Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Visit to Niger, May/June, 2012

Eglise Evangelical de la Republique du Niger
 - the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger

In this post, I want to show some pictures from a trip Debbie Braaksma and I made to Niger at the end of May, 2012, to visit the PCUSA partner there, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger.  Christians in Niger are only 1% of the population, so they are a tiny minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.  But the EERN is a vibrant church and joyful church, despite this minority status. 

Currently, there are two congregations in the city of Niamey, which is far away from the heartland of the church in Maradi, Niger, some 400 miles to the east. One congregation is more established, comprised of professionals working in the city and their children. The other sits on the edge of the university campus and is made up primarily of students. 

Our first Sunday in Niamey, we worshipped with the university students, who were celebrating a special Sunday, lifting up the gift of women.  The entire service -- preaching, praying, singing, was led by the women of the church. This was a bit unusual for the EERN, a church which still restricts ordained ministry to men. 

The young women's choir.
After worship, the congregation processed to the nearby Niger River, where five youth were baptized into church membership.  The river was quite busy that day -- cattle were drinking, women were washing clothes, children were swimming, and in the distance you could spot a pair of hippos.  All of this while the baptisms were taking place. 

Over the past ten years, the PCUSA has helped the EERN develop its schools.  Through the Presbyterian Hunger Program, wells have been built in underdeveloped rural villages.  Currently, we exploring the possibility of helping the church with literacy programs.  In a country were the literacy rate is approximately 30%, there is a great need for literacy education. 

In some villages, the church's pastors and evangelists are the only people who have received a formal education.  Many residents seek them out, asking for literacy instruction.  It's a prime opportunity for the church to reach out,

A typical village school, run by the government of Niger. 
Some buildings are made of mud brick, like the one above.
Others from millet stalks, like the two 'buildings' in the distance below.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Konkomba Market Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Agblogboshie, Accra, Ghana

Konkomba Church Fire

Some pictures of the congregation before the fire.  Left:  the entrance to the shed, which served as the chapel.  Center: Rev. Patience Akator, Lartebiokoshie District Pastor, at the communion table.  Right: Mr. Geoffrey Wuaku, the congregation's catechist (in blue suit) standing in front of the yam trucks, which back up to the chapel entrance.  

Over the course of the past year, I've been helping the Lartebiokoshie District of the E.P. Church with its Konkomba Market congregation. Konkomba Market is comprised mostly of young women and men under age 25 from the Konkomba ethnic group. The Konkombas find their home in the eastern Northern Region of Ghana, in towns like Saboba and Tatale and the area around Yendi, and in the northern Volta Region, in towns like Kpassa and Damanko. The E.P. Church has had a presence in this area for more than 50 years.  

The Konkombas are known throughout Ghana for their yams. In fact, the main yam market in Accra is also called the Konkomba Market.  This market is where the congregation is located.  Many of the young men and women have moved from the north to Accra to find work. Some of the them work in the yam market, together with their families, who grow the yams in the north and then ship them to Accra to be sold.  The E.P. Church congregation has become a second home for the ones who have come south.

Yams on the roadside, outside of Yendi, waiting for a passing truck to stop and buy them. The trucks will then take the yams to Accra, and to other cities in the south of Ghana. 
The yam market on a Sunday. The trucks in the background are full of yams waiting to be unloaded.
Some sellers sit by their produce, waiting for the market to open again on Monday morning. 

The Agblogboshie neighborhood of Accra is a world apart from the north. In recent years, it has received some notoriety for its garbage dumps. A 2010 article in the New York times called it a "Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana."

A photographer named Andrew McConnell has put together this photo gallery called "Rubbish Dump 2.0."

Be sure to check out these links, because the photos are quite striking!

On May 31, 2012, a fire moved through the area where the Konkomba Market Church chapel was located, burning the building to the ground. Fires seem to be common in the area, as many of the houses are made of wood and without electricity, forcing the occupants to use candles and kerosene lanterns. It's a dangerous mixture.

Although the fire burned the chapel on a Thursday, the young men and women gathered on Friday and Saturday to clean the plot and erect a temporary shelter. On Sunday, they still gathered for church, although their numbers were much reduced.

The membership of the Konkomba Market congregation continues to grow, and it's now more than 100 strong. Next year, they will celebrate their 10th anniversary. The church hopes to erect a permanent concrete block building by that time which will be resistant to fire and will better suit them as they move forward.

Below, you will see some pictures of the work that was done after the fire, to get the church ready for Sunday morning worship. Thanks to Mr. Solomon Bagmae for these photos.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kaajaano, Accra - Presbyterian Church of Ghana

In March of 2008, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, closed its doors and sold its church building in order to merge with another nearby congregation.  One final wish of the church was that one-sixth of the proceeds of the sale of the building – an amount of money equal to $97,000 – be given to the Epiphany congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, in the Kaajaano neighborhood of Ghana’s capital Accra.

Some years before Trinity closed, a relationship had developed between them and Epiphany, due to a Ghanaian family who had emigrated from Accra and settled in Dallas.  This family, Mr. and Mrs. Fiase and their children, helped their two Presbyterian church homes – one in Ghana and one in the United States – develop a friendship and partnership.  In 2007, a group from Dallas traveled to Accra, where they spent time with the Epiphany congregation.  There, the Trinity group witnessed first hand a vibrant congregation in an urban West African setting.  

The Kaajaano "Epiphany" chapel, built about 18 years ago.  
The Kaajaano congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana sits along Accra’s Atlantic coastline, not far from “the Castle,” the 400-year-old Danish-built fort that currently serves as Ghana’s presidential offices.  Kaajaano is now almost 50 years old.  The congregation has over 600 members and an additional 600 children and youth. 

These members are primarily the native Ga-language-speaking people of Accra, but there are a sizable number of Ewe-language speakers, too, migrants who have come to Ghana’s capital from the eastern part of the country.  Like almost all of the Presbyterian congregations in Accra, the church has an active youth program, young adults fellowship group, and women’s Bible study class.  

Looking west along the coast from Kaajaano, a view of "the Castle," Ghana's presidential offices, with the Accra harbor lighthouse in the distance.

On the same piece of land as the church, the Epiphany congregation runs a kindergarten and primary school. A total of about 300 students attend the school, which is run in partnership with the government, through the Ghana Education Service.  Over the past 30 years, temporary wooden structures have been put up to house the school, and at times small improvements were made to them.  What was intended to be temporary, though, in fact became semi-permanent.  Kaajaano knew for a long time they had to rebuild the school, but the question was how.  The church was praying that God would give them the ability to make a way forward. 

While in Accra, the group from Dallas saw the dilapidated state of the Epiphany church school.  They knew they wanted to work together to improve the condition of the buildings.  But they also had the same question, how?  Only later, when Trinity decided to close its congregation, did they realize where the funds could come from. 

The Kaajaano Church primary school is made from rough hewn wood and sits on a piece of land that is prone to flooding.  The money given by Trinity Presbyterian Church, through Grace Presbytery, will allow the ground to be graded and improved, and multi-story concrete block school building to be constructed on the same premises.  

In December of 2010, Grace Presbytery gave the final approval for the Trinity proceeds to be sent to Ghana.  At that point in time, the work in Ghana truly began.  Kaajaano hired an architect to draw up plans for the new school.  A surveyor was brought in to calculate the costs of construction.  There are hopes that ground will be broken in the second half of 2012. 

I know it can be a sad day for people when their church – the place that has been a home for them – decides to close its doors.  But even though Trinity is no longer in existence, the members can take heart knowing that their church’s resources are going to help build a Presbyterian school in AccraGhana

One person from Kaajaano even mentioned to me the story of the prophet Elisha’s death, in II Kings 13.  Even there in the grave, the bones of something that was once holy and anointed by God were able give life to another.  The same thing, he said, was true of Trinity and Epiphany.  Although Trinity might no longer be alive, it has given life to the school at Epiphany. 

As they have learned about the progress of the school, some of the former members of Trinity have expressed interest in coming to Accra, maybe on a working mission trip, or maybe to be present for the day when the completed school building is dedicated.  We’re grateful to God, therefore, that a connection between Grace Presbytery and the Epiphany congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana will continue.  

Another classroom at the primary school.

Some current student of the Kaajaano Presbyterian Primary School, sitting in front of the building that serves as the kindergarten.  There are about 300 students enrolled in the school. 

A view from inside one of the classrooms.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

West African Church Music

One of the things I enjoy most about the Presbyterian churches in West Africa is the music.  The early missionaries brought with them hymns from Germany, and later England, and many of them were translated into the local languages.  Over time, some were adapted to the local musical style, while others remained unchanged.  

In worship, there are times when you can even hear the same tune, sung once with organ and formal choir, and sung later with drums and local instruments.  

In the video above, you can watch the Duke Town Parish Choir, from the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria congregation in Duke Town, Calabar, singing an English hymn entitled "Once, Only Once."

Once, only once, and once for all,
His precious life he gave;
Before the cross in faith we fall,
And own it strong to save.

In this video, the same hymn is sung in the Ewe language of Ghana and Togo, in a style of music often called borborbor (or bobobo).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bonakye, Ghana -- the very northern part of the Volta Region

I always enjoy traveling to the northeastern part of Ghana, to towns like Yendi, Bimbilla, and Damanko, especially in the rainy season which begins in May and lasts into October. The area is very dry and dusty from October to April, but when the rains start in May, everything turns green and the rolling hills become beautiful.

It's a very undeveloped part of Ghana, because no good roads pass through the region. It is, however, the main transport route for yams that originate in the north to get to Accra. The government has been promising (for more than 10 years) to widen and pave the road from Yendi to Nkwanta to Hohoe to Akosombo. Although the work on the road has started, I still question if it will ever be completed.

As Ghana's election nears (to be held in November 2012), the residents of this area have been making more and more appeals to the government. In particular, it's common to see signs which read "No Lights, No Vote" - which is a demand for electricity to be brought to the region. In some towns, high tension wires pass overhead, but the government hasn't brought access to the people living below.

I travelled to the area in May, to attend a funeral for a colleague's mother. Here, you will see some pictures from that trip.

A man from the village who hunts in "the bush" using his locally made bow and arrow.

These young men were burning the feathers and hair off a chicken and goat. The meat will be used to feed guests who have come to the village for the funeral.

Some of the village elders.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church congregation in Bonakye. The front wall of the church has begun to collapse, so the wood is used for extra support.

The women of the village, performing a traditional dance around a calabash, in memory of their sister who died.

The women use clay pots and calabashes to make music and dance. As the calabash hits the opening of the pot, it makes a thumping noise, similar to that of a drum.

Above and below, some of the children in the village.

In some stretches, there is more pothole than road! At times, you even have to get out of the car to look for the shallow way to cross. I once encountered a car up to its windows, stuck in the mud and water. Apparently the pothole was a lot deeper than anticipated!

Below, some "No Light No Vote" signs -- residents of the region demanding electricity.