Home for Good…for now

April 7, 2008 at 10:51 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Hello Loved Ones,

Yes, this blog update marks my last entry made in Ghana before ending my employment at OPE and departing for the U.S. on the 3rd of April. The entry has been happily posted in San Francisco, CA where I landed Friday afternoon and where I will stay with a good friend for about a week and a half before heading back to central Pennsylvania to look for work and ministry opportunities and a place to settle for the time being. It’s so beautiful here! And cold! My ideal temperature is a little farther south but with the beauty, bounty and coastline I’m suddenly overwhelmed by, I’m not complaining. It feels so nice to be back in California, the state of my youth. There’s a church not three blocks away which means I can walk to it and enjoy grace-filled daily masses. Twice an hour I hear the bus make a stop outside the window and I’m filled with a combination of keen awareness and wonder at the sheer regularity and efficiency with which it operates; this small, insignificant aspect of Western living. To me now it seems more like a shared limo that the city invested in to make my life better; a clean atmosphere and seats, no one cheating me on the price of transport. What a concept. What a wealthy-country concept

The past month has been a blur of activity as I have undertaken everything necessary to wrap up my life here and prepare to move back to the West, From shopping around for shipping prices and options, to exchanging all my foreign currencies, to buying materials and having some suits and clothes made, to saying my goodbyes, I was hopping all around Accra like an over-caffeinated energizer bunny. I was hoping to either remain in Accra for several weeks working with the street children I met while living here, volunteering at a L’Arche community in France (group homes for disabled persons) or going to Kenya to stay with a small Catholic community there. Ghana girl was morphing into something else…but the more I prayed and listened, the clearer it became to me that it’s time to come home and prepare to return to school. The signs weren’t hard to interpret: Nairobi surprisingly erupted into violence, the EU is still working out residency requirements for foreign volunteers/workers, and our landlord in Accra would not renew our lease past last Friday.

MY LAST RIDE

So much has happened since my last update and I couldn’t possibly describe it all. My last ride to Central African Republic was a very satisfying way to wrap up this whole experience of living and working in West Africa. CAR was the farthest northeast that I’ve ever been in Africa. The topography was interestingly different from West Africa, The hills, higher elevation and coolness in the evenings reminded me of Zambia, whose beauty I missed. Our processing site was in a big house up on a hill that overlooked the Oubangui River which serves as the border between CAR and DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). A nice location!

We were supposed to be a team of six with two caseworker/interviewers and one team leader, but as we were crossing one of the land borders, my colleague suddenly had her passport and all her trip money stolen from her. That left us with me, the one caseworker, and our team leader, to do all of the primary interviewing. We steeled ourselves for a busy, tiring ride, but in God’s hands it all turned quite lovely. Some of the stories were the most awful I’d heard to date, which made the whole experience even more meaningful. I found myself reaching to depths within myself I hadn’t yet had to, in order to get as full a story as I could from each applicant to help them have a greater chance of resettlement in the U.S. Even when it meant causing them to remember all the things that they tried so hard to forget. The cases were mainly from Chad, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly Zaire) and Rwanda, and so were an interesting change of pace. I was honored to be able to hear firsthand these stories, borne from conflicts that I had read about and studied in school.

Having to leave your home due to persecution or war inevitably entails encountering one misery after another. They just pile on top of each other such that the desperation that these people and especially women were living in, was quite unbelievable. When there is no money and no job, there are only so many options available to such a one with which to try and survive. A woman’s body without fail ends up being her last and constant resource and she’s never allowed to forget it. I found myself trying to figure out how I could eat less each day in order to share something with those who came having had nothing to eat or drink for days. Do you know how hard it is to remember details of trauma that you’ve experienced when you haven’t eaten for a day or two and you’re malnourished anyway? Oh, I forgot, and you’re fighting the HIV/AIDS virus you acquired violently through no fault of your own. It’s hard.

It became sad but exhilarating to keep passing out what little I had, even if it wasn’t much (and to do it cautiously and quietly for professional reasons). I truly felt God’s power flowing through me as we worked together to produce the best cases we could. I will miss using my French skills here in this work. It was so much fun to be able increase my fluency, to use it to serve God and my fellow man, and to feel like I had valuable skills for once in this competitive, increasingly recession-prone economy!

EASTER

For almost five days over the Easter season I hosted a funny, outgoing and long-suffering Ghanian Catholic sister from the Northern region of Ghana who I met several months ago at church. She unfortunately has had some hard experiences with her congregation and so I was honored to host her. It seems we have been leading similar lives of sorts, and found ourselves consoling and strengthening one another amidst life’s hardships. Though our visit wasn’t free from the usual cultural misunderstandings, she was a gift from God during this holy season. We attended the daily (and sometimes twice-daily!) masses and services that filled the Easter weekend. The days went by in a blur as we cooked together and she shared the history of the Catholic missionaries in Ghana with me.

On Easter Sunday we went to the annual church picnic and had a wonderful time. I got some great snaps (pictures) of both of us dancing and a nice video of the atmosphere and celebrants. It sure made our American church picnics look boring! It’s definitely different to hear the same music played at a church picnic as is played in dance clubs, but that’s Ghana. Celebrating is celebrating and it seems that people just want to have some fun without analyzing all of the lyrics of every song that’s played. You can’t attend any sort of pubic celebration or funeral here without the obligatory sound system blaring all the top hits of the moment.

Even now as I sit here writing this section in my room, someone has giant speakers across the street and has been blaring music all day. It’s annoying but you find that there’s not much you can do, and you hear the songs so often that you begin to know and enjoy them. As I have sat here I’ve gotten lost in memories evoked by one song after another and yes, will be bringing as many home as I can to preserve the memories!

For those of you who have followed me on my journey and kept me in your prayers during this long, hard year I am and will be eternally grateful…literally. The spiritual isolation and darkness that I encountered in Ghana were insurmountable without your prayers and God’s grace. The cup of suffering from which he allowed me to partake, is itself an answer to prayer and is a great honor. My work has been for us, his body, and for his glory, and I find myself amazed at what has been accomplished in terms of spiritual gains. The seeds have already begun to bear visible fruit amongst my colleagues before I even left! I have been leaven in their presence and they in turn have grown in tolerance and understanding toward me. There are no words sufficient to describe God’s great generosity and mercy towards us all.

What a great work we have done together! Medaasi pah (Thank you very much).

There are two more blogs I’d like to post and/or photos and videos I’d like to share with you in time, of the Africa Cup, the slave castles and the church picnic. That should wrap up this year and then you won’t have to bother yourselves with reading yet another travel entry in someone’s blog anymore!

MUSIC

As you know, one of the things I’d been wanting to do with my blog, was upload music and photos that gave you a better idea of what this year was like from my vantage point. To that end, I thought carefully about what songs could best communicate the intense spiritual reality I was living. Few if any of these songs (more than what were uploaded here) were written from a Christian perspective. This makes me love them even more. Every human being has divorced him or herself from God’s love and spends his or her life trying to fill that void with a love of some kind or another. The human cry for love is universal and that makes every cry for love a cry for God, whether we know it or not. That means nearly every love is song a song of praise, or a song befitting love for God even more than love for a fellow human being. Ever thought about it all that way while listening to music? It’s like having your eyes opened. It’s pure grace when an artist is an instrument of God without even knowing it. It’s also a good reminder to pray for them.

Since I won’t be “publishing” much more, I want to share three with you at this time.

They are: Don’t Matter by Akon http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/akon/dontmatter.htm

02-dont-matter2

I heard this song constantly during my first six months in Ghana. It sounds like a typical lovers song of angst a la Romeo and Juliet, where someone or something is conspiring against the love that two people intensely want to share. No, there was no Romeo for me. Well, not of the human sort. The more I grew to understand that my faith was making me a social leper where I worked, the greater meaning this song held for me. Nobody it seemed wanted to see me together with Christ, the love of my life. But it wasn’t going to matter, because we would fight for each other. This song came to symbolize my year there, and everytime I heard it it was like God was playing our song! I would smile with courage wherever I happened to be and steel myself for the fight.

Thank You by Sinead O’Connor http://www.goldlyrics.com/song_lyrics/sinead_o_connor/universal_mother/thank_you_for_hearing_me

06-thank-you-for-hearing-me1

I have loved this song for years, without understanding the seeming contradiction at the end. Now it makes perfect sense. Especially as a song of praise. I think it will to you too. Sinead knows how to sing with passion!

Songbird by Eva Cassidy http://www.lyrics007.com/Eva%20Cassidy%20Lyrics/Songbird%20Lyrics.html

06-songbird1

I think this one means the most of all. I grew to love it during my breaking point in Ivory Coast when everything was at its worst. The chorus represented my faithfulness to God by loving him through my obedience. Being reborn, stronger and smarter was the blessing of obedience that came later. Sometimes we’re the most aware of how much we love someone when we’re drowning in pain and the cost of loving is at its highest. He tells us pointedly, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15

Do yourselves a favor and don’t read the lyrics until after you’ve listened to the songs. Just let the music carry you away and if you really can’t understand something, look after listening. Enjoy these gems!  And don’t forget to check out the “What Ghana has taught me to appreciate” page.

your sister soldier (taking a much-needed break),

Grace

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