Saturday, December 3, 2011

Freezing in the Tropics

A few months ago I was invited to participate in Lighthouse Chapel International's inaugural French Camp held in the small town of Akropong, in the Eastern Region of Ghana.  Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, the Presiding Bishop of LCI, was hosting a teaching camp for pastors and leaders of the LCI churches in French speaking nations.
Johannes Christaller
Johannes Gottlieb Christaller
Basel Missionary to Akropong
One of the most striking things about Akropong were the cold temperatures in the evening.  I was surprised with the fog and cold temps.  I was actually feeling cold and in need of a sweater while there... in TROPICAL AFRICA!!  While it's true that you adjust to the tropical temperatures, I never thought I'd be yearning for a sweater.

I learnt that Akropong was known for being the first town that Christian missionaries from Switzerland and Germany settled to spread the Gospel.  I wondered how they managed to travel from the coast that far inland, albeit on top of a mountain.  It's not like there were paved roads or cars.  It was definitely a sacrifice!  No vehicles, no roads, couldn't speak the language, had to adapt their diet, no running water or electricity and little to no contact with family back home, etc.  Couldn't have been easy.

The camp with Bishop Heward-Mills was charged and very interesting.  I walked away with two significant spiritual deposits... sorry I won't share those here.  The French LCI members, leaders and pastors were receptive and excited to receive much needed teaching from the father of LCI.  Unfortunately, it seems that the French world hasn't had the same exposure to Christianity, outside of Catholicism, that the English-speaking world has It is rewarding to see Bishop Heward-Mills making a strong effort to reach out to the Francophone world with Jesus Christ through the establishment of churches, translation of his books and investment in the development of Christian leaders.

Before I leave Ghana I plan on taking a week or so to see Ghana as a tourist.  Not as one of those foreigners who get sucked into seeing tacky tourist sites, but to really go deep and see the country in its natural state.  I believe I've seen a lot of the country through visits to different churches all over the country, however, I want to visit with an intent to soak it all in and to learn as much as possible.  I believe that everyone has something they can teach you and everday you live is a classroom in which you can learn.

Akropong was an interesting town and one with a rich history of Christian missionaries giving their lives to plant the gospel in sub-Sahara Africa.  It brings it home as I recently returned to full-time ministry work to also spread the good news that Jesus Christ came, lived and died that we might be saved from an eternity in hell!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When the Spirit Comes

Bishop Eddy Addy
Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, located in the Ashanti Region in the middle of the country.  It is located in the thick of the African rain forest and is bustling with activity and business.  Kumasi is the traditional centre of politics in Ghana in that it holds the seat of its most prominent chief, The Asantehene, chief of the Ashanti people.

Historically, the Asante people were the most dominant tribe in what is now Ghana.  They controlled the commerce, had the gold, the largest army and conquered many neighboring tribes and territories.  Unfortunately they were also instrumental in harboring the slave trade to the coast.  In the documentary, "Wonders of the African World", Dr. Henry Gates Jr, of Harvard University, interviewed the son of the current Asantehene of the time regarding their involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade.  He claimed ignorance of the atrocities and treatment of the slaves on the coast by the European traders and also feigned ignorance of their treatment in North America.  He claimed that had they known of the treatment that they would've ceased their involvement.  As a student of African history and an observer of the interview, I don't understand how the Asantehene's son thought anyone could buy that explanation... neither Dr. Gates or I did.

The drive throughout the mountains and then forest in central Ghana was quite scenic.  Great views of the Accra plains as we climbed the mountains and beautiful landscapes of huge trees and other fauna.

As we travelled through and by several small villages and towns on our way to Kumasi I noticed that each community seemed to produce their own particular product.  For example, as we drove by one town I'd see a ton of palm oil for sale on the road, while others were selling yam, plantain, tomatoes and gari (dried and grated casava that is a staple in most of West Africa).  Interestingly, a number of others were selling HUGE snails that quite honestly looked quite disgusting!  I'm sure they're loaded with protein but I think I'll pass unless I'm really hungry.  The Ashanti Region was lush.  Plantain trees, papaya, palm, etc. all grew in a vastness that one doesn't see in Accra.  The papaya fruit was much more abundant on the trees and actually much larger.

LCI - Bantama
During this trip, I was accompanying Bishop Eddy Addy and the rest of his office, as he ministered during a special convention entitled, "When the Spirit Comes", invovlving the Lighthouse Chapel International churches in the Kumasi and Ashanti Region.  The services were great and the different congregations received Bishop Addy and his message with open hearts.  It's always nice to visit other LCI churches to see what they're doing successfully and to learn.  I believe that everyday is my classroom and everyone I meet a teacher.  Not everyone in this world is a good teacher per se, but one can even learn from poor examples...

Pastor Albert Laryea
Country Mission Overseer, Ivory Coast
The LCI churches in the Ashanti Region are very healthy and full of vibrant Christians willing to serve.  I enjoyed my time fellowshipping with the pastors there.  It was a great opportunity to visit the region and the churches.

Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the city as our schedule was quite tight.  I look forward to returning to Kumasi to check out some of the sights, get some of the world famouse Kente cloth and to pick up some of their great artwork for my beloved mother. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coastal Castle Fishing

Having been off the water way too long I spent a few days in August visiting the Central Region of Ghana to engage in some fishing, hanging out around coconut trees on the beach, traversing a few markets and fishing... yeah I think I already said I was fishing.

After a pit stop over night in Salt Pond, we (Pastor Ray aka Papa Ray, Pastor Philiip and myself) saddled up early in the morning, packed the gear in the ride and headed to the infamous town of El Mina, Ghana.

Elmina is a town I've read about while studying pre-colonial and post-colonial West Africa. It's a place that was dreaded. It was the town that best fits the "It was the worst of times / best of times" quote. A town with a view to die for... any many did... A town with a rich coastal fishing tradition. A town rich in history and culture. However, it was a town built on the blood of those who were potentially my ancestors. The name "Elmina" (translated as "the mine" in English, is the home of the most infamous slave castle in the world!

So you can imagine my feelings as I approached and moved through this town watching the locals staring at me because I dressed different, looked different and sounded different. There was this odd mix of emotions as I watched people hustling on the streets, selling biscuits (cookies to we Canadians) in makeshift stalls and begging from anyone who "looked rich" to them. By the way, looking rich meant you dressed normal for a hot summer day in Canada. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that many of these people were the direct descendants of those who built their town on the trade of human beings to other human beings. And here I was coming to hook up in a traditional African canoe to go fishing just off their shores. How ironic is that?!?!

One part of me felt pity for many of the people. I noticed that the town was used to seeing Blacks from the diaspora "coming home" to visit what has become a symbolic launching point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A number of beach resorts were based in the city, catering to Blacks and Whites from North America and Europe. The town was a mix of a fishing community that was also trying to sell itself to visiting tourists... but unfortunately, in my opinion, it wasn't WINNING!

I won't bore you much with the fishing as to be honest all three of us faced a round of sea sickness. We were fishing in some heavy waves and it just took a toll on us, especially my two friends, as it was their first time on the sea. At least I kept myself together somewhat. Can't say that for the others. LOL

We caught a number of fish but the most interesting was a huge Moray Eel that even the local fishermen were afraid of. This thing was huge and nasty! After hauling it off the ocean floor and getting it into the boat it snapped the line with one chop from it's mouth. The beast slithered back and forth on the floor of the canoe like a cobra about to strike. I'm not sure why, but I didn't buy into the fear that was emanating from the two fishermen who accompanied us. One guy jumped up and was literally sitting on my lap. Thankfully, I had enough foresight to bring along a machete which we used to slay the animal. I only wish I had it on video. Too precious to have missed.

After fishing Papa Ray suggested we tour Elmina Castle. Once we docked, spoke to some of the locals, explaining the fishing rod/reel gear, and rehydrating we hit the local fish market. Interesting place! Gotta love the tenacity of a woman selling fresh fish in the hot sun. They just don't give up!

The visit to the castle was enlightening as the guide gave a decent rendition of the town and castle's history. As a Canadian with some African ancestry I was disappointed that he wasn't very passionate in his storytelling. I fully expected one of the African-Americans on the tour to break down but they didn't - I blame the guide! I thought that I may even feel the emotions of it but I wasn't fazed. My emotions were more of an eery feeling as the experience was just so surreal. When one thinks of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers we immediately see his brothers as the "evil doers". Why is it that Black Americans and Canadians always see the White Europeans as the "evil doers" and not the ones who did the capturing, holding and selling of the slaves?? While it's true Europeans should not be excused for what they did, I think the blame, as it were, needs to be shared.

Elmina is an interesting city with a diabolical past... I'll return to fish again next month.

The Infamous "Door of No Return"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Iron Sharpeneth Iron: Work of the Ministry Conference

From July 26-29, 2011 I am participating in the Iron Sharpeneth Iron: Work of the Ministry Conference hosted by my denomination Lighthouse Chapel International in Accra, Ghana.  The conference brings together Christian ministers from all over the world to be ministered to by seasoned ministers of the Gospel.  It's probably one of the most taxing conferences I've been to in years as there are morning, afternoon and evening sessions that last for hours.  Even though the sessions are long and one is quite spent at the end of the day, they are worth it.  It's not everyday that one gets to fellowship with thousands of other ministers while we all soak in the wisdom of those who've gone before us.  It's a great opportunity as I look forward to building a Mega Church back home in Canada some day God's grace and mercy.

I was filming some of the events and probably won't be able to upload all of them until this coming weekend, however I thought I would give you a taste of the charged atmosphere and the joy that was present in the Jesus Cathedral. The speaker at the podium is the host and my spiritual father, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills.

Here fishy fishy fishy...

I was pleasantly surprised when my long time friend Pastor Ray aka Papa Ray brought us some fresh fish from the Central Region in Ghana a few weeks ago.  I'm sure he could sense the withdrawal symptoms I was going through, in having not fished in ages, and brought me a gift of fish to help with the twitching.

One thing I love about Ghana is the abundance of fresh fish.  Whether it's herring, mackerel, snapper, grouper, etc. nothing beats fresh fish from the sea.

After opening my friend's gift I noticed that there were a few different species including: Barracuda, Red Snapper, Sea Bream and another unidentified species that looked like it belonged to a schooling type of fish family.  I've never eaten Barracuda so I was looking forward to it.  It was not the huge monsters that one can get but rather the "baby" versions; which still had a nasty set of teeth on them.  Snapper is good anytime of the day and the others were going to join the family fish fry.

Thanks again to my friend for surprising me and helping to calm during my most recent bought of nonfishingitus.  Here are a few shots of the fish to give you an idea of what we had.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buying Fish & Meat in Jamestown, Accra!

Lighthouse (Jamestown, Accra, Ghana)
A few weeks ago a Ghanaian friend of mine who lives in the U.S. was visiting Accra on holiday.  We decided to go shopping for fresh fish from the local fishermen at the beaches in Jamestown, an area of Accra.  Jamestown, or as it was called during colonial times, British Accra, is one of the oldest communities in the city of Accra.  It is located on the coast near the old Lighthouse and slave castle and former prison.  I always find it a bit eery driving past the old slave castle that was, up until recently, used as a prison.  The thought that many African-Americans/Canadians/Caribbeans were transported via that castle is quite a foreboding.  The even creepier reality is that the Ghanaian government then converted it into a prison.  I’ve been told that the condition of the then prison wasn’t probably much better then when it was used as a slave holding pen.  Just thinking of it makes me sad.

Sorting freshly caught crabs
For Blacks living in the western world, slavery can seem like a distant reality but the truth is that slavery was alive and well in North America the 1800’s.  With my close connection to Ghana and having married a woman who has part Ghanaian ancestry I sometimes wonder if I had any ancestral connections to this very interesting land.
Back to our outing…

Knowing that the freshest fish arrives in the morning I told my friend Dennis that we should hit the beach by 6am at the latest.  In an effort to get there on time, I crashed at the church that night working on a project and then headed to go fish shopping in Jamestown the next morning.

Pastor Dennis
Unfortunately it was raining the next morning however we weren’t deterred and headed to the beach.  I forgot to try and dress more “Ghanaian”.  Wearing western clothes doesn’t help me when it comes to bargaining.  Being called “white man” in the vernacular languages doesn’t bother me per se but when it is blatantly obvious I’m not Ghanaian the prices soar and the negotiating becomes very difficult.  I generally know the prices so when the sellers go insane with prices I use the “walk away method” as my last ditch effort.  The thing with fresh produce, fish, meat, etc. is that it has to be sold so they’d much rather sell then let it sit and get nothing.  It didn’t help that Dennis was dressed in a new Nike t-shirt and baseball hat!

Things went well and we were able to get very good prices on the fish we bought.  I picked up a bunch of Red Snapper and another sea fish that reminded me a mix between herring and mackerel.  Dennis bought the same mackerel/herring fish, some snapper and bunch of small Barracuda.  The fish I bought would’ve cost me about 5x what I paid if I purchased it in the big grocery store, Shoprite or had I gone to a local fish market.  Having fished most of my life and knowing which species were schooling fish and more plentiful in the sea helps to prevent price gouging from those looking to make a quick Ghana Cedi from a foreigner.

Check out the Scriptures on the wall - Galatians 6:7 & Romans 3:23
One of the nice aspects of buying the fish from the beach is that there are women there who will clean your fish for a small fee.  Can’t beat that!  While we were waiting for the women to finish cleaning our fish I noticed another pair of ladies sorting through crabs that were caught using a huge net.  Didn't look like there would be much meat on the small critters but apparently a lot of people buy and serve them as a specialty item at parties and get-togethers.
 After buying our fish we made our way to the “London Market” located in the middle of Jamestown.  Having lived in London for a few years, I had actually remarked to Dennis that this place reminds me a bit of a London market to which he replied, “It’s actually called London Market.”

London Market (Jamestown, Accra)

This was one of the most interesting markets I’ve visited anywhere in the world.  They primarily sold beef and goat.  On the periphery of the market were large cow heads, tails, feet and every other part of the animal… all for sale.  My only regret is that I didn’t take my Canon camera so I could capture a few decent photos and video.  (I did manage a few shots with my camera phone. )

Cutting up goat. Anyone up for entrails?
We were on a mission to buy goat for a party for some of Dennis' extended family so I accompanied him into the this warehouse of meat.  I must admit that this place would’ve been condemned in Canada for health reasons but this is the way of life and most people buy their meat from such places.  As Dennis negotiated prices and made his purchases I was busily taking the scene in.  I saw what looked like liver, stomachs, heads, tails, and every part imaginable on an animal.
I’m sure my wife would’ve been disgusted to have visited such a place, though my daughter would’ve found the entire experience very interesting.  I think she gets the curiosity part of her brain from me. J  I’ll upload the photos tomorrow as I left my photo card at home.   I apologize in advance for their poor quality, however you should be able to get a feel for the atmosphere of the market.

I almost forgot.  The article wouldn't be complete without first introducing you to Bruce - unfortunately he was a little under the weather at the time of this photo...

Bruce the goat.  Hmm, he'll probably end up on a kebab stick!

Fight Night @ Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station

(I’ve not been keeping my blog as up-to-date as I had originally planned so this article comes a number of months after the incident occurring.)

A number of months ago I was working quite late one Sunday evening and decided that I should pack up and head home.  Using local transport, I’m about a 2-3 hour journey away from the office in which I work.  A large portion of that travel time is consumed in waiting… waiting… and more waiting… for the next bus to arrive.

After packing my bag, along with a medium-sized pocket knife a Russian friend gave me just before I left Canada, I began my journey home.  I walk from my office and hop into a shared taxi that will drop me at my next connection stop, Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station.  So far so good.

Once it gets around 10pm in Accra I don’t deem it to be that safe.  Lots of dubious people hang around the streets including prostitutes, drunkards, thieves, sellers, armed robbers and even mad men.  Yes, that’s right mad men!  See the story of the madman of Gadara (Mark 5:1-18) and you’ll get the idea.  After seeing this night after night I decided to carry a knife – more of a deterrent than anything else.

After arriving at the KNC Station I joined the queue (line) for the next bus to my area.  There were 70+ people in the queue and each bus holds 23 people minus the driver and mate meaning only 21 passengers are permitted per bus.  I had a very long wait ahead of me!  At that time of night I try to put away any obvious hints of affluence or worth.  I generally take off my watch, ring and don’t use my iPod.  It’s not an issue of fear.  More an issue of wisdom.

After a long wait a bus arrives.  Pandemonium breaks out!  Those at the front of the queue rush onto the bus.  Others from the middle and back of the line jostle forward with some jumping ahead to secure a better position.  I merely moved forward with the crowd and didn’t try to jump ahead.  What’s the point?  Though there is a definite lack of order in such things in Accra I don’t feel I should jeopardize principles just so I can get home earlier.  It’s not fair to push ahead of anyone.

The bus departs…

Suddenly out of nowhere this guy about 5’10, 185 lbs approaches me and says, “Do you know me?”  I had no idea who this guy was nor did I really care.  My focus was getting on the bus and going to bed.  When it’s that late and I’ve had a long day, I just zone out and am not really interested in conversation.  I Ignored the guy because I had no clue who he was.  He repeated himself while increasing his volume, “Do you know me!”  I thought, “This guy isn’t going away.  Oh man, what’s his issue.  It’s late, I’m tired and I’ve now been here nearly an hour.”  “No!  I have no idea who you are!”

“You jumped the queue!”

“No I didn’t”

“Yes you did!”

“No… I didn’t!”

“You were in the back of the queue and you jumped ahead of me,” he declared.

“Look buddy, I moved along with the line and didn’t jump the queue.  If you’re looking for those who jumped the queue, look at the five people ahead of me because they did.”

“No, you jumped the queue!  You need to go to the back!” he continued.

At this point, I realize that this guy must’ve had a few drinks or something because I didn’t jump the queue and he was really pushing the issue.

“Listen, I didn’t jump the queue and I’m not going anywhere!” I replied.  “I’ve been here for a long time and there is no way I’m extending my time by going to the back when I didn’t jump this queue.”

“Then I’ll move you!”

Great!  Here we go.  Now this guy is threatening to physically move me to the back of this bus queue.  Is this really happening?  For a minute I thought I was dreaming or this was some sort of joke.  In Ghana, those with mixed ethnicity, especially when one of your parents are White, are targeted.  I thought this guy was just targeting me because it’s obvious I don’t look Ghanaian and wasn’t dressed like the rest of the people there.

“I’m not moving or going anywhere!”

Me in my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi
This “I’ll move you” “I’m not moving” continued for the next few minutes though it felt like about a half an hour.  Finally with a strong voice I said, “Okay, you want to move me… try it.  You have no idea who you’re dealing with!  You don’t want to try me pal.”  He insisted that he’d move me.  I held my ground and said, “Okay, go for it, I’m right here!”  At that moment I began thinking, “Wow!  I don’t believe someone is threatening physical altercation over a spot in a bus line.”  Looking back I probably should’ve swallowed my pride and just moved but something rose up in me to hold my ground.  I then began to weigh the situation and my options.  Should I just take this guy to the ground and lock in a submission, or punch him in the head, etc.  I didn’t want to take out my knife or use it because frankly, I didn’t think the situation warranted it.

I didn’t move to Ghana to get into a fight.  I mean really.  But here I was about to be in the middle of one.  Man, life is complex at times.  At one point I thought of moving to the back but that would’ve meant arriving home around 2-3am and that just wasn’t going to happen.  So I continued to hold my ground.  I called his bluff a few more times and he didn’t make a move.  Reminded me of one of those tiny poodles that just yack, yack and yack.  All bark and no bite.  He never did make a move.

After thinking about it a bit more I decided that nothing good is going to happen in this bus queue.  I eventually walked away.  Getting arrested by the Ghanaian Police for fighting or even worse, deported, wasn’t something I was willing to risk.  Why jeopardize my life for a guy who had no legitimate reason for fighting me.

It’s amazing what goes through one’s mind during such situations.  At the end of the day, I thank God for allowing me to put down my pride and leave the situation peacefully.  Beating down a local over a bus spot isn’t worth it and honestly I don’t think Jesus would’ve been happy with his servant had he done so.

At the end of the night a fight did occur.  It wasn’t a fist fight but  a fight in my mind.  Do I give in to the desire of my flesh to lay down a solid beating on this guy or do I take the high ground and walk away.  I thank God for giving me the wisdom to do the right thing.

Everyday we all experience mental battles.  It’s inevitable that you’ll experience a challenge wherein you will need to decide what you should do, how you should act, what you will say, etc.  I firmly believe that all of these things are tests that are permitted to test our mettle.  The key is to identify these as such and take the necessary steps to pass them.  As it’s been said, “There is no testimony without first having a test!”