Friday, January 11, 2013

Can You Imagine?

Sixteen hours of driving, one flat tire, some rutted roads and some paved roads brought us to Bolgatanga.  The last eight hours of our drive provided a landscape dotted with mud huts and what most people think of when they picture African life.  The land of Ghana became more desolate and simple the farther north we traveled.  After a very long drive, we arrived in Bolgatanga.  This town is located on the northern most border of Ghana and hosts one of the orphanages Feeding the Orphans supports. 

Our family has been blessed to spend the past few days with the children here.  And it has been wonderful.  The simplicity of life forces me to stop and reflect on the moments before me.  Walking out of the orphanage, I am greeted by pigs, donkeys, goats, and true African beauty.  Without internet access, I can't withdraw to the computer at night, and I think I've seen more of God because of it.  God has revealed Himself in the faces of the children, the majesty of the incredible stars overhead in the dark of night, the gratitude for simple gifts, the continual laughter, our boys blending in with the orphans as friendships develop, and the rising music of the praise songs of kids.  

As we walked to church on Sunday, each person in our family was holding the small hands of different children.  Braden carried a 2 Year old on his shoulders for part of the walk.  Weston held hands with Sweetie and Noah.  Reid had about four children walking with him.  It was one of those moments I wanted to capture in my mind forever.  Beautiful.  

We stepped along a dirt path for 20+ minutes in order to attend church.  The path was dotted with rocks and animal poop surrounded by mud huts and concrete structures intermingled.  People greeted us along the way in Frafra, the language here.  Our family, Paul, and Auntie Juliana toted 17 children to church walking in small packs down a long dirt trail.  

We arrived at church.  It was a large structure with open air concrete blocks providing a breeze during the service.  No air conditioning.  About 400 people huddled together on small shaky wooden benches for the duration of the two hour service.  Men, women, and children alike.  Women sat with babies strapped to their backs, but then nursed them openly if they were hungry.  The children sat attentively and quietly for the entire service.  They did not have coloring books or cars to entertain them.  Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best.  The colorful congregation looked magnificent in their traditional African fabric sewn into handmade dresses and shirts.  

The pastor encouraged everyone to rise and shine for Jesus.  He told them their lives should be a reflection of him.  He shared even is they had nothing to give, they could give their lives serving Him.  As he taught this, I wondered how many sitting in the seats really had nothing to give for the offering.  As the service drew to a close, I was given more understanding.  The church announces the previous week's offering at the end of the service.  Last week was Christmas Sunday, one of the largest offerings of the year happens on this day and the grand total of the church offering was just over $200 US or 400 cedis.  Each person in attendance had on average $.50 to place in the offering.  Fifty cents per person.  

On the walk home from church, so many thoughts came to me.  I looked down at the little hands in mine, and I was thankful Auntie Juliana brings them to church each Sunday.  She alone usually walks with the 17 children every week.  I thought about the fact that there were no cars in front of the church.  Every single person in attendance either walked or rode on a motorbike.  I realized how easy my travel to church has always been, and I've taken it for granted.  I've never really thought about how many travel to worship on Sundays throughout the world. 

I thought about the numerous mosques we passed on our drive to Bolgatanga.  The northern region here is covered with them, and, in comparison, there are very few churches competing for converts.  The Kingdom work to be done here is great.  Each mosque demands attention because, in many areas, the mosque is the nicest building.  Most are fairly large in size, freshly painted with a bright color, and appealing in architectural design.  Especially in comparison to mud huts and crude structures in the surrounding communities.  The Leaders of the Islamic faith are pouring their resources into Ghana providing mosques to draw people.

I thought about the nice, large, comfortable churches so prevalent in America and the stark contrast to the structures here where people gather to worship.  Honestly, it made my stomach hurt.  Is the Christian church willing to pour the same resources to build churches in countries where they are needed?  Is the Christian church willing to battle for souls on the mission field throughout the world?    

Auditorium seating, engineered multi-media equipment, theatrical lighting, multiple musical instruments with a special sound barrier created for the drums, and weekly bulletins are printed for every attendee every Sunday in most American Christian churches.  Most churches provide snacks for the children while hungry children here go for days without food.  Literally.  DAYS.  Yet, vast church resources are spent on keeping up the American church-goers comfortable - the newest and most updated buildings with the newest and most updated technology - snacks included.

I can't help but feel there is something dreadfully wrong with this picture.  There are many, MANY, who are going to spend an eternity in hell because they have never heard of Jesus.  While churches continue to focus on making their own facilities more "updated" and "comfortable," there are people here who would be thankful for a roof to gather under.

We recently witnessed a congregation move from worshipping under trees to worshipping   under an open-sided, but roofed, structure.  They were ecstatic.  The church couldn't afford contractors, so, for weeks, the congregation worked together to BUILD THIS CHURCH.  Men, women and children together.  Children carried water on their heads walking back and forth to the well  for hours so the concrete could be mixed.   It was a sight to behold.  Believers working side by side to build a church.

We are grateful to Community Bible Church for providing the funding for the roof.  It was a gift beyond measure to the people here.  The celebration service lasted for six hours and was filled with dancing, singing, and praising!  I'm not sure I've ever seen so much JOY in one place at one time!  Thank you CBC for roofing a place to worship and fellowship together!  This church structure is one of the only churches in this community that is 95% idol worshippers!  It is wonderful to see them have a place to gather.

I shared some of my thoughts with a missionary friend here yesterday.  She said, "It's easy to get angry at the American church when you live here.  You must guard your heart.  God is moving in America too."

And HE is.  So, I am guarding my heart.  The American church is alive.  I know it, but it's hard for me to see sometimes.  I live in a world of tattered clothing, scarce water, hungry children, and people using all of their meager resources to survive.  I live in a world where people still use their feet for transportation and children must do strenuous daily chores for the family to make it to the next day.  I live in a world where people do not have "kitchens" or "bathrooms."  This is a place where a family's house is referred to as the "room" for the family and all cooking, bathing, and releasing of bodily waste is done outside.  I live in a world where schools do not have books for the children, where churches do not use projectors, and plastic flip-flops are worn until holes are found under the heel.  I live in a world where orphaned children beam with bright-eyed faces at the simple pleasure of hearing someone say their name.  Say.  Their.  Name.

(This picture is of actual flip-flops worn by the children in the orphanage at Bolgatanga.  We are grateful for the new flip flops that were sent.  Thank you Griffins!  Funds we received to bless children here purchased the rest.  Please know all of the children now have new "slippers" to wear.)

My prayer continually over the past month is for God to help me make sense of this.  Two worlds.  Sorely different.  Yet, I continually wrestle through my understanding of scripture that says we are to help the poor, care for the orphan, give of our resources, and give of ourselves.  I believe One world should be helping the Other world - or, more understandably, the First World is called to be helping the Third World.  God's church is called to RISE UP.  Resources are greatly needed - finances, teaching, jobs, people, etc...

Please know I've been wrestling through so many things over the past month.  That's one reason you have not heard from me.

Christmas here was just another day.  Most people never receive gifts.  We gave gifts to a 28 year old single mother and she wept because she has not received a gift in such a long time.  Can you imagine?  We took this same woman to eat in a restaurant and she tells us it is the first time she has ever done so.  She saw the ocean for the first time in her life with us a few weeks ago yet she has lived her entire life less than 50 miles away from the coast.  She is 28 years old - first time eating at a restaurant, first time touching the ocean with her toes.  Can you imagine?  Children here are thrilled with a balloon.  They blow them up and UNTIE them so they can use them again.  Can you imagine?  Twelve and thirteen year old boys ask for one gift and their request is a matchbox car.  Can you imagine?  Villagers walk for miles to carry contaminated water which is used for drinking, bathing, washing, cooking.  Children battle worms and parasites because the water situation is so horrible in this village.  This is the only option for water.  Can you imagine?   While in Bolgatanga, there was a shortage on gasoline.  We drove to ten stations searching for gas as our tank sat below empty.  We were miles from the orphanage and were in a desperate situation for gas for our vehicle.  We ended up buying it out of a drum on the street and watched it being poured into our tank through a welded can made into a make-shift funnel.  Because no stations had it to sell, we were forced to pay the "street price" for the liquid gold to help our car make it back to the home.  We paid 12 cedis for one gallon of gas = 60 cedis for 5 gallons to make it home.  We sat at the mercy of untrustworthy men, but were forced to support their skyrocket price for a small amount of gasoline.  Supply and demand.  No gas available anywhere within 30 miles.  Can you imagine?

Can you imagine?  Really imagine?

We actually don't have to imagine because this is our life in Ghana.  This is what we experience.

It's a continual wrestling.  Two Worlds.  How can it be reconciled?

As I shared these thoughts with another friend of mine here, she said,
"Perhaps it isn't something to reconcile.  Perhaps is is something to change."

"Do you become a king because you re competing in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
And do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy;
Then it was well.
Is not that what it means to know Me?"
Declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 22:15-16


1 comment:

Kim Menard said...

Oh that we might wrestle to imagine, chose to be still IN HIM, listen to His call, and OBEY! Thank you for sharing your heart with us! I attempt to wrestle and imagine how you are living and ask the Lord to lead me where I can make a change for His Kingdom. Hugs, love and prayers!