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 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.

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

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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’s so hard to know what to say. So we just hold a hand.

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!

 

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.

Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Orphan Sunday: Rise and Go

 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

The Art Auction: How Did We End Up Here?

I met an artist in Kumasi, Ghana who sells his work on the street. We were shopping for items to take back to Dillon’s Lunar New Year fundraiser, but I was open to buying a little something for myself. After a small amount of price negotiating with this very motivated artist, I purchased a beautiful painting of an African mother and child. It’s too expensive to frame (maybe someday), but I am still proud of it and bring it down from the upstairs gameroom pool table to show people every now and then. About four days after I met the artist, Emmanuel, I was in the lobby of the hotel praying over my Wi-fi connection and who do you think walked in the door with an armload of art? What a small African world it is. A group of college students and their adult chaperones from the U.S. had descended on our peaceful Miklin Hotel the previous day and Emmanuel and his artist buddies had gotten word. They were there to sell.

We immediately recognized each other and he sat down beside me and listened to me whine about the Wi-fi connection for a while. Then he said, “Have you ever seen string art?” My mind immediately flashed an image of the old kids’ craft yarn art, and I nodded. “I think so.”

As it turns out, I had never seen string art. This is what he was talking about:

It’s a very specific type of art that takes skill and practice. The craft is handed down to an artist from an apprentice (in Emmanuel’s case, his grandfather). Each piece takes about four to six weeks to complete. The artist first sketches a figure onto canvas, then traces over the figure. The canvas is glued multiple times, and then the process to complete the artwork begins by hand weaving the details toward the right-hand side, one after the other. Details and background are woven into the canvas with colored silk thread and the artist must give careful attention to maintain color consistency throughout. The colors that are used to dye the thread are created from plants, which are cooked for days over a very hot fire. This craft originated and remains mostly in Ghana and Nigeria. I was immediately taken in by string art, but I was out of funds and space in the suitcase so I shook my head at Emmanuel’s offer to sell me a piece. In Ghana, people love to exchange phone numbers and email, so I gave Emmanuel my card when he asked for my contact information. The next day we boarded a plane for home and I didn’t think about our exchange again until I received a phone call from him about two months later. He wanted to send me some string art to sell. I really hate it when I’m skeptical about people, but I assumed that he was simply asking me to send him money and he would send me a piece of art.

“I can’t buy anything Emmanuel,” I said, yelling into my cell phone, which is what you do when there is an enormous language barrier. We were on the phone for at least 30 minutes as he explained to me about his art, his dreams of having an art studio and eventually an art school. And he kept asking if he could send me art.

“Please don’t use your money to ship me art,” I yelled. “There isn’t a guarantee that it will sell and it would cost us both money because I would have to ship it back.”

“Just keep it until you see me again,” he yelled back.

That made no sense, so I ended the conversation politely. Why would he spend the money to send the art over and then trust me to return it to him? Then the emails from him began to pop into my inbox, with the same request.

And for about a month he asked to send me art and I gave him a lot of reasons why he shouldn’t. Then, after tiring of his pleas I said, “If it’s what you really want to do, then it’s up to you.” Apparently that was the equivalent of shouting, “Send me six pieces of art!”

I received the string art in ten days. Six pieces. Absolutely beautiful.

With the string art in my possession, I immediately phoned my cousin who works for Tulsa’s Arts and Humanities Council. It was an SOS call. “I have this art,” I told her. “And I don’t know people who buy art.” A few days later we met so she could take the art into her possession. She knows people who buy art. By the end of the day she had sold a piece and by the end of the evening she had arranged to have the pieces in an art auction the following night. Which is how Emmanuel, who was still back on the streets in Kumasi trying to sell his art, ended up being featured in an art auction in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And he had no idea. I didn’t want to get his hopes up so I didn’t tell him his art was being auctioned at a fancy event. We attended the auction because this story was just way too good and we wanted to be right in the middle of it.

Every story does not have a predictable ending and you’re probably expecting this one to end with a big finish. No, we didn’t make big money at the art auction, but it was first-year event and most people came to window-shop. I stood at the table for a while and watched as people walked up, stared at the pieces, and declared that they had never seen anything like it. After I explained the process they were amazed, so I believe Emmanuel might have a possible future as an artist here in the U.S. But he isn’t here. He’s still in Kumasi peddling his beautiful art on a crowded Ghanaian street to people who don’t have the money to buy it.

There is a fabulous ending to this story, but I’m not sure what it is yet. In the meantime, if you would like to buy a piece of authentic African art that is like nothing most people have ever seen, I’m selling.

My Sankofa Bird

It was a sweltering afternoon in Ankaase Village and the temperature in the schoolroom was even hotter, but at least we were shaded. The sun in Africa is like a different star than it is here: closer, brighter, with the kind of heat that reminds you how small and vulnerable you really are. I grabbed a bottle of Coke (not Diet Coke, not Coke Zero, but sugar-ladden Coke) and drank it like water. It was a gift, brought to us as part of a goodbye ceremony. We were spending our last day with the children in the SDA school – giving and receiving parting gifts, taking photos, giving short speeches, and drinking our Cokes. At the end of the ceremony, Daniel, the school headmaster and our new friend, handed Erin and I a gift: a carved bird with it’s head turned back toward it’s tail.

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“It’s Sankofa,” Daniel said as he handed it to me with both hands. “It means we wish you will always remember us and come back to us.” I accepted the gift, but didn’t fully understand what I had been given. I carefully packed my carved bird, brought it back to the U.S., and put it on a shelf that housed my knick-knacks. And I kind of forgot about it.

Several months ago, I began considering a return to this small village. As I continued to learn more of the children’s stories and hear of the needs that existed there, I realized that there was something else for me to do in Ankaase. Maybe more than one something. There are those seasons of life when you feel that things are completely out of your control and I am right in the middle of one of those. Everything that has happened in the past four months feels carefully orchestrated, placed, and planned. And not by me, thank you God.

Most of the time, I have difficulty discerning what is God’s idea and what is mine. I have so many good ideas, or so I think. I have so many plans that make sense to me. I work hard to orchestrate events to put these great ideas and plans into place. And I think God sits back on most days and watches with a bit of amusement. “If you want to make God laugh,” says Anne Lamott, “tell her your plans.” Whether you like the gender switch of God or not, there is truth in this. We spend a lot of time and energy working out our own deals.

I can say with no small amount of certainty that the events propelling me back to Ghana have not been planned by me. I couldn’t have put any of this together in a hundred years. Here is an example: My friend Peter, who I am working with in this small village, brought me a beaded bracelet from Ghana. I had never seen beads like this, so I got online to research them. They are called Krobo beads and they have been made in Ghana for hundreds of years. The process of crafting these beads is extensive and requires hours of crushing glass, mixing it with dye, placing it in molds, firing the molds in homemade ovens, painting the designs by hand, more firing. A simple cassava stalk inserted in the center during the molding process gives the bead a center hole. I was mesmerized as I watched the process online. It’s an art that is handed down through the generations.

I love bracelets, especially culturally unique bracelets, so I pulled Alison into a project with me: “We’ll find these beads and make Krobo bracelets to sell and raise money for the village.” And because children understand the beauty of a crazy idea, she was on board from the first word. And we did it. We bought our Krobo beads from two women who head up sustainability projects in two Ghanaian villages. The beads are authentic and fair trade. We’ve made 43 bracelets and sold 28. And we haven’t even begun to market them yet.

So in the midst of doing even more research on the beads, I ran across a YouTube video that included an interview with a bead seller in Ghana. “For a while, we shunned the beads,” she said in the interview. “People thought they were archaic, or unfashionable. But we have a culture of Sankofa – go back and retrieve what you have left behind – and now people are returning to the beads.”

Sankofa. Where had I heard that before? Suddenly I remembered my carved bird. I jumped up and pulled it from the knick-knack shelf. “Go back and retrieve what you have left behind,” or the literal translation: “It is not wrong to go back for what is at risk of being left behind.”

I got the message.

So I’m going back to Ghana on October 17. This time, Erin will stay here and I will travel with our friends Peter and Anna Osei-Kwame. I’ll be staying in the village in a cool little African bungalow with a cat named Tooles (forgive me kitty if I have the spelling wrong). I’ll be blogging here and praying that my cable modem will work in the village. I hope you’ll join me as I go back for what is at risk of being left behind.

I’m keeping my Sankofa bird in a more prominent place these days to continually remind me of all that is unfolding and how it is so out of my hands. I stand amazed, but why should I be? I’ve known all along that God loves a good story.

Exactly Two Months After 9/11: New Life

While the world was still reeling and the dust still settling in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, we boarded a plane to fly across the world. Many people we knew who had booked overseas flights canceled after the terrorist strike, but we didn’t. We couldn’t. The clothes – size 12 months – had been laid out on top of the suitcase for weeks. We had bibs, shoes, toys, and an endless amount of paperwork ready to pack. For those six weeks between the falling of the twin towers and the day we stepped on the plane, I listened to the grieving families and survivors in television interviews and endured the angry tirades of people around us who believed that we should go “kick some butt” (can’t count how many times I heard this). It was a confusing, angry, frightening time. We all wondered what the world was coming to, while at the same time mourning the reality that it would never be the same.

And in the middle of all of it, we packed our bags and left our grieving country for two weeks. Our world would never be the same either.

Not once did we think about sending only one person from our family to pick up our daughter. The four of us were going, and we would fly across the ocean with that one beautiful face in our mind’s eye. It’s still amazing to me how love has the power to cast out fear, even when fear is completely justified. September 11, 2001 will always be inextricably linked to that joyous time when we met our daughter and sister. It swirls together and reminds me that life continues, even in the pitch black hours. Exactly two months after 9/11, on 11/11, we celebrated her first year of life – a day early. This little girl had been born in a world where the odds were most certainly stacked against her, in a country where it would require resilience for a female baby to survive. And survive she did. She fought her way to that first year and so we strapped a little party hat on her and celebrated. She loved the cake and clapped her hands to the birthday song. I was so proud of her and so certain that whatever ugliness the world might throw at her – at all of us – that there would always be the promise of new life.

And I still believe it.