the weekend, I’m reminded that this is what fuels me. We have three children in our program who are orphans. Their parents have died and they live with relatives who won’t ever be able to support them fully. On Saturday night, a neighbor dropped off several school supplies, including three pencil bags that look like tennis shoes – just the kind of special gifts we need for these three special kids. We want to remind them they are special, loved, and cared for by people who have never even met them. For all of you who donate, give, pray, and write letters to our families and children, this quote from Dr. King is for you:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

So keep bringing your “dabs” of love. You can leave them on the porch swing or the rocking chairs. We’re packing on Friday, so thank you for helping us fill our suitcases. I am humbled by such love.

Dig Your Heels In

Making a Victory Sign

There is a great story that makes its way around the Internet about a commencement speech given by Winston Churchill, in which he stood up in front of a graduating class and simply said: “Never give-up. Never give up. Never give up.” Then he sat down.

Just so you know, that speech never took place. But I like the story and have claimed it in times when I needed a dramatic reminder to never give up, never give up, never give up.

He did make a speech in October of 1941 at his alma mater, the Harrow School, and said this:

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. 

He followed this up with other really good thoughts, but this seems to be the origin of the urban legend speech, which is a very different kind of speech because there is a subtle difference in the wording “in” as opposed to “up.” Giving up is quitting something. Giving in is entering into something.

I hate giving up on projects, dreams, plans. But I’m pretty good at giving in to fear, disillusionment, doubt, and a host of other things that might tempt me to give up.

I think the distinction between Churchill’s words is important. We first give in to something before we give up on something. I find myself in the danger zone often these days when setbacks come in clusters. I had several of them this week and I spent the day yesterday wondering if I had misheard God, jumped the gun, taken the wrong path. I went through the list of possible reasons why things seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. I cried, and cleaned my house, and thought about applying for a job at the newspaper where I used to work. The clincher came earlier that morning when I heard the news that my dear friend and co-worker, Isaac, was sick in a hospital bed in Ghana. As I mopped my kitchen floor in a panic, I blamed myself – certain that he had been working too hard. And of course, that was my fault. My temptations to give in went on all day and into the evening. This morning I woke up to the news that on Thursday, the day of my party in honor of Rising Village , the high temperature will be 26, accompanied by sleet and possible snow. Of course, the weather is beautiful all week until that day. And of course, if the weather is bad, no one will come. I already felt like the girl who threw a party and no one came. I feared the worst and doubted my own crazy ideas.

And then, I thought about Churchill’s speech – the real one. “Never give in. Never. Never. Never.”

I ran across this quote from Francis Chan a little later: “When it’s hard and you are doubtful, give more.”

Today, Isaac is better and will be delivering beds and bed nets to families before the week is over. I changed the date of my party and gave myself some breathing room on preparations. I put a big pot of pinto beans on the stove (this is comfort food for me), and decided that things are definitely not on the verge of falling apart. I was just on the verge of giving in to a few fears and worries and doubts. And according to Churchill, who my father-in-law thought a genius, I should never do this.

I’m digging my heels in – really deep.

Onward.