Monday, 3 March 2014

Water in the Desert

Many many children and long long queues!!! As a way of rewarding their customers in the Northern Region, a company that deals with beverages and milk products in Ghana organised a Fun Fair for children in Tamale. They had to transport all their games and equipment from the capital city Accra to the North, a 12 hour’s drive. There is only one playground in Tamale, which is not very well maintained. So having the games in Tamale and not having to pay an entrance fee was like discovering water in the desert for the children. The children far outnumbered the facilities and had to queue for hours to take turns in playing. Samuel and Micah also joined the fun.

Samuel and Micah climbing!

Samuel and Micah at the top!!

Most children in this part of Ghana do not have any toys to play with, not to speak of playgrounds. They make their own toys out of waste, sticks and stones. If they lack a football to play with, they fill a plastic bag with soil and tie it into a ball. Older children who do not go to school take care of the younger ones and many often roam the streets in Tamale. Others follow their mothers to the market and spend whole days in the shade of the stalls where their mothers sell their goods. So having such a Fun Fair in Tamale, the organisers needed little publicity as children from all corners of Tamale trooped into the Jubilee Park to seize the moment.

Within our literacy work and church activities we likewise have to seize the opportunity of reaching out to these children as they often get little direction in their lives because their parents are so busy generating what little income they can to simply survive and take care of their families. Showing love and care, giving them some attention, having fun and teaching them are little things we can do to help them to discover their talents and to let them know they are loved.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

End-Stage Kidney disease

Wahab, an acquaintance of ours, gave us a copy of a medical report with the above mentioned diagnosis. It is about his 24 year old sister, Mariam. The only solution for this patient is a kidney transplant. In the meantime dialysis is what keeps her alive and for which she has been admitted to a hospital in the capital Accra, a 10 hours drive away from where her family lives.

It is not the first time that young people with kidney failure have crossed our path. Over the past two years, two young church members and one cousin died of the disease because dialysis was not an option let alone the possibility of a transplant. The distance to a hospital with dialysis equipment was too far and the treatment for that or for a transplant was far too costly.

Medical facilities in Ghana are slowly improving but there is still a long way to go. Sometimes hospitals have state of the art equipment but lack doctors. Many times doctors are there but they lack the medical equipment. Mostly, specialist treatment is only possible in the big cities in Ghana like Accra and Kumasi and as such out of reach for most patients. Despite the fact that Ghana has a ‘National Health Insurance Scheme’ which is reasonably accessible for the poor, specialist treatments are not covered.

Wahab is the eldest son in his family, is a teacher by profession and father of two small children. All responsibility rests on his shoulders. In addition, he has gone through many medical tests and it is now clear that he can be a donor match to his sister. However, all the stress has made him desperate. The cost of dialysis and a transplant operation is more than €25,000! That is more than 12 years salary and would probably not include the cost of follow-up medical care and medication. Wahab approaches any organisation or person he can think of to come to the aid of his sister but so far he has not been successful.

For small medical treatments we do have a medical fund as a church or sometimes we ourselves contribute to somebody’s treatment. But where we are confronted with situations like that of Mariam, we sometimes wonder whether it is more of a blessing or a curse to know there is possible treatments available but not having the ability to pay for it. Harry Wegdam, a Dutch doctor who worked in Ghana for more than 13 years writes the following in his book, ‘Opereren in Ghana’:

‘I realised how much parental coincidence determines where you are born. Is it here or there? In the Netherlands almost all treatments are being paid for, even if medically chances are poor. Here (Ghana) all decisions are being taken whether to treat or not, with in the background always the question whether there is money or not, with the intention to continue life or let the person die. Bringing our Western advancement all the way to Ghana, without providing the Western entourage and finances, we make the situation for certain cases very painful. In the past we did not know what caused the 24-year old woman to be so sick and we would not be able to treat her. Nature took its course. Now we know and the patients know exactly what is wrong but they miss the money for a good solution and nature continues to do the same.’

In the case of the three young people we’ve known over the past few years who have had kidney failure, their families decided to take care of them as best as possible so that they could die a quiet and peaceful death. It might sound strange, but death seems to be much more part of life here and the way people deal with life and death much more natural and accepted than in the Western world. However, our good friend continues to worry so much and those worries we share with you because he asked us to do so. Please join us in sharing the burden of our friend.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sunday School

Every Sunday a small group of children visits the church we attend here in Tamale. Usually there are about seven children, including Samuel and Micah. It is a challenge to plan an interesting and good lesson with children from very different ages, backgrounds and languages. Apart from Samuel and Micah, none of the children have a Christian background and therefore all the stories and the Gospel itself are new to them.

A few weeks ago I visited the mother of three of the children. They had not come to the Sunday school for a while. In many areas of Tamale there is often some kind of suspicion towards the Church and we suspected this was one of the reasons why the children no longer came. Fortunately the mother was very happy to see us. We explained to her what we do during Sunday school and how the children learn so much. The mother on her part told us how difficult it is for her and her husband to send the children to school. During the rainy season her husband leaves Tamale to farm elsewhere. Because the city of Tamale is growing so fast there is no longer enough land for the farmers locally. After harvesting the crops , her husband comes home. Sometimes she and the children join her husband on the farm if he needs help. During the dry season her husband spends most of his time with his family in Tamale. They just have enough food to eat but they have no money to buy school uniforms and other things the children need to go to school.

Because of the fact that some children do not go to school, they find it difficult to sit still during Sunday school and not to disturb the lesson. Gradually I have found a way to keep everybody in check and to make sure everyone enjoys their time. It is amazing to see how much the children learn during the lessons, especially children who hear the stories from the Bible for the first time. They are often able to re-tell and even dramatise the story. It is wonderful to discover that even though at times I have the feeling that they have not listened at all, God has done His part in touching their hearts.

Every Sunday we organise a three hour Sunday School programme. To give the children some extra encouragement to keep on coming we have introduced reading and writing in the mother tongue as part of the Sunday school lesson. Currently they are learning the sounds of Dagbanli and they have started writing exercises. It is wonderful to see how much they enjoy this. They are so eager to learn and would love to go to school just like many other children. As a church we hope to be able to encourage the parents to send their children to school and help where necessary to eventually make this possible.

Please pray for these little ones that they will be captured by God’s love. Pray for creativity, patience and wisdom in leading the children. Pray for new enthusiastic leaders who could assist me in teaching the children.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Impressions of the past weeks

During the past few weeks we have enjoyed a holiday and retreat in Germany. We were invited by the German partner organisation with whom Abukari works. We had a wonderful holiday and were inspired through studying God’s Word together and hearing about the work the organisation is doing throughout the world to reach people with the Gospel. We met prayer partners and had a short reunion with our family members. On the 8th of September the boys and I (Joke) returned to Ghana. Abukari stayed in Germany visiting partners for another two weeks to share about the work we do in Ghana. Abukari then returned to Ghana on the 22nd. Altogether we can look back on a wonderful time that has refreshed us as we continue the work God has called us to do.

Here are some photo highlights of our time in Germany:

The Hindensee lighthouse

The Baltic Sea is much colder than Atlantic Ocean but just as much fun!!

Making new friends

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Blog by Samuel

This time Samuel wanted to write something:

My name is Samuel and I am the son of Abukari and Joke. I was born in August 2005. I love drawing and sports and sometimes travelling as well. Once in a while I make pots from the clay soil in our garden.
This is a picture I drew

I like to play badminton......

....... and ride my bicycle

Some time ago I went to a Nature Park. It was really nice there. You can go on safari and if you are lucky you can see elephants, monkeys and more wild animals. If you go far into the park you might see lions, tigers and snakes. You can also go on a night safari. Here are some pictures of the Nature Park ‘Mole’:

If you are lucky you can get very close to the elephants.........

........ and also the monkeys

I also went to the beach. The name of the hotel we stayed at was called ‘Tills’. It was a lot of fun there as you can see from the picture:

Playing with the kite on the beach

Monday, 17 June 2013

‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

The mandate to preach the Good News comes in different forms and shapes. Our Lord through his death and resurrection gives us His Good News to preach to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to release the oppressed.

In this post, Abukari writes about how the reality of Romans 10:15 suddenly dawned on an aggrieved woman when she was reading her Bible during a church service:

One of the people groups that we work with are the Konkomba of Northern Ghana. For many generations, the Konkomba practised an exchange and betrothal marriage system. This is where a brother from one family gives his sister in exchange for the wife he has taken from another family. The sister is betrothed to the whole family from which a wife has been taken, pending any male from that family being interested in wanting her as his wife, whether he is young or old. Whether the girl given in exchange is in love or not she must be obedient to the decision of the family. Sometimes the sister is still very young and will only learn of the family she has been given to when she grows older. Love here is a demand and not a requirement. In fact a man negotiating for a wife on behalf of his children does not have to say at the outset which son the girl is meant for.

According to Ghanaian law women have the freedom to marry whom they wish and as such this old practice has been an infringement on the rights of these young girls. However, some traditional Konkomba feel that their culture stands above this law. Implementing the law, therefore, sometimes causes tensions in communities and between families to rise so high that the police have to be called in to rescue girls from being forced into marriage. Some parents are even reluctant to send their daughters to school fearing that their education will cause them to reject an arranged marriage. On the other hand, more voices are being heard that speak against the practice.

In the early days of sharing the Good News with the Konkomba villages it somehow complicated the matter. Girls and boys who became Christians felt that the traditional marriage practice could no longer be imposed on them; they did not want to be forced into a marriage with somebody of another faith. Even if the man the girl had been given to was a Christian, the girl believed she had the right to make her own choice. The girls (and boys) wanted to be free from the bondage of certain cultural practices that would have a negative impact on their lives. As with education, Christianity too was seen as a threat to these traditional practices.

As a church we therefore engaged ourselves in discussions with chiefs and opinion leaders to talk about this practice. The church also mediated in many cases where tensions had risen so high that girls were being kidnapped by the families they were promised to. Gradually we are seeing the number of forced marriages decreasing and the practice dying out, thereby bringing smiles on faces of many young people, especially the young girls.

'A Christian wedding'

In a recent church service, a lady who was reading the Bible came across Romans 10:15 and, with excitement, she began to read it aloud for everybody to hear.  Then she exclaimed, ‘I thank God for the life of the church. I was a victim of the traditional marriage system but thank God, my children who are now Christians will not have to go through this dishonourable marriage system any longer. Indeed, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!” If the Gospel had not been brought to our village, this cultural practice would not have been redeemed or liberated.’

Pray that the Good News will permeate every aspect of our culture and release people from such practices it contains, paving the way for holistic transformation.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Coconuts and Guinea Fowls

In May Joke’s sister and brother-in-law visited Ghana. It was a good opportunity for us to behave as tourists and enjoy the good food in Ghana.

We spent a few days at the Atlantic Ocean in the South where we enjoyed fresh coconuts!
It takes skill and courage to climb a coconut tree!

Enjoying the fresh coconut milk!
From the shell of the coconut a little spoon is made to scoop
out the fresh soft coconut flesh – delicious!

Up North we introduced our visitors to the grilled guinea fowls sold in the market
Old tyre rims are turned into barbecues on which the fowls are grilled

As the cooked meat is sold, so new stock is delivered!