Paul Moody and I arrived in Accra a day later than we had hoped as a result of some untimely weather that hit JFK the day of our departure. As a result, Mr. Moody and I were stranded in NYC overnight on Wednesday August 7th, and had a 22-hour layover in the city while we waited for an 11:00p.m. flight to Accra on the 8th. Neither Paul nor myself had ever been to New York, so the following day (after getting some much-needed sleep) we were able to connect with our friends Lewis and Lena VanAusdle, and take a walking tour of New York City.
We spent time in and around Brooklyn, as well as Lower and Midtown Manhattan. It was neat to see the various buildings that have provided the backdrop to so many movies and television shows first hand. In fact, Paul and I both had a good laugh that most, if not all, of our knowledge of New York came from television shows and movies, just like many people in other parts of the world. It was a little like being foreigners in our own country.
We did many of the things that make New York, New York. We rode the subway, ate a hot dog from a street vendor, visited Central Park, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, went to Times Square, visited One World Trade and saw the 9/11 memorial, and the list goes on.
We were very appreciative to Lewis and Lena for their willingness to put up with a couple of tourists, and so soon after their own cross country return from the Pacific Northwest.
The following evening, Paul and I were strapped into the exit row of our 767-300ER and on our way to Ghana. We both breathed a sigh of relief when the wheels were off the ground, because it meant we were actually on our way. Both of us have traveled enough now to know that until that point, there’s always a possibility, however remote, that you’re not actually leaving. After our previous delays, it was good to be in the air and headed to our destination.
We had a relatively uneventful 11 hours to Accra, I was actually able to sleep. Paul, not so much. We landed at the beautifully remodeled airport at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, about 2:45 in the afternoon on Thursday where we were met by our good friends Henry Aikins and Franklin Hiagbe.
It was really nice to see Franklin again for the third year in a row -- I met him two years ago here in Ghana. He staffed at the summer camp in Nigeria last year with Carl and I, and then again this year. I’m going to have to find a way to get him to Nigeria, or alternatively to the United States to help out at Hye Sierra or Northwest Camp and see if we can go for four camps together. I was also overjoyed to find out this year that Franklin got engaged to a wonderful young lady named Regina from Accra.
With all of our luggage loaded, we hit the road headed for Cape Coast.
Partway there, Franklin peeled off and headed for the camp location, and we met up with Isaac Tetteh, and the car carrying the rest of our crew for United Youth Corps this year. Paul and I were very excited to have an all-African team this year. Three of our group, Andrew, Kelvin, and Sharon hail from Kenya, and Tabo is from Zambia. We made quick greetings, and piled back in the cars for the three-hour drive to Cape Coast.
Along the way it was nice to catch up with Henry.
One of the benefits of having done these trips now for a second time in both Nigeria and Ghana is that you have a previous connection and can pick back up again where you left off. God’s Spirit facilitates the building of relationships, but when we had a chance to reconnect with the brethren that we haven’t seen in a couple of years, it’s like your heart just leaps with joy at being able to see them again.
The drive to Cape Coast took a little longer than we had planned, and by the time we arrived, it was nearing sundown, which in this part of the world is roughly 6:00p.m. to 6:30p.m., basically year-round. We grabbed some dinner and checked into the hotel for the night.
At dinner we had a chance to get to know the United Youth Corps participants a bit better, and to talk with them about their home countries of Kenya and Zambia, and their impressions of the similarities and differences between Ghana and their home countries. Paul and I observed that the four United Youth Corps participants had already bonded quite strongly, which was exciting. We were very pleased with their maturity and level of conversion. They have made excellent participants, serving the camp very well, and I am thankful to have the opportunity to get to know them.
The following day we drove out to Abrem Agona for services. The Agona congregation is a village congregation that has approximately 120 members, many of which are from as far away as Elmina and Cape Coast, which is a decent drive. Public transportation is needed to transport many of our members from the Elmina area, which can be a hardship and challenge for our brethren. There are discussions about establishing a congregation in Elmina, which would be served by the Pastor of Agona, Benjamin Agyapong, in order to reduce the amount of driving to services that is required.
The congregation in Agona has a great number of children. Some of whom will be at the camp. Myself and Mr. Moody provided split sermons for the Sabbath via translation into the local language, Fante.
Fante is a language in the Akan family of languages, and is the primary language spoken by the brethren in Agona. While everyone here speaks English to a degree, in the villages especially (like Agona and Kwanyako, or even Kumasi and Yeji), depending on level of schooling and frequency of use -- their English is a bit more labored because it is not used regularly. For the brethren and campers from Accra, their English is quite good and you can converse with them much more readily. I can sympathize with their difficulty in understanding/speaking as I have been in that place myself when learning Spanish.
The campers have been teaching me small bits of Fante here and there beyond the basics of "Good morning," "Good evening," "yes," "no," etc… but it is unfortunately in one ear and out the other. I cannot seem to remember it from one moment to the next.
After services in Agona, we sat in the shade of the acacia trees and enjoyed some fresh coconut, and then had lunch and returned to our hotel.
The following morning, we set off to do the tour we had planned to do on Thursday, but due to the delay in our flight, were unable to do. We drove down the road a short way to the town of Cape Coast to tour the Cape Coast Castle.
There are three primary castles along the Ghanaian coast, and Cape Coast Castle is the most recent. The others were built in 1555 by the Portuguese, 1661 by the Dutch, and then finally 1665 by the British. Before it was a British Castle, it was a Portuguese fort, and a Dutch trading post.
The West African coastline along the Gulf of Guinea has had a storied history. At times it has been referred to as the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, and the Slave Coast. Each name represents the era and the primary export of that era. During the 1600’s, one of the primary exports from Ghana to the west was slave labor to work the newly built plantations.
When the Americas were discovered by Europeans they built plantations for sugar, spices, fruit, etc. to be sent back to the European continent. The indigenous populations of the Caribbean and Americas were made to work those plantations. However, it was found that the local peoples struggled with the difficult work and succumbed to foreign disease readily, and often died as a result. Bartolome de las Casas advocated for the use of African slaves of “hardier stock” as opposed to the indigenous peoples of the area, and the boats began leaving the Ghanaian coast with men and women bound for the West Indies and the Americas.
Cape Coast Castle was one such location for the export of slaves bound for the New World.
Within the castle was a series of dungeons that would hold up to 1,000 male slaves for two to three months, and a separate dungeon that would hold 300 female slaves as well. The dungeons were crowded, and unbearably difficult. At the end of the two to three month holding periods the slaves who were still alive, and still relatively strong (in comparison with those who had weakened in unsanitary conditions) were sold, lead through a long tunnel out of the dungeons to the “door of no return,” and boarded onto ships bound for the west.
From 1665 to the mid-1800’s, ship after ship left the three castles in Ghana. The vast majority were taken to Brazil, to the Caribbean, and to the Eastern United States.
Those on board the ships would never see their homeland again. When they crossed through that door, they lost their name, their marriages were broken, children became fatherless, they lost their identity, their culture, and their history. They were forced into new lives in the New World.
In 1998, the bodies of two former Ghanaian slaves. “Crystal,” from Jamaica, and Mr. Samuel Carson from New York City were exhumed from their burial locations and ceremoniously brought back through the “door of no return” and buried in their ancestral homeland. That door now has a second name, “the door of return,” which symbolizes the ability of those who are descendants of slaves to return to their homeland. Many visitors come to the Cape Coast castle from the United States to symbolically “return” to Ghana.
In fact, this year has been declared the “Year of Return,” symbolizing the 400th anniversary of the first ship bound for the United States.
Cape Coast Castle is always a sobering visit, no less sobering the second time as you consider the sorts of atrocities that people can commit upon one another. Yet, similar to something like a holocaust memorial, or even the 9/11 memorial in NYC (which we visited before we arrived in Ghana), it continues to stand as a reminder of what we have done -- and a strong motivator to not go down that road again.
After our castle tour, we drove from Cape Coast to the outskirts of Accra, and arrived at the Valley View Facility and camp began. More on the camp itself will come in later blog posts from both myself, as well our Kenyan and Zambian Ambassadors.
One of the most wonderful things about this second trip to Ghana has been the opportunity to rekindle relationships that were made last time, to see Franklin and Billey again, Jemima and Margolda, Mr. Aikins, Isaac, Mr. Meselebe and his wife Betty, Lisa and Danielle, and Daniel, as well as the opportunity to make so many new friendships. It can be very easy to live in the United States and have a viewpoint of the rest of the world that is shaded by your experience as an American. But to visit Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico, etc… and meet people who are just like me, who are raising families, working, and doing what they can to make a difference in the lives of others, doing what they can to live according to the calling that God has provided them, to serve Him and one another, and to yield to the Holy Spirit in their lives, it just warms my heart.
God is working an incredible work at this time on this earth, and I think sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and think about just how incredible it is.
His calling has gone out, not just to America, not just to the English speaking world, but to the Fante speaking world, to the Asante, to the Yoruba, to the Igbo, the Kamba, Luhya, or Meru, the Lozi, the French, the Portuguese, to the Spanish, God’s Word is going out, His calling is going out… regardless of individual language and culture, regardless of location, it is going out to the whole world. God is calling people out of their respective cultures -- from their tribes -- to become a part of a new tribe… the family of God, a tribe of people potentially made up from every country on the face of the earth.
The Word of God, and the Way of God that we are learning about at camp this year supersedes culture, it supersedes nationality and tribal identity. God is calling us out of our culture and nation to be a part of a family of believers -- His Ekklesia. It didn’t matter if you were Jew or Greek, it doesn’t matter if you’re Fante or Ashanti.
That is the gospel of the Kingdom of God. That Christ died for the world, so that everyone can have an opportunity to be part of the family of God. Through that sacrifice anyone whom God is calling can have the opportunity to repent and be baptized, to commit to the way of God, regardless of their nationality and their culture.
What an incredible opportunity. What an incredible calling. God is working a mighty work in the world at this time -- and though it is small at this time, like a mustard seed -- it is great and mighty all the same… and it is growing with more brethren coming to God all the time.
Tomorrow is the Sabbath, and we are very much looking forward to worshipping God together with our brothers and sisters in Ghana. I hope that everyone reading this has a wonderful Sabbath, and please say a prayer for our brothers and sisters in extant places. Not just in Ghana, but throughout Africa, throughout the world; keep them in your thoughts and prayers regularly as they strive to grow in God’s Way, and forge ahead to the Kingdom of God.