Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Mr. Randy ... this is just awful!"

Last weekend we had the opportunity to watch The Sound of Music with the children of the Village.  This seems to have become an annual event, as it was one of the first movies we watched with them upon our arrival last year. One of the discoveries we have made is that it is more entertaining to watch the children watch the movie than watching the movie ourselves.  For example, Ray a ten year-old, who loves to snuggle up under Randy's arm while watching movies, looked up during the romantic moment when the Captain and Maria are realizing they have fallen in love, and remarks, "Mr. Randy ... this is just awful!" (We are certain he meant the romance,as he was totally engrossed during the rest of the movie.) Another great moment was when Augustus, a little primary student seeing the movie for the first time, spontaneously (and quite alone) stands to his feet in applause as Mother Superior finishes her rendition of Climb Every Mountain.  The children seem to have a keen sense of right and wrong, as well as justice, as they watch movies.  We must admit that we are praying for that sensitivity to apply to their own lives and the things they do and say.  We know it is all a matter of God's perfect timing and an exercise of His grace.

Diane has been extremely busy in her role as Childcare Director. We have been on a three week break between school terms and this means much more unstructured time for the children, and also a break in the normal rhythm of Village life.  During this time she worked to organize and conduct a week of GAMES with the children.  She also received five barrels of donations from the U.S. filled with clothing, shoes, and various supplies that had to be sorted and distributed.  She found some good help with the mini-missionaries and a few of our children.  This also allows her to share a more personal time with some of the children as they talk through the workday.  We have a much clearer understanding of why the Childcare Director's home is such a on-going mess; it is best described as a clearing house for everything that comes into the Village.  It is true that most things are becoming more reasonable, or at least we understand the reasons behind them, the longer we serve here.

During the break we had seven of our Senior High students away visiting with their extended families.  It is amazing what difference that made in the feeling of the Village.  We sorely missed the students and the influence they have on the younger kids.  One of our objectives in getting them home for a visit is to give them an idea of what the real world is like, and for them to realize what blessing they have experienced being a part of Rafiki.  We hope they come back with greater commitment to their studies and a more grateful heart.  We trust this does result, but occasionally have our doubts ... especially when they come back with new clothes, reports of being spoiled, and a new found desire for freedom.  We ought not be surprised, as this seems to be a universal experience for any kid who spends a break with grandparents or special aunts and uncles.  "It is hard to compete with Santa Claus," as they say; but everyone needs to feel "specialized on" at least once in a while.  God will continue to work in each of them.  With school starting again tomorrow, it is good to have them all back safe and sound.

Diane has initiated a new birthday protocol for the children.  They are invited to our home and given Fan Yogurt as a snack and then allowed to "go through " their personal book.  Each one of them has a "book" containing the child's story as to how and when they came to be a part of Rafiki, as well as progress updates and special items such as artwork or stories they have written over the years. These have been in storage for quite sometime, although it has always been the intention to give them to the children when they leave the Village in order that they will have a foundational understanding of who they are and their family backgrounds.  Diane has decided that we should not wait until they leave Rafiki, but rather help them understand while they are here and offer words of explanation and encouragement.  One can only imagine how precious these moments of intimacy are ... it is a humbly experience to get a peek into the heart of the children.  We stand on tip toes.

The staff here at Rafiki continues in transition.  We bid farewell to Amy, our Headmaster, last Monday.  She had served here for six years.  By the end of the month Janet, our nurse and medical director for the past couple of years, will be moved to the Rafiki Village in Liberia.  Don and Barbara Post are scheduled to arrive on the field within the month.  Don will be our new Headmaster, and Barbara will work with the preprimary and primary schools as she has a long history working with those grades in the model of Christian classical education.  

As a result of these switches, Randy has been given an additional responsibility.  He will become the medical director of Rafiki Ghana, which will require caring for the children, mothers, teachers, staff, and day students on a daily basis as needs arise; and have administrative responsibilities for overall coordination of routine health maintenance, immunizations, eye care, and dental care for the children.  Now for those of you who know Randy and his previous experience with the practice of medicine, you can certainly see the irony in all this.  We agree, God has a sense of humor, and it is not always the same as ours.  Yet we know God doesn't waste any of our experiences if we are obedient.  Oh the journey of dying to self, small by small.  He'll continue in his other positions of responsibility as previously directed.

Yesterday was great; we had our first "Father and Son Day."  This was basically a time when we celebrated all of the boys of Rafiki and the men who have had an opportunity to pour into their lives. There were around 63 boys, three graduates of Rafiki school, a mini-missionary, Randy and a couple of the national staff in attendance.  We had a full day as we played a big game of kickball (the younger boys won 20-19), three soccer matches, grilled a goat and shared a special meal, played with water balloons, watched Herbie Fully Loaded, played board games, and watched The Netherlands (referred to by the little boys as "The Neverlands") defeat Brazil for third place in the world cup, and then called it a night - deciding against the sleep-over which had been initially entertained.  Today several of us are sore and stiff, but many more have a pleasant smile on their faces.!   

Several of the girls were of great assistance to Diane who helped coordinate and serve throughout the day.  As everyone knows, without the women in our lives, most guys couldn't do half of what they do.  It is never too early for a young man to learn that truth! Later in the year we plan to have a "Father and Daughter Day" to celebrate the young women in our lives here at Rafiki ... We can hear Ray already ... "Mr. Randy, this is just awful."  But, all of us need to be loved and appreciated, and sometimes, just down right applauded.         

Saturday, June 28, 2014

If it is Wednesday ... then this must be Ghana!

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity.  We are sorry to have missed posting a blog last week, but Randy was out of the country and Diane was "on duty" managing the Village.

Last Friday Randy left at 11 pm on a flight back to the U.S. to attend a one day meeting at Rafiki Home Office on Monday.  He began his return flight Tuesday morning and arrived back in Ghana Wednesday evening.  Needless to say, he felt a bit woozy and disoriented for a few days, but now seems back to normal.  We are grateful the Lord blessed him with safe and uneventful travel.  The trip was so short that some of the children didn't even realize he had gone.  Perhaps that is more a reflection of what he does around here as opposed to the brevity of the trip, but he chooses to think it is the latter.

There are some strategic changes being made in Rafiki's ministry in Africa.  Because of U.N. policies and the promise of major financial incentives as goals are met, there is a movement to decrease the number of children in orphanages throughout the continent.  The U.N. was probably desiring to promote foster care and unification of families, but as often happens the true goals are lost in the scramble for funds.  In several countries the emphasis is simply to close down the orphanages, without significantly addressing the needs of the children.  The social welfare system is now pressuring the orphanages to simply release the children, assuming there will be extended family who want and can care for them.  The reality of course is that the families were unable to do that in the first place which is why the children are in the orphanages.

Rafiki sees the future of Africa being improved primarily by the opening of private Christian classical schools.  As a foundation, Rafiki is investing significant amounts of resources in the development and institution of training colleges for teachers.  In Ghana we are blessed to have a strong relationship with Dr. Augustine who works at the top government level with the Ghana Educational System, and is committed to improving the quality and availability of Christian based education.  Through his assistance we have already had our pre-primary and primary curriculum approved by the government for use in any of the schools in Ghana. We also are expecting that our teachers' college will be fully accredited by the government. 

As they say, it is necessary for missionaries to just go with the flow as things are always in flux.  We have found that to be oh so true around here.  We are in the middle of a turnover in ROS (Rafiki Overseas Staff).  Changes are occurring all over our villages in Africa.  Here in Ghana, we said goodbye to Amy T. who was with us as a teacher for the past two years.  In ten days Amy K. will be heading back to the U.S. to begin graduate school after having served here for six years.  Our nurse Janet will be returning from furlough next week, but will be heading to Liberia to serve as Childcare Director.  This will leave only Susy (Village Administrator) and the two of us to man the Village until the Posts come sometime later this summer.  It is when we are at the end of our own abilities that God delights in demonstrating His glory.  We are eager to see what He is going to do ... in addition to building our faith and deepening our trust in Him.

As a way of saying good-bye and honoring the Amys, the students planned a farewell party for them.  Out of default (all of the other staff was gone and the Amys could not talk about themselves) Diane was asked to speak.  Though Diane talks a lot she never talks in front of crowds.  She worked and practiced and worked and practiced and then when it was time for her to give her speech, a torrential downpour came down on our tin roof.  It was impossible to hear so she had to use a microphone.  Overall, she felt it went well but when she returned to our home she had to ask God, "why then, Lord?"  God in His goodness reminded her about her "thorn in her flesh" - pride!  If it had gone too well, Diane would have been grabbing the glory.  We are so thankful for a Loving Father who knows us so well!

There was great excitement around the Village as Father's Day approached this year.  The boys were asking all kinds of questions about how we were going to celebrate.  Initially Randy was touched, thinking it was about celebrating him as the Village Dad.  It subsequently came to light that the boys were most concerned about getting their turn to be celebrated this year, as last year for Mother's Day there was a mother-daughter banquet and associated activities.  Although Father's Day has passed, Randy hopes to have a special day later this summer that will involve all the boys of the Village, games, a Bar-B-Que, movies and possibly even a sleep-over in the dining hall.  It will be a lot of work, but hopefully a special time for everyone.  Perhaps the ladies will help with the logistics ... that is, basically the work!

Just before school let out Rafiki hosted a field day during which we held a football tournament.  There were four schools involved ... our own, two private local schools, and a public school from Atokoshie.  It was a great day and the students of Rafiki enjoyed hosting other children in our Village.  The teams played well and without injury.  The Rafiki Pioneers won the tournament, but were gracious to share their medals and first place prizes (dictionaries) with the youngest team - who came in fourth place, but played their hearts out, and were great sports.  We were proud of our team members.  Perhaps they are learning something about grace.    

We are currently on break from our school term and have two more weeks before school starts back up.  Several of our senior high students have gone back to their extended families for the break. This is not a typical thing for them to do, but we try to have each resident student return to his "home" at least once before he graduates.  This allows some bonding with the family, and also gives the students an opportunity to realize how blessed they are to be in Rafiki, and have so many opportunities.  We trust the experience will motivate them to do their best in school, and give them a vision of what is possible through education by God's grace.

During the past week we have been participating in GAMES.  Our theme was "The Coral Reef."  The children watched nature films, participated in arts and crafts, read about ocean life, competed in sport activities and finished off the week with a viewing of Finding Nemo.  Diane was particularly pleased to be able to work with the children in small groups.  She was in charge of the library and remembered how much fun it is to develop themes, decorate, and coordinate activities for children ... and get to participate with them! 

Diane, along with Sandra our housekeeper, hosted a farewell dinner for all of the Rafiki teachers as they shared their last day with Madam Amy and Miss Amy.  This was the first time we had hosted a group of nationals in our home (other than the children).  The food was delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  At first it was a little awkward, and conversation was slow, but eventually the cultural guard was dropped, tongues were loosed, and memories and laughter were shared ... along with some tears. Gifts of appreciation as well were shared with the Amys.  The one which the teachers were most excited to share was a painting given to Miss Amy.  The teachers commented on how hard they had looked for just the right gift, and that this one was perfect ... symbolic, beautiful, and worthy of display anywhere.  You can imagine Amy's surprise when she opened the package to discover a painting of a large busted woman openly breast feeding a child.  We think we got the symbolism as Amy taught first and second grade students ... but are not sure it translates so well across cultural lines!

We had a team of mini-missionaries from Delaware who came for a couple of weeks to build a play scape for the children.  It was hard work!  The play scape had been designed by three of our graduates, and there were a multitude of suggestions for modifications along the way ... probably around a hundred or so, and that made the project even more difficult.  Also it is worth noting that there are no such things as Home Depots in Ghana.  The team had to go out each day and search for the materials they needed.  Often the metal and lumber had to be cut on the spot.  The team was assisted by our graduate boys, several of the younger children, some of the national staff, and a couple of extremely talented welders.  Despite delays, lack of materials, being over-budget, and working in the middle of the rainy season; God was faithful and the play scape was nearly completed by the last day of the team's stay.  We held a dedication service filled with thanksgiving, praise, worship with hymns and native songs, drumming, as well as national dances.  The children had their inaugural play time with no injury, and the equipment stood up to all the activity.  Even some of the mothers climbed over the tire wall.  Well done our brothers from Delaware!  

Three weeks ago we had our most recent Saturday Night Together.
This is basically a youth group time during which we play a game, sing, share a message, and then have small group discussions.  The message that evening was based on Ephesians 4:29 and Paul's instruction on what the speech of believers should be like.  Last evening we were talking with Emmanuel and asked if he remembered what we had covered three weeks ago.  To our delight he was able to summarize what had been shared.  He then told us about the day after our SNT and an experience he had with another junior high student.  The other student was sharing some words that were not kind.  Emma reminded him of our lesson the night before, and Kwame said, "Yeah, but that doesn't apply to me."  We don't know if that is because Kwame is not a believer or that he simply thinks he is an exception to the rules; but in either case, there is room for much work to be done in his heart. 

On a funnier note, before our worship time we played a game of human Foosball.  Randy  was sitting in a chair next to Atto who announced that the "air had been spoiled."  Randy was confused and asked him what he meant. He replied, "You know, someone has spoiled the air, and it really stinks!"  Now that is something that relates cross-culturally.

Another funny moment for Randy came earlier this week during a training session with Mr. David, our assistant headmaster.  Mr. David was coming to the Village during the break in order to take some classes in computer and typing.  We have a self-paced keyboard program that teaches typing.  Mr. David, after about an hour announced that he was ready to go onto another program. Randy asked him why, and he explained, "I have been working on this one for a long time now, it lets me use only my left hand, and I want to learn more."  Randy checked on Mr. David's most recent skill test and found that he was 96% accurate ... with an adjusted word per minute rate of six.  They then had a conversation about the program allowing the student to advance only when he is ready, and that a rate of six wpm did not qualify.  Randy appreciated Mr. David's enthusiasm but explained there was no substitute for practice.  

On a more serious note, we would appreciate your prayers in a couple of areas.  With the transfer of Janet to Liberia, Randy will assume the position of Healthcare Coordinator for the Village.  This will be in addition to his other responsibilities, and will require not only record keeping but also direct patient care for the children, ROS, national staff, teachers, and day students of Rafiki.  Do you all remember how excited Randy was to quit the practice of medicine?  Apparently God doesn't allow us to waste any of our abilities when on the field.  Please pray that Randy will experience joy in this part of the journey as well.

And lastly, there is a fuel shortage in Ghana at the present time. The sky-rocketing prices of all commodities and the lack of available fuel have precipitated protests in Accra and other cities.  We pray for national stability and that people would not lose patience and resort to any drastic measure directed at the government or one another. Also, because the availability of electricity is so inconsistent we are often dependent upon the use of our generator. As fuel prices rise and availability becomes even more restricted, we will have to make major adjustments.  Please pray that we will be wise with our resources and that people will be understanding and gracious as they deal with the necessary changes.  

Thanks for caring about us, and letting us know you have missed the blog.  Hopefully those sentiments have not changed after today!


  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Got Change for a Pesewa?"

Two weeks ago there came a frantic knock at our door.  One of our little boys stood on the porch foaming at the mouth, gasping for air, and appearing very anxious.  His speech was weak.  His eyes were huge.  He was choking on a pesewa (Ghanaian coin) that is the size of an nickle.  Nothing was found with a sweep of the fingers, nothing visualized with the flashlight, lungs were clear on inspiration.  The only thing Randy could assume was that the pesewa was somewhere in the esophagus.  Remembering that old approaches are sometimes the best, we gave him a small sip of water to make sure he could swallow, then calmed him as best we could, and then fixed him a piece of bread with strawberry jam. Though leery at first, he eventually ate the bread, was able to speak more forcefully and announced that the pesewa was now "stuck in my heart."  After explaining to his mother that he had swallowed the coin and that it would eventually pass, he was sent back to his cottage.  Two days later he proudly announced that he was once again the owner of a pesewa, and was feeling fine.  We think it took some time for them to believe that this was all that needed to be done.  Not all solutions are radical!  And most problems pass with time!  

We are decreasing the frequency of our blogs to every two weeks. Our responsibilities are increasing and our discretionary time seems to be disappearing, so we're paring back.  We have not had skype access for the past couple of months, and therefore have been out of touch with many of you, so we will do our best to keep everyone updated in the bi-monthly blog.

Cute kid statements from the past two weeks:

"Can we watch the television tonight?  Ghana is playing Neverland (Netherlands) in football."  As you can tell, Peter Pan is one of our favorites, but not so much that we would ever want them to beat Ghana!

"I don't know about that tooth fairy.  When my teeth come out I leave them under my pillow and I've never gotten a schilling!"  She had been reading some English children's literature.  We love the naivety of our children.  Their world is what they read in books.  It is so endearing.

"Can we study piety during our next Bible study? 'Why?' Because she is a character in Pilgrim's Progress and I want to know a little more about her."  

And this one from one of our teachers - we have a little girl whose name is Ringabell and when writing her name on the board, he wrote Ringerbell.  We are still laughing as we write.

On Friday we had an ophthalmologist and optometrist come to the village to see some of the children who had eye complaints.  It was a very strange experience as we had diligently worked out a manageable schedule ... but then every unique reason to be seen was given as people became aware of the clinic.   We had those who were scheduled, the teachers, the gardeners, the staff, some day- students, and even a man with leg pain work their way into the line. The closest thing to this phenomenon that we have ever seen was a "feeding-frenzy" at the fishery at Meramec Springs.  It was a very difficult day, and we were unable to complete examining all of the patients.  When Randy asked if the doctors could come back another day to finish the remaining six people, they remarked, "Yes, as long as the six don't turn into twenty."  I think this often happens when people volunteer their services in areas of such great need.  Life is hard for most of the nationals in Africa.

Right at the beginning of the clinic Randy was called away because one of the day students in junior high was having an acute asthma attack.  The kids were all asking if he were going to die ... which didn't help his anxiety level.  The motor of our nebulizer machine had burned up about a month ago.  The student did not have his inhaler with him.  Randy gave him some oral salbutamol, ran all over the village to find the one remaining inhaler on hand, and prayed ... the asthma attack cleared ... and without standard treatment.  We are beginning to see that flash prayers really do work here in Africa.

We have had the chance to have several game nights with fellow missionaries and also some of the older students.  There have been sounds of Passing the Pigs, LRC, Taboo, Catch Phrase, Sevens, Farkle, Bananagrams and Quiddler heard emanating from our house on some Friday nights.  Our favorite has been playing Catch Phrase with the graduates ... it is especially funny since so many of the phrases are unfamiliar to them.  We all have to get pretty creative in both guessing and giving clues. We have a mini missionary here who we simply love.  Her name is Sue and she provided one of the funniest clues in Catch Phrase when she simply yelled out "Help" Help" expecting us to guess peacock!  So for all of our readers, does a peacock yell help?  It is so good to laugh, and to laugh hard is even better.

During the week, the evenings are filled with supervising study hall, or leading a junior high boy's small group (somewhat like herding cats), or facilitating a senior high boy's Bible study; and we have now added SNT (Saturday Night Together) as a more informal worship and teaching time for the upper grade students and graduates.  As Calvin (not as in John Calvin, but Calvin and Hobbes) would say, "The days are just packed."

A couple of Sundays ago we had the opportunity to attend Legon Interdenominational Church, which is quite near the university.  It was a wonderful experience as the body is made up of all age groups, many diverse backgrounds, and many people from the university.  The Sunday School class was exceptional ... great discussion, some disagreement, but with arguments always backed up with Scripture.  It was the best SS class we have been in for years.  The members were very gracious and welcoming.  One of the great things that came out of our attending there was the establishment of contacts that open doors of great potential for the Rafiki children.  For example, one of the church members is a dentist at the Ghana School of Dentistry and has arranged for their mobile dental unit to come to our Village.  We definitely would like to go back to the church ... but it is about forty-five minutes away.   
We have a team of min-missionaries who have been here for the past week building a play scape for the children.  Everyone is very excited.  The work is going well, but has been somewhat delayed because we are in the middle of rainy season.  Two days ago it rained so hard for so long that a 55 gallon barrel that sits on our back stoop was nearly filled to the brim with rainwater. 

Randy has just returned from transporting the kids to church in Kotoku.  In general, this is a really enjoyable experience to pack the kids in the van, roll down windows, pray and then sing our way to town.  Today Ma Faustina started the singing of Amazing Love, and just a couple of minutes into the song, she was less than pleased with the lack of enthusiastic participation.  She turned around to the children, and from the front seat shouted, "Now sing, or I will beat you."  They immediately began to sing, "Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my Lord has died for me?"  Any incongruities here? You have an idea of what we are working with in terms of our cottage mothers.  Please continue to pray that the Lord will bring us loving, caring, and godly women to raise the children.  That is Diane's heart cry. 

Amidst our full days, when we are sometimes overwhelmed, and often feel as though no difference is being made, God will send us a sweet kiss of grace.  Friday afternoon, after Randy had dismissed his adult students, he stopped for a few minutes to watch the JHS and SHS guys playing football.  One of our more challenging fifth graders ran up to him, threw both arms around Randy, pressed his face into Randy's chest and said, "I never get to see you anymore.  I have missed you so much!"  Last night at our showing of a movie, another of the fifth graders came to sit by Randy.  During the course of the movie, Ray took Randy's arm from off the back of his chair, and wrapped it around his chest, and cuddled up next to Randy, where he contentedly rested for the remainder of the movie. Such moments are indeed priceless. Mean, ole Madam Diane sat by herself.

Finally, for those of you who like to talk theology with Randy, we are studying Galatians.  We would welcome your thoughts as to what role the law still plays, if any, in the life of one who has been saved by grace.  And what is the "law" to which Paul is referring?

Thanks for checking in on us.  "Penny for your thoughts" ... but you keep the change. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Leapin' Lizards

Just the other day Randy was sitting on the stool, minding his own business.  When all the transactions had been completed he reached for the toilet paper dispenser to pull off a couple of squares. As the roll spun, out leaped a surprised lizard landing smack in Randy's lap.  A startled Randy jumped up and the lizard went flying across the room.  Leapin' lizard has an entirely new connotation around our house.  It might have made a funny home video, but some things are better simply imagined - or not. :)

Now that the lizards are becoming more accustomed to having us in the neighborhood, they are becoming a little more aggressive in staking out their claim.  The other night Randy opened the front door to greet his small group students, and found them all huddled about six feet away.  There in the middle of the screen was a foot long lizard spread eagle and making a strange hissing noise. Becoming less intimidated with each passing day, Randy just gave the lizard a swack and sent him flying into the flower bed.  He is working his way up to snakes ...

This morning the gardener and a few of the senior boys tracked down two pythons and brought them to Madam Diane, asking if she would like to raise them.  Diane responded, "You raise them, and I'll come over to see them sometime."  We are not yet that crazy!

A quick weather update for those who are interested.  This rainy season has brought less than the normal occasions of rain ...  and has been mostly very hot and very humid; kind of like those two very bad weeks in the summers of Missouri ... except Ghana's rainy season lasts about three months ... before becoming even hotter. Not much to look forward to in terms of weather.  We have just about completed an entire year here, so now we know what NOT to expect. :)

Randy's medical responsibilities have been tolerable.  He has clinic each morning from 7am to 10 am, and sees the children, staff, teachers, and day students.  It has been a bit challenging as it is like working in another man's tool shed or another cook's kitchen.  It takes a while to find everything he needs.  Another challenge is that so many of the medications have different names here in Ghana. And there are cases, such as malaria, where he has had little experience.  Yesterday they held an ophthalmology clinic, and were able to evaluate nearly thirty patients - all but two, requiring medications and refractions to deal with their sight needs.  We were blessed to have Dr. Akafo, head of the ophthalmology department at the University Teaching Hospital donate his time and expertise. He also shared with our older students all that was involved in his pursuit of his career.  One could easily appreciate the fingerprints of God all over his life. 

This clinic also provides one of our funnier moments this week. Awumbe is five years old and is mentally challenged.  As he was being tested for his visual acuity, he had to look at the side of the chart that had shapes instead of letters. Before the test, Diane ran through the shapes to see which ones Awumbe knew.  When it came to the crescent moon shape, Awumbe yells out "banana!"  Worked for us and Awumbe! :)   

Last week Randy had to accompany a young resident to the Korle Bu teaching hospital for an outpatient surgical procedure.  They left at 6am in order to be at the clinic exactly at 8am when it opened. They were finally called back for the procedure at 4:30pm, and returned home at 8:30pm.  That was a long day.  Randy has been tempted to deck out the Rafiki Clinic so he can do some of the procedures here.  Talk about a time saving maneuver!

Last weekend we took our first overnight trip outside Rafiki since arriving in Ghana.  Two other missionaries, a mini-missionary, our driver and ourselves went to the Cape Coast of Ghana.  We visited a tropical rain forest preserve where we walked a rope bridge suspended in the canopy of trees.  We were not fortunate enough to see any wildlife except the group of students who followed us on the hike.  It is "one of the things to do" for anyone visiting the country.  We are glad we did it, but were not really very impressed.

We were impressed by the accommodations at Anamabo Resort.  It was clean, comfortable, and hospitable.  We stayed in a "hut" right down at the edge of the beach.  The weather was pleasant and we enjoyed walking the ocean's edge in the evening and early morning. There were even some shells to be gathered.  The beach associated with the resort was well kept, but we saw much debris and trash along the coast line otherwise. There is much opportunity to be environmentally responsible as Ghana develops its tourist industry.

On Sunday we visited the slave castle at Elmina.  This was used by the Dutch and Portuguese during the height of the West Africa slave trade.  It was as one would imagine ... horrendous ... the crowding, the lack of provisions, the cruelty of one man to another, the abuse of women, the chains, the disease, and the lack of any ethical concerns even as the slave traders worshipped in the church in the middle of the castle while in lower levels people who were regarded as less than human were packed like animals in the most deplorable of conditions.  One wonders if and when humanity will ever learn from its own history of depravity and persecution.  As Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun."  Indeed our past seems to confirm that.  (In view of what happened in JOS Nigeria last week, our present and future seem to be no brighter.)

Perhaps there is hope of change, but maybe not.  On our return trip from the coast we were stopped at a police roadblock.  The officer in charged accused us of breaking the law as we had three people sitting in the front seat of the Tata.  James, our driver, attempted to explain that the vehicle was made to accommodate three people in the front seat as there were three seat belts.  Which of course sounded quite reasonable to all of the passengers.  The officer would not entertain that explanation and told us we would have to pay a fine (aka bribe).  Madam Amy, our headmaster, who has a keen sense of justice and little tolerance for corruption got out of the Tata and marched into the official shed demanding to see the officer who was really in charge,  After some time he accompanied her to our vehicle where we demonstrated the three seat belts indicating provision for three passengers in the front seat.  With an air of arrogance he brushed off our defense, and simply dismissed us without any acknowledgment of the policeman's inappropriate behavior.  Hurray for Amy, but we are not sure we would engage in this attempt to set the world right.  But as the Ghanaians say, it is "small by small" that the world changes and hopefully gets better.

We are convinced it will not really get any better until the trumpets sound and the LORD descends; but until then, we want to keep the work boots on, just in case ...        

   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hallelujah, What a Saviour ..

Thank you to everyone who sent e-mails to check on us during the past two weeks.  We have been without internet access, and many of you probably wonder what is going on.  We are safe and sound, and comforted to know we are remembered by you.

Time seems to be flying by now, which is probably a reflection of us becoming accustomed to Ghana and settling into our relationships with the resident children and the staff.  We have also continued to be quite busy with our responsibilities.

Janet, our Village nurse is leaving on a six week furlough later this week, and Randy will become the medical director in her absence. This is not in place of his usual responsibilities, but in addition to, which is the way we do it at Rafiki in order to cover for one another.  In the midst of that time, Randy also has to fly back to Florida for a one day meeting of all the RICE Deans.  During his five day trip Diane will be the medical director by virtue of being married to a physician.  It reminds us that indeed God calls people with willing hearts, and then we learn to be completely dependent upon Him, as few of us are actually qualified to do what we are asked. It does bring glory to His name as He faithfully provides.

Today Diane is running around with a last minute "to do" list as she is giving a Mothers' Day tea for all of the cottage mothers.  As you can imagine this has been much fun for her, as it brings back memories of how we used to entertain, and presents her an opportunity to plan, decorate, coordinate, and function in her gift of hospitality.  It will also be a great opportunity to bless the mamas and hopefully convince them that they are appreciated.

Randy has had a great two weeks, mostly because he has been functioning in his giftedness.  Two Fridays ago he was able to talk with Charles, a junior high student, who had questions about what it means to be a follower of Christ and what is involved in receiving salvation.  After a thorough discussion of grace, Charles made a profession of faith.  They have been meeting weekly as Randy is discipling him in the foundational beliefs of our faith.  Praise the Lord for all of the friends and teachers who have been used of God as the Holy Spirit has brought about this life-changing experience for Charles.  Please pray that he will be well grounded and bear much fruit in the Kingdom.

The small group time shared by Randy and the junior high boys has been rich.  Although they are so ornery, they have captured our hearts.  Randy was teaching about the attributes of God and what it means to have been made in the image of God.  To his surprise, about 80% of the guys had memorized the list of the 31 attributes of God from Rosemary Jensen's book.  This opened a great discussion about the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and the reality that what we know must affect how we live.  These guys are sharp, but many still demonstrate a long distance between mind and heart!

Last Saturday we had a wonderful evening with the students who graduated in January.  They still live here at Rafiki and are in a transition year as they complete examinations and apply to universities.  We shared an evening of Tex Mex food, good stories and sweet fellowship.  (Randy is particularly close to these young people as he had the opportunity to teach them the last two terms of their senior year.)  It was delightful to hear them recount their memories of their time at Rafiki.  Like true brothers and sisters they enjoyed telling on one another, even as they remembered great adventures.  They have come to  love each other deeply and have shared the bond of friendship and family for nearly ten years.  Their joyful memories are a testimony to the gracious work God has done in the lives of so many children here at Rafiki.  There will definitely be buckets of tears shed when they have to leave one another next year.  

Last evening we had our first official SNT (Saturday Night Together) for the junior high students, senior high students, and graduates.  This is modeled after Young Life meetings or the weekly meetings we used to share at the Baptist Student Union in Rolla.  The first half hour was a game of indoor seated soccer using a beach ball.  Fortunately there were no injuries and everyone seemed to have fun.  The students have been invited to be part of a worship time and we are trusting they will take the lead in putting together special music and other expressions of worship, as they take on ownership of the event.  Randy spoke last evening on the gospel and the ramifications of a person's responding to the grace of God.  We are trying to lay a firm foundation as we address the various ways God uses to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  It was a good beginning, and Randy enjoyed being in this type of teaching role again.

Yesterday afternoon was our first official basketball game since we have arrived 11 months ago.  Although it was played by Randy and the junior and senior boys, there has been talk that the girls expect the same opportunity.  We played in the very hot sun of Ghana at 3:00 in the afternoon, on a full concrete court, without breeze or any shade.  It reminded Randy of his Sunday afternoons in San Antonio playing with his high school Sunday School class.  It was great!  Randy noted he wasn't in quite the same shape as he was 30 years ago, but still was able to keep up.  He appreciated the truth that it is not really how hard one plays, but how smartly.  It also became apparent that Randy had the upper hand as only one of the boys was as tall as he. (Randy has a much greater appreciation of the times Les Hash and Joe Rhodes joined the games in San Antonio!  Good men indeed!)  

Diane has had a couple of rough weeks as she contracted the crud that all of the children seem to get this time of year.  It was the bad throat for three days, then the head congestion, and finally the cough that comes up from the toes.  It is true that she had no special perks as the wife of a physician, because we had no medications that she tolerated, and the ordeal lasted 10 days just as it had for everyone else.  We are grateful she is much better now, and will be able to enjoy herself at the Mothers' Tea.

We are heading into a very busy season.  There are five weeks of school left, and mid-terms are this week.  We have four mini-missionaries here with us now, and another 7 coming at the end of June.  One ROS is leaving Thursday for a six week furlough, one is completing her term in June and moving back to Massachusetts, another is leaving in July to do graduate school at Boston University.  Our Village administrator will be gone for a couple of weeks the latter part of June, and Randy will be away for a week the third week of June.  So ... be praying for Diane as it appears she will be the one who by God's grace holds it all together until some of us get back in June and July.  My what strength in the Lord Diane is discovering.  Yet as we say here in Ghana, "It is not easy!"

As the rainy season is upon us, it has become quite hot and humid. This has caused flares in children's asthma.  Mathias was admitted last week with pneumonia and reactive airway disease.  We were given a discharge script for a pulmocort inhaler ... which necessitated an entire day spent in Accra looking for the prescription.  Despite visiting three hospitals and five private pharmacies, we were unable to secure the medications.  If anyone is debating the pros and cons of socialized medicine, you are welcome to visit Ghana.  Have you ever been told you need to renew your health card, but it can't be done at present because the government wants to change over to a bio-identity card, but they don't have time to issue the orphans' cards right now.  When someone gets sick and requires care, we are asked to present their health card for admission as all of them are covered under the government health care system.  We have no health cards to present.  The children are fortunately still able to be admitted, but everything needs to be paid for out of pocket as we go along ... with the promise that the government will reimburse the expense incurred. It is impossible to wrestle the bone out of the starving dog's mouth. Enjoy private health care while you have it.

We are excited to announce that our Christian classical education curriculum from preprimary to 6th grade has now officially been accredited by the Ghanaian government which means that it can be taught in any public government school despite its obvious Christian foundation.  We will also soon be breaking ground on the Advanced Learning Institute.  It is our hope that the construction will be completed this fall, and we hope to have full accreditation as a Teacher College about the same time.  This is very exciting news, and is the result of much hard work and gracious giving by those who share the vision of Rosemary Jensen, the Founder of Rafiki, as we "see God's Word at work in Africa."  

It is never easy being a pioneer, but God has placed us here in Ghana, affording an opportunity to watch Him reveal His glory and make His name great.  Thanks for all of your prayers, and words of encouragement as we near the end of our first year's term.  May He do abundantly more than we could possibly imagine, as we continue to be faithful to the work He has given us for the next one and a half years.

               

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Man, I wish I liked liquor ... "

Greetings from Ghana.  It has been a short and relatively unremarkable week.  We both feel harried however.  It is hard to put a finger on what happened this past week, but it was certainly exhausting.  Randy slept-in 'til 8:30 this morning, and Diane had a long night's sleep Friday.

We have been busy with the regular schedule and routines.  The only thing new has been the necessity to do inventory of all of our school curriculum and Rafiki Bible Study materials.  This would not seem too daunting, except that the materials are indiscriminately spread out between one storage room and two shipping containers. There are partially opened boxes (meaning some sections of material have been removed) and closed boxes which are labeled with contents (but unfortunately in a shorthand with which no one here is familiar).  It has been a tedious and physically draining task as all the boxes weigh about fifty pounds each ... and we are talking several hundred boxes.  Randy loves organization, but has stepped into a real challenge in this one.  His deadline is Wednesday, so he will probably be spending the next few days in the containers; an exceptionally hot place in this weather.

Mr. Randy had lots of help with this task of inventory, some recruited, and some volunteer - with the hidden hope of ice cream in their future.  With most of our kids, there is an ulterior motive lurking behind any volunteering to help.  Ray, one of our favorites, and one of the requested workers, stated very clearly, "If we keep the number of workers down, we can all fit it your house for a party!" Randy also discovered that there are kids (junior high boys, mostly) who think they are there simply to manage others.  He was thankful for Ququah, a 10 year old girl who out worked and out muscled any boy in the village.

Diane has been struggling with coverage for the cottages as she is working around resignations, vacations and "off" time.  Currently we have two cottages which are being supervised by a couple of senior high school students.  They have been great, but the task is demanding ... especially with their load of school work.  We continue to trust the Lord's timing in the provision of new mothers. You can continuing praying in that regard, if you would.

Because of several students having difficulty with grades, we have implemented a mandatory study hall for all students in fourth through ninth grades.  This is held in the evenings from 6:45 - 8:00, Monday through Thursday.  The students don't like that it is mandatory, but it clearly will be helpful.  Unfortunately, it requires that ROS alternate coverage, so it takes away another week night of "down" time.  We are trusting the Lord will honor our efforts, and the students will use the time productively.  Just being with the students in the evenings has opened our eyes to many areas of learning difficulties.  Please continue to pray for our students.

Beginning this week Randy is starting another small group time consisting of the junior high school boys.  Unfortunately some of them are reaching that "attitude" phase of adolescence and have developed sharp tongues and a certain disdain for authority.  This meeting exempts them from the study hall on Thursday evenings, so there is no question that most of them will attend the small group. Please pray that Randy will know where to start with them, and that God will soften their hearts.

Yesterday Diane was able to spend the day with three other ladies from Rafiki. They went out shopping for artwork and material for curtains and bedspreads, as we are attempting to spruce up the cottages.  (Rafiki believes strongly that beauty is a reflection of God's character, and should be an integral part of our training of the children.)  They went to Mokola market, and then had a refreshing lunch at Frankie's where Diane had a "big fat juicy" hamburger ... the description was probably more a wish than a reality, but she liked it.  It was a welcome change from rice, beans, and plantains.

Another bright note, for the first time in our lives we have been able to simply walk outside and pick a fresh orange off the tree.  It is the season here, and although the oranges look green, they taste great. We also have a big salmon mango tree in our front yard.  The fruit is tempting, but not yet ripe.  We hope that will be sometime soon!
There are several mango trees in the Village ... and they remind us daily of the initial fall in the Garden of Eden.  Any fruit from those trees must be taken to the dining hall for distribution during the meals.  Of course every one of the children is tempted to pick off, or pick up, mangoes as they walk by the trees.  Occasionally someone gets away with it and enjoys a not so ripe mango and a belly ache, but most get caught and end up missing the next meal. It is funny, but at the same time exhausting for the staff. We affectionately call it the Mango Wars and our side is losing.

Last week was not only exhausting, but exasperating.  Wednesday evening after a long and hard day Diane plopped down at the dinner table and announced, "Man, I wish I liked liquor ... I could use a drink about now."  Fortunately we don't always get what we wish for, but God does give us what we need until our task on earth is done.  A long hard sleep is a pretty refreshing thing.  May you receive all that you need during the week ahead, and might there be at least one good night's sleep for you ... a sure "kiss of grace."        

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sounds of Silence

It is Easter Monday and the Village is very quiet.  All of the children have gone with their respective churches to celebrate the Risen Savior with a day long fellowship picnic.  They left around eight this morning and will back just in time for supper.  The cottage mothers have taken the children, so it gives the ROS a welcomed day off duty without specific responsibilities.  It has been a most pleasant morning of listening to worship songs, reading the scripture, and catching up on some of the "thousand" little things that we are always putting off.  These quiet days are few and far between ... and wonderful.

We trust each of you had a blessed Easter yesterday and were able to celebrate with family or friends.  Last evening we attempted to skype with Diane's brother and family.  It was during a rain storm here in Ghana, and the sounds of the rain hitting the metal roof drowned out the words, preventing both ends from hearing one another, so we had to just give up on the attempt.  It is amusing how we are reminded what little control we have, even with all of the sophisticated technology man has developed.

Yesterday morning we attended The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Akotoshie.  Randy had the pleasure of sharing the Easter morning message.  The theme was The Power of Resurrection, and the text was Romans 8:1-11.  It was a blessed morning, and the congregation was so gracious and hospitable.  We particularly enjoyed observing the praise and worship time during the service. Ghanaians are very musical, rhythmic, and colorful in dress ... they love to sing and dance before the Lord.  The pastor reminded us that the first time we were with them we were strangers, but this being our third visit, we were "no longer strangers" ... we became a little concerned ... but were then relieved to know he didn't expect us to get up and dance!

The past week in general has been somewhat subdued.  The children started back to school, so they were a little melancholic. We had some activities planned for the four day Easter weekend, but the children were so ill-behaved Friday at lunch, that Susy, the Village Administrator "banished them" to the "silence" of their cottages except for church services for the remainder of the weekend.  The only activity that was allowed was the movie Saturday evening for the Junior High School and Senior High School students.

We had long planned to show to the older children The Passion during Easter season.  For those of you who have seen the movie, you know that it is not for entertainment purposes, but rather for reflective purposes that the movie was made.  It was our desire to use it as a springboard from which to have serious discussions about personal salvation and the implications of Christ's atoning work. As one would expect, there was barely a peep from the audience as it left at the close of the movie.  We followed up with a required Q&A session last evening.  There were many excellent questions about the movie and how it compared and contrasted with what is recorded in the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion.  In general the kids did a good job reflecting, and there may still be unfinished business with some of them.  You can join us in praying as we ask the Lord to complete the good work He has started in many of them.  May they find quiet moments among their busy schedules to "think on these things."

This being our first Easter in Ghana, we wondered how the believers here celebrated.  They do it well!  Everything closes down for Good Friday, and most everyone attends service in the morning. Saturday is treated as a holiday.  Sunday is a filled with celebration services in the church, family dinners, and much singing and dancing.  Monday is also a holiday, and most churches will have day long picnics, either as their own fellowship, or in combination with other churches in their denomination from the surrounding region.  It makes us think of the more simple and primitive days of America's westward expansion, and how the people in small towns and the country made such effort to celebrate community at such times.  (We confess that we are probably romanticizing those days, but it makes our hearts happy.)

We'll end with a couple of cute stories from the kids.  Last week Emma, who is nine years old and only about three feet tall, stopped and asked Mr. Randy if he could play with one of the balls.  After receiving permission, he continued to stand there with a blank look on his face.  Randy told him they were in the barrel on our back steps, and he could choose whichever he wanted.  Emma continued to stand there with an expectant stare.  Finally, Randy asked him what he was waiting for, and Emma replied, "for you to go and get it for me."  Randy said, "Well you can just get it yourself."  Emma explained in all seriousness, "No I can't.  I am afraid that if I reach into the barrel I'll fall in head first, and won't be able to get out ... and no one will be able to hear me scream."  It had never crossed Randy's mind that the bottom of the barrel was so very far from the top ... especially in the eyes of a little one.

A couple of days ago, Atta Kwasi turned six years old.  Diane went over to his cottage to wish him Happy Birthday.  Mr. Francis, our cadet leader, was there at the time. He suggested that Atta Kwasi show Madam Diane what he could do.  He dropped to the ground and proceeded to pump out fifty pushups.  Diane was impressed, especially considering that at that rate he should be able to do 500 - 600 by the time he is our age!

The other night some of the children performed their original version of The Prodigal Son as a parting gift to a couple of mini-missionaries who were leaving.  Little Kwame, about the cutest four year old that we have ever met, climbed up beside Mr. Randy and cuddle in close.  After a few minutes Kwame asked, "Mr. Randy, where is your hat?"  Randy explained that he had left it in the house.  "Next time you need to bring it with you, so your head can be protected from the sun at all times."  Obviously the children have listened to Randy's explanation of why he wears a hat outdoors.  It reminds us that there are always little ears listening, even when we least expect it ... and that is both our challenge and our hope!

Have a great week. In your daily busyness, might you experience some sounds of silence and find yourself refreshed.