School boy in Kumasi, celebrating Ghana's 50th year of independence

School boy in Kumasi, celebrating Ghana's 50th year of independence

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

“At long last, the battle has ended. And Ghana your beloved country is free Forever.”
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah March 6, 1957

One of my favorite memories is of our friend and Ghana host Pastor Emmanuel from Ghana walking along side the Island Church rock band float in the Bainbbridge Grand Old 4th of July parade. He was dressed in red, white and blue and had great fun passing out logo’d water bottles celebrating this bit of Americana, perhaps more than anyone else in the crowd.

For those of us who grew up in the States with 200+ years of freedom the significance of our annual celebration can become dulled by familiarity.

This past Tuesday in Kumasi, Ghana my traveling partners and I had the privilege to celebrate another country’s freedom.

We decked ourselves out in red, yellow and green with the Ghana “Black Star” as we joined throngs of Kumasi revelers gathered around the green of Kwami Nkrumah University of Science and Technology . The occasion of all the hooting and hollering was a nation-wide celebration of Ghana’s 50 years of independence on March 6, 2007.

What we in America did by force in 1776, the Ghanians did in peace in 1957. They sent the British colonizers packing. Ghana was the first colony in Africa south of the Sahara to become independent. The past 50 years in Ghana have seen some ups and downs, coupes, famines and great difficulties, but through it all the strong and proud people of Ghana have creating a working democracy and have begun rescuing the failing economy their Colonizers left them with. It’s a great story and it’s not finished. (To get a taste of the celebration visit the official web site: http://www.ghana50.gov.gh/).
For weeks the city of Kumasi prepared, for the celebration with most businesses festooned with the Ghana colors (there will be a lot of red, yellow and green dresses in someone’s future) we well as sprucing-up projects like curb painting, neighborhood clean-ups and the like. Street side vendors sold commemorative cards to be worn on ribbons around the neck (their version of a Seafair pin fundraiser). School children from the large cities to the small villages practiced marching and drill routines for the big parades.

When the time came for us to join the crowd, our friend Frank was able to get us onto the parade grounds right up to the white chalk line that separated the crowds from the participants. I don’t know how Frank pulls this stuff off, but I’m very glad he’s on our team! What a view! We were taken from spectators to participants.

One school boy, about 11 years old, asked me if we ever did anything like this in American and I was able to share with him that both counties have a common heritage of being freed British colonies. He was amazed and proud. So was I. We need to look deep into our roots to see just how far we have come. And like our friends in Ghana, look into the future to see how far we have to go. Both counties can have a bright future, but we need to remember where we came from and the fact that freedom is never free.

The colors of Ghana fly proudly over Buckingham Palace with Big Ben in the background during the week of Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence from the British Empire.

The colors of Ghana fly proudly over Buckingham Palace with Big Ben in the background during the week of Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence from the British Empire.


Village elders in Burkina Faso

Village elders in Burkina Faso

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It’s about 9:30 p.m in the far reaches of the Burkina Faso bush. We are so far from everything that just last week in this village our host Kevin Oberg was taken to a woman’s home for a visit because she had never seen a white man before. The sun has been down for about two and a half hours now. Several hundred villagers have walked onto to the crude soccer field where Kevin, our team and the local believers have set up benches. At the very front in a large movie screen, probably 18 feet wide and 12 feet high, set at the back of a stage assembled on Kevin’s trailer. Big speakers are poised to blast sound into the darkness and a generator has been hauled a hundred feet away to power the whole set-up.

This is remote. This is Africa. Here I am walking in with Pastor Emmanuel from Ghana and we are about to experience a convergence of cultures, time and space unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered. There on the screen, in living color mated with a twangy steel guitar sound-track is the unexpected spectacle of American Rodeo bloopers.

So,for the next half hour I get to be in Africa,which I love, with Pastor Emmanuel, whom I love, explaining the intricacies of bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc, steer wrestling and calk roping along with the art of rodeo clowning and wild horse riding. Rodeo, too, has always been a passion of mine. Rodeom represented the ultimate slice of Americana.

As the Burkina-bae villagers around us wince and giggle, Pastor Emmanuel is about to bust a gut as he watches more crazy Americans do their thing! He’s totally amazed to learn that that young men who are getting tossed toe over tea kettle on the screen actually paid an entry fee for the privilege. I’m getting nostalgic for days I spent at the Ellensburg Rodeo, one of my first and longest running advertising clients.

The Rodeo bloopers has the intended effect of warming up the crowd. They are amused, bemused and most likely a little confused by what they see, but entertained none the less. This is Kevin’s kick off for two nights of evangelism. Right after the bloopers,thelocal believers perform a few worship songs in the Jula language. It’s quite simple, yet stirring. I have some video for those interested. That is followed by a strong message in Jula, then a showing of the first half of the “Jesus Film” of word-wide fame. It was initially produced by Campus Crusade for Christ and has been translated into hundred on languages. This is the Jula language version which also has a prolog added that establishes and Old Testament connection helpful to Moslem and Arabic population. The conditions in this village are so simple that Willy asked how the village would know this story is set 200 years in past. Some of the homes, buildings, temples, clothing and tools of Bible times used in the film might even look futuristed to these folks. Kevin said in the past some villagers have asked a similar question “did this story just happen?”

The second evening in the bush was similar to the first with a second half of the Jesus film followed by a very strong call by the Jula speaking pastor. At least five men came forward to follow Christ, which is a very strong start for this work.

Kevin and Bonnie Oberg are doing an amazing work in this part of the world. What’s even more stunning is the way God has been preparing a way for their ministry. The villages Kevin is working in have all had recent additions of strong believers in Christ. In some cases there are enough for small churches and groups that can embrace and disciple new believers. This kind on impact in this region was unheard of just a couple of years ago.

Kevin is obviously the right man for the job with tremendous support from Bonnie, his fellow C&MA missionaries and the national C&MA church.

Kevin and Bonnie are the point people for reaching these people groups with the National church taking responsibility for moving the ministry forward.

For nearly two and a half months Kevin will be spending most of his time in the bush, repeating what I described. We were honored to spend three days and two nights with him on one of these trips. The days consist of difficult travel over very crude roads, then a fair about of protocol. The village chiefs and elders must be visited and the local believers brought up to speed. Nights are very interesting. For our two nights we slept under a “hanger” which is basically a grass covered eating shelter and is very much like sleeping in a barnyard. All night long I could open my eyes to see groups of pigs and piglets, guinea fowl, chickens and goats pass by. A few villagers also made the trip so they could get a closer look at the while people. The evening was quite bright with a full moon, tons of stars and a sound track punctuated by the braying of a donkey in heat. That is quite a sound, believe me. One that Pastor Emmanuel also found quite hilarious.

Rice for lunch. Rice for dinner. Rice for breakfast. That’s Kevin’s bush diet.

These are his conditions most nights now through late April when the dry season ends and the villagers return to their fields.

Pray for him. And give large thanks. God has this family in the right place at the right time. And like the Rodeo blooper film proves, Kevin has maintained a great sense of humor and healthy perspective on what he is doing.