Barry's Ghana Diary
Thursday 22 May
I am writing the final instalment of my visit to Ghana sitting in my study back in Cowplain, but wanted to share with you some of the events of my final week in Ghana.
On Tuesday (May 13), the IDWAL group from Havant deanery led by Carol Bailey (IDWAL secretary), arrived at the seminary as their visit started to draw to an end. The first thing that struck me as their minibus parked was that it was the best vehicle I had seen in Ghana! Four good tyres and no cracks in the windscreen which is the hallmark of so many cars in Ghana.
It was good to welcome the group and be able to show them around the seminary. We then had time for the group to meet the students and present a box full of new books for the library. This was greeted with warm applause. The students then began to sing, and dance a thanksgiving to God and many of us joined the dance around the chapel!
On Friday evening I had a farewell service at the seminary chapel and was presented with a wonderful wood carving and tie-dye shirt with ‘St Nicholas Seminary’ emblazoned on it, a desk tidy and gifts for the family. On Saturday morning I said my final ‘goodbyes’ to the students as I travelled with Bishop Daniel to Winneba for his ‘maiden’ visit. Winneba is about one and a half hours drive from Cape Coast in the Accra direction.
As we arrived at Winneba junction, there was a welcome committee of two large pick-up trucks waiting to escort us to our guest house. After leaving our luggage there we were driven in one of the trucks (draped in traditional kente cloth) into town for a welcome procession. As we began there was a crowd of about 200 men, women and children waving, singing, dancing and playing trumpets and drums. As the procession proceeded through the main streets of the town hundreds more people joined in swelling the numbers and raising the volume. The bishop rode in the back of the truck standing under a large parasol borrowed from one of the local chiefs so that people could see him properly.
After an hour or so, we arrived at St John the Divine Anglican church, where the new bishop was officially welcomed by the congregation, the priest and ministers from other local churches. This of course lasted about two and a half hours! During this welcome Bishop Daniel discovered that he would be confirming 58 people the next morning!
The Sunday morning service started just after 8.30am with a procession of confirmation candidates and clergy from the mission house to the church. Typically we were late starting but the fault lay with the bishop this time. As he was getting into the car the rubber heel came off one of his shoes and so we had to find a cobbler on the way to the mission house. I suggested we should sing Praise my Soul the King of Heaven! (Apologies for my poor sense of humour). Cobbler duly found and heel firmly re-attached, we arrived at the mission house and started towards the church. Four-and-a-half hours later, we were still in church following another joyful and exuberant gathering of God’s people to worship and celebrate together. I had been invited to preach and yet again was very humbled by the way in which God had faithfully helped me share things that seemed to connect with the people and the people to God. Trust and expectation are two things I have learnt much more about since being here. The confirmation part of the service was powerful and very moving and the sense of joy overflowing as we moved into the praise and worship that accompanied the offertory. The people also seemed to love the sight of a white man joining in the dance during the offertory and this added time to the proceedings as many grabbed my hands in greeting as we danced our way to the offering bowls!
After the service had finished, there was only an hour free before setting off to Agona Swedru, which was about a thirty minutes drive north of Winneba. Arriving in the town at about 3.30pm, the same procedure as Saturday was repeated with a procession through the main streets. After arriving at St James Anglican Church, there followed a shorter welcome ceremony and then another confirmation service. We arrived finally at the mission house at 10pm to a wonderful buffet shared with church members. By this time though we were not making too much conversation as everyone was pretty much exhausted!
On Monday afternoon, Cyril and Felix (two of the faculty members from the seminary) arrived from Cape Coast to drive me to Accra ready for the flight home the following day. Predictably the journey was not uneventful! The car broke down as we arrived in Accra and eventually we managed to locate a mechanic and coax the car to the workshop.
We booked in at the Salvation Army Guest House in Osu, a bustling and vibrant district of the city and enjoyed our final evening together not with a typical Ghanaian supper but Chinese food as I wanted to pay and this was one of the few restaurants that would take a credit card. (I didn’t have sufficient cash because by the time we had got the car to the garage all the banks and money exchange offices had closed).
My final day in Ghana began at 4.30am as we had arranged to leave for the airport at 5am. The airport was only ten minutes away from the guest house but now without a car we needed to get a taxi. We had only waited a couple of minutes when one came by. We hailed the driver and got him to reverse into the drive way of the guest house which was on a slight incline. When the driver got out to open the boot the car started to roll forward. He tried to pretend that it wasn’t really moving. I thought he had simply forgotten to put his handbrake on but it transpired that there wasn’t actually a hand-brake at all and in addition his foot brake was suspect too! We sent him on his way and waited for a more suitable vehicle.
What else could happen now? Well I checked in and boarded the Ghana Airways plane. After boarding we were told that they were unable to close the cargo doors. We then sat in the plane for another two hours while the engineers worked to fix the problem. Unfortunately the air conditioning had to be turned off in order for the engineers to fix the problem and so we were baking hot by the time we eventually took off. That was a shame as I wanted to look my best for Suzanne rather than a sweaty bedraggled lump. But I didn’t look messy enough and so one of the cabin crew decided to pour half a can of Sprite into my lap instead of my cup and when collecting the dishes after the meal threw a couple of plastic knives at me for good measure! These landed on my shirt sleeves adding a tasteful tomato sheen to them.
I am now safely at home and can honestly say that my time in Ghana has been an amazing experience, a privilege and a challenge! I am so fortunate to have been able to spend almost three months there. At this moment it is impossible to share fully the impact my visit has had on me but I do hope that has come over already in some small way through the updates I have been sending.
Please continue to pray for the people of Ghana and support them in any way you can, the simplest being to buy fairly-traded chocolate! Continue to support pressure on G8 leaders to reduce the debt burden on third world countries and if you can try and sponsor a child or any community project through Oxfam, Action Aid, Christian Aid or World vision – a little really does go a long way in Ghana!
If you are in Portsmouth diocese then please find out more about IDWAL and possible ways to grow links between your church and Ghana by contacting Andrew Ashdown (023 9225 5490).
Thank you for reading the updates!
Yours in Christ’s service
Monday 12 May
Greetings again from Ghana as begin my last full week here.
I have just returned from a weekend in Saltpond, a small town about 18 miles east of Cape Coast in the direction of Accra. The Archdeacon of Cape Coast, Theophilus Sankyiama, is also the priest of St Peter and Paul Anglican Church there and I stayed at the mission house with his family.
They were determined to give me a taste of the UK, as they have both visited and so we began Friday evening with fish and chips, processed peas and Heinz tomato ketchup. This was followed by sponge cake and tea. On reflection, it is probably a good thing that - despite their warm welcome and hospitality - I only spent the weekend there. If I had stayed longer I’m sure I would have gained a lot of weight as Mary, the Archdeacon’s wife seemed determined that I should eat huge portions of food at every possible opportunity! She even sent me back to Cape Coast with food in a take-away container!
The weekend was typical in experiencing Ghanaian time. The weekend was a special Boys and Girls Brigade event with activities on Saturday and a parade service on Sunday. I was informed by Theophilus that I would be picked up from the house at 9.30 by a BB member. Well, you’ve probably guessed that no one turned up at the allotted time. A boy arrived just after noon with a message that they would return for me at 2pm! I was therefore not able to go as I was being taken to a local beach resort by Theophilus and Mary after lunch. As it happened we couldn’t leave on time as, due to African time, Theophilus was late returning home due to another event he was at in the morning being one hour late starting and then over-running! Everything came together in the end as we were driven to the beach and Theophilus met us there.
Saltpond is a very poor town. The main economy here is based on fishing. It has a scattering of old colonial buildings that are in poor repair. Most people live in houses built from traditional hand-made bricks and there are many houses that are simply crumbling away. Opposite the mission house is a derelict house that, due to poor construction, simply started falling down. It became so dangerous that the local council had it demolished, although for some reason they left half of it standing. Walking around the town I observed this as typical. The infrastructure is generally poor with frequent interruptions in the water supply as well as the usual ‘lights off’ or power cuts. During my stay we used water from buckets as the water supply had not been working for 5 days.
Again, as everywhere in Ghana, despite poor living conditions and poverty, the people are proud, friendly and extremely generous. They don’t see many white visitors in Saltpond, despite its proximity to Cape Coast, so I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who wanted to welcome me personally. Also, many people ask you for your address here. I think it’s because if you give it to them they see it is a way of saying that they are your friend. I hope that this is the case or we will be getting dozens of letters!
We experienced heavy rainfall during Saturday night which helped cool the air a little allowing a good sleep. The downside was that the unmade roads became even worse with the many ruts and potholes simply growing larger. It was welcomed most by the huge population of frogs which live in Saltpond. In fact they made so much noise in the morning that they woke me up. As I looked out of my window to investigate the noise I was immediately aware of the struggle that happens daily here as two boys were throwing sticks and stones into a mango tree in an effort to obtain breakfast.
The service on Sunday morning was typically Ghanaian: starting half an hour late, lasting for four hours and blending many different traditions. So we eventually arrived back at the mission house at 1.30pm and had to break my bedroom door open as they had locked it, forgetting that the door handle didn’t work properly. There are always lots of people on hand to offer help and so it was amusing to stand by and see about six people all offering advice on what to do and inserting machetes into the door frame at various points. After half an hour we did away with such finesse and simply shoulder-barged the door open!
I had been invited to preach and used the gospel John 10:11-18: Jesus said ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. The thing that struck me about this passage this week was that Jesus says he is the owner of the sheep.
I had been thinking about the ‘marks of ownership’ as I had spotted some sheep in Cape Coast a few days earlier. They were marked with coloured dye to identify who owned them. I spoke about Jesus’ marks of ownership being baptism and the promise of the Holy Spirit to enable us to know him and live for him and bring abundant life to all who follow and listen to his voice.
I contrasted this with the challenge we face as there are many things that seek ownership of our lives and seek to prevent us from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and knowing the abundant life that he desires for us. How true, I thought, especially in our rich and developed lands where we even as Christians submit to the ownership that our comparative wealth places upon us. In many ways we are ‘owned’ by the companies and corporations that sell us a lifestyle choice and illustrate it attractively on TV, radio and in magazines. Such images portray ‘abundant life’ and meaning, yet ultimately they still fail to satisfy the human soul because the essential ingredient is missing.
Also, when the ‘economic wolf’ attacks, such life is threatened and in peril. To know that Jesus ‘owns us’ is not life-denying but life-giving in the sense that whatever falls our way he will not let us fall or go it alone. If we turn to him every day to hear his voice we will know the freedom and joy that such ownership brings and live in the abundant life that he longs to share with us.
I have just a few teaching sessions remaining at the seminary and am also looking forward to welcoming a group of visitors from my own deanery (Havant) tomorrow (Tuesday). I will spend Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday with them.
At the weekend I will travel to Winneba with Bishop Daniel for two services and return to pack my bags first thing Monday morning! Still praying that Ghana Airways is afloat next week and that I get a flight back next Tuesday!
Thank you to all who have been reading my updates. I hope they have been informative. I’m not sure if I will be able to write next Monday as time may not permit. So this might be my last report actually from Ghana. I will however write a concluding letter!
Monday 5 May
Greetings to everyone back home. As I write it is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, so I hope that you are all enjoying a sunny May Day. In Ghana May Day is celebrated on May 1st and is a public holiday, although the majority of the small traders are firmly open for business. As with the independence day celebrations back in March, many children and adults celebrate May Day with marching bands and dancing. Also in the nearby town of Winneba there is a traditional competition between local tribes of chasing an antelope. It originated as celebrating the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood and is now part of the May Day celebration in the town.
On Sunday, I worshipped at Christchurch Cathedral in Cape Coast and preached. The cathedral was full and it was moving to hear some of the simple songs from Taize, France, being used as a preparation for worship. In fact there was plenty of time to be immersed in the music because as usual in Ghana, nothing begins on time and our 9am start was in reality nearer 9.30am. Again the approach to worship is quite different to back home. After the Taize songs, the congregation sang two processional hymns as the procession takes a long time as we do something close to a slow march! This is followed by morning prayer liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer before moving into common worship liturgy.
Preaching was an adventure as there is a very high pulpit in the cathedral and I wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself by falling up or down the steps! This fortunately was achieved.
The worship was a vibrant affair with a real sense of praise and celebration as the three different choirs involved in leading us musically were wonderful. (There is a robed adult choir, a youth choir and a praise band with choir.)
As usual, the service lasted for about three-and-a-half hours and left yours truly looking extremely hot and soaked with perspiration. I was presented with a gift by the Dean of the cathedral of two stoles which are wonderful and I shall treasure them very much as a reminder of my time here.
I preached about the challenge of witnessing to others about the reality of the Lord Jesus who is alive today and waits for us to invite him into our lives. In Acts 3, Peter uses the opportunity before him to witness to his faith in Jesus and the beggar is healed. When he is asked about what happened he publicly uses the opportunity to speak about Jesus. Again I am reminded that for many Christians in the UK, we still have this strange idea that our faith is simply a matter between an individual and God. In our society which is becoming more individualistic at great cost to community life and shared values whilst faith can be a private matter it is also something to be shared and spoken of. (Ghanaians naturally include matters of faith in everyday conversation whether it in the market, in a taxi with strangers or over a drink.) Often we don’t because we don’t think that we have got something worth saying about Jesus and the life and hope that he brings. But God provides us with the opportunities and the power (by the Holy Spirit) to know Jesus for ourselves and to share our story with others. So be encouraged to share your story with others this week!
I had an interesting encounter a few days ago in a taxi. As I got into the shared taxi, a man next to me was having a blazing row with a lady passenger who was in the front seat. I guessed he was a mechanic due to his oily overalls and the radiator hose he was waving around in a threatening manner at the woman. Things were getting out of hand and the argument turning very nasty. I prayed about intervening and then quietly in tongues. As I did so the man looked at me and asked the taxi driver to stop the car. He got out and came to the front of the car whereby he apologised profusely to the woman and the rest of the passengers! God is good!
It is now the rainy season in Ghana and every four days or so there is a heavy storm, accompanied usually with a power cut. The rainy season is when the risk of malaria is at its highest and already one of the students has had malaria and another is in bed with a high fever probably due to malaria. Malaria is a major health problem here with 40 per cent of childhood deaths attributed to it, and each year thousand of pregnant women lose their unborn children or die too of this terrible disease. There is a major programme to increase awareness of malaria and prevention. One of the most successful strategies has been the increasing uptake of insecticide-treated mosquito nets for the most vulnerable. Cost has been a problem but they are being provided at subsidised prices to help. Unfortunately for the college we are situated close to a large lagoon that has not been sprayed against mosquitoes and so over the past week now we have seen an increase in the number of mosquitoes. So any visitors coming over, make sure you are taking your anti-malarial drugs, and bring insect repellent and cover up in the evening!
Staying on the subject of the vulnerable, there is a huge problem in Ghana with child labour. There are two main issues. The first concerns young girls. If a family is poor then it is the boys and not girls who are likely to go to school. Many girls are starting to migrate to the growing cities of Accra and Kumasi to look for work at a young age. Uneducated and vulnerable they are paid very poorly for long working hours and many are abused and drift into prostitution. Another concerns boys more. Many poor families allow their boys to go off to the Volta region (where the huge Volta lake is) to work on the many fishing boats that work the huge lake. They are often sent diving to untangle nets and many drown. This is why there is a growing emphasis on community development projects that can stimulate employment for adults so that they won’t have to send their children away to work and also so that girls can be educated. The churches in Ghana are very active in seeking to improve social conditions. If you are looking to support any projects then Malaria research and prevention and community development projects usually via charities such as Action Aid and Christian Aid are well worth giving too. A relatively small amount of money each month makes a huge difference here.
As much as I have enjoyed my stay in Ghana I am looking forward to returning home in two weeks time but am not sure if Ghana Airways who I flew out with will actually have a plane to take me back! There has been much in the news since I have been here about the financial problems with the airline as well as its poor service record. The government is being asked for cash to bail the company out. This weekend an article interviewing the Ghana airways staff association reported that they only have one serviceable aircraft in Ghana as the rest have been impounded in Italy because of debts. I think they only have three or four aircraft in total!! Watch this space!
So it’s back to the college now to prepare some more notes for teaching!
Tuesday 29 April
It seems hard to believe that I am beginning my ninth week here in Ghana. The term has begun at the seminary and so there is a more regular routine again of preparing materials to teach for third years on John's Gospel and the workshops that I am taking.
On Sunday I returned to St. James Church in Elmina where I spent my first Sunday. It was my third visit to the church and good to have a small degree of familiarity. I was made very welcome. It was a good day to be there as the young people also did a presentation after communion. They had had a youth programme during the week which included teaching about HIV/Aids and they shared some of this with us in the form of drama and song.
Now I am used to marathon 5-6 hour services the three hours at Elmina seemed to go very quickly! It was also the first time that I haven't melted due to the heat. We had a heavy storm on Saturday night which meant Sunday morning was relatively cool and as there is no glass in the windows of the church the breeze was wonderful!
Following my previous visit and the healing ministry it was moving that some parents brought their children up after communion for prayers for healing with laying on of hands. One girl had a fever and the other small child had been burnt, treated at hospital and starting to make a good recovery.
I am looking forward to seeing some faces from Havant deanery the week after next as they visit Cape Coast.
Thursday 24 April
I have now arrived back in Cape Coast again having spent almost a week in Nungua which is about 12km east of the capital Accra. I travelled on Easter Saturday having spent most of Holy Week in Cape Coast.
Tuesday of Holy Week was a retreat for clergy from the Cape Coast diocese and was followed in the evening by the Chrism Eucharist. On Maunday Thursday I returned to St Monica’s church for an evening service where the new bishop preached and also washed the feet of 12 members of the church. I was invited to sing and play some songs during this.
Good Friday is literally an all-day affair in Ghana. Church services begin at 5am and many continue until the evening. I attended the three hours of the cross at the cathedral which was followed by a joint act of witness as hundreds of Christians from local churches marched through the town with the cross.
Saturday was spent travelling to Accra, and in the evening at another service which included baptisms. As many will know, in the early church baptisms were conducted on Easter Eve and so it was good to be part of this service. About 20 adults and children were baptised.
I am staying in the mission house (vicarage) at St Peter’s Anglican church. The priest, Samuel, spent a year in the UK in 2001 in Bath and Wells. I discovered this as he was starting to show me momentos and pictures of his trip and was pleased to see in one frame the familiar face of Bob Evens who was the former vicar of Locks Heath!
Easter Sunday was a marathon in terms of worship again, with the service lasting for 5 hours! It was apparently a high pontifical mass which I had not been to before, and I have to say that for the first hour I wondered if we were actually celebrating the resurrection of Jesus or not. The congregation once again seemed released into worship when they began their praise and worship with local songs and dance at the three-fold offertory which itself lasted for over an hour!
On Easter Monday, many churches come together for a picnic. Usually a number of local churches join together and the event lasts the whole day. I dipped into two picnics as there is another student who lives in the next town who wanted me to meet some of the people in his church. I also now have an adopted aunty in this town. She is Becky – aunty to Raymond, one of the students. We visited her on Easter Sunday and were not allowed to leave until we had consumed cold minerals, half a pack of McVities digestives and a large plate of rice and chicken! It was my birthday too and so she insisted that I took the remaining biscuits with me and the next day at the picnic gave me another packet! At one of the picnics there is another march around the town as an act of celebrating Jesus’ rising. This was led by about a thousand young people – singing, dancing, playing drums and brass instruments. It was an amazing fusion of colour, sound and of course – red dust.
Nungua is a small town of around 12 000 people and together with its neighbouring town of Teshie are expanding as more people move to the Accra area. The towns are on a beautiful coastline and there are a number of hotel resorts established. The view however can be deceptive. On Easter Sunday we paid a brief visit to the beach – even the stretch that adjoins the plus hotels are litter strewn and not very inviting.
Both of the towns are thriving but again the infrastructure is poor. There are few tarmac roads which means the red dust from all the roads throughout the town gets everywhere. It also makes travelling by car a continuing adventure. I was driven a couple of times in a very old VW (about 45 years old). It had been welded in more places than I could count and the nasty surprise was that the passenger door appeared to be shut even though it wasn’t. Fortunately for me we bumped over a big pot hole and the door started to open. I was pleased that it did it here rather than on a right hand bend!
Many open sewers continue to add a pungent odour to the air and to add to the problem sewage seemed to be rising up from the ground near one of the students homes.
At Easter we often hear much about the gospel being one of reconciliation and this is especially relevant for Ghana at present. Firstly the country is hearing many witnesses give accounts of brutality during the various military dictatorships that have governed Ghana since the 1980s. The National Reconciliation Council began in January of this year seeking to give a voice to those who themselves or loved ones had suffered at the hands of the regimes. I have seen a number of these as they are televised daily. It is hard to believe the extremes that people go to and especially hard when this country is such a Christian one.
The other problem is in the north around the Tamale area. About a year ago that had been a chieftancy dispute which resulted in one man being beheaded. A curfew had been imposed and while I was in Tamale it had virtually been lifted. Unfortunately violence has flared up again with one death during rioting and several businesses and homes have been burnt.
A little about Accra: many will know that it is the capital city of Ghana. The one thing you really notice in Accra is the traffic! There are thousands of taxis and also the highest number of private cars. The standard of driving is just as bad if not worse than elsewhere in the country which makes life for passengers or pedestrians very risky. The city has many industries and there are signs of economic development evident by the improved standard of roads, housing, proper shops etc. However as you travel round the city you see huge slum areas and huge market areas where there is sewage, litter, animals and people all conglomerating together. The government are trying to deal with the way the traders simply keep spreading even into the forecourt areas of the ministry buildings!
There are still many open sewers and men and boys think nothing of going to the toilet in then in full view of the public. I have to say that this is common throughout Ghana though.
The other big issue in Ghana as in all African states is the HIV/Aids problem. There is much focus in the media to education and prevention. Adverts on TV, TV dramas on the theme of prevention, posters large and small in most communities. I read recently that the percentage of HIV positive people in Ghana in some regions is 1-2% but as high as 7% in other regions. The worrying fact is that the infection rate is rising. In Africa now there are 12 million Aids orphans! In addition to other agencies, the churches here are very active in helping to educate the public and run programmes for those who are infected to offer support and practical help.
I am still not used to operating on African time and continue to find the lack of time keeping frustrating. An example for you:
Yesterday the plan was to go into Accra with Raymond and Samuel (the students). I needed to buy a bus ticket for today’s journey, go to the airport to sort out my return ticket and visit the national museum and an art gallery. Raymond was to meet me at the mission house where I was staying at 10.30 am. He arrived at 12.30pm. I couldn’t phone him because the mission house phone line has not been working for a week. I suggested we go straight into Accra, calling Samuel while we waited for the tro-tro. Fine, except all the phone lines decided to go down. So we then had to go to Samuel's house and wait for another half an hour before leaving. En route Samuel also informs us that the vintage VW isn’t taxed or insured and he must do this before we can go to the bus station. Not surprisingly all I could do was get a ticket and sort out the airline ticket! However, every cloud had a silver lining! On leaving the airport office we discovered a restaurant serving western food and had real hamburgers and fries, with Heinz tomato ketchup. I have to say that was a real treat!
I am now looking at the materials I will be covering for the next three weeks with the students as college begins again this weekend with lectures resuming on Monday. Hard to believe I have been here for almost eight weeks now.
I hope you are getting a reasonable picture of what I have been experiencing and send you my best wishes and warm Christian greetings.