Sunday, May 19
The journey from home had started on Thursday, May 16, with a trip from central Ohio to Indiana to pick up one of our sons from college who then drove my car back home. My sister had graciously offered to meet there and take me the rest of the way to Chicago. I’d be flying out of O’Hare Airport on Saturday on South African Airlines to Accra, Ghana, with the plan to spend one week there and one in Togo.
All went as planned for those first couple days. Chicago was wonderful, we had a fun day Friday, attended my brother-in-law’s graduation from a Physical Therapy Assistant program on Friday evening, and my sister and her husband helped tremendously with the last few things I needed to do before departing. These included making sure my two large suitcases were correctly packed and secured, and troubleshooting how to transport a huge duffel bag filled with pairs of The Shoe That Grows, special shoes I had raised funds to take to the children.
Once we left for the airport Saturday morning, there was no turning back. One way or the other, all of that stuff and my own body were going to end up in Ghana, and I was going all in on Africa. Saturday morning, it got very real. When we checked in the shoe duffel, we had to redistribute a few pairs of shoes to the other luggage and I left a couple with Sue and Ernie. But almost all of them fit under the weight limit with just one extra bag. Although I was a bit anxious, I was excited to be on my way.
On my flight, I got a seat next to a Ghanaian native who was studying nursing in the USA. She was very kind to me and we talked for a while, even sharing about how she wanted to serve in her home country after finishing her studies in public health. She was a young woman with a genuine heart and even though her fiance was waiting for her, she ended up helping me a bit at the airport once we landed!
Eleven hours is a long time to be in an airplane seat, but I was feeling pretty well physically as I arrived in Accra and deplaned. But there were a few uncertain moments waiting for me in the airport. In the very first few minutes of being in a foreign country, sometimes just getting off the plane and walking out into the airport can be confusing. As I followed other passengers out, I noticed that at a certain place, quite a few passengers stopped and began writing on something at a long table in a hallway. I asked another passenger whether I would need to do that, too, and he said yes, I should. I discovered there was a form there that I’d need to fill out to go through customs. (There were no signs or employees to tell me this; I guess it was assumed that I would know.)
After filling the form to the best of my ability, I proceeded to follow other passengers to the large room where you pass through customs. I waited to appear at the window of the next available customs officer. It impressed me as a very serious affair. As I was called over, the officer’s tone was stern – no friendliness or smile at all. (This was just a tiny bit intimidating.) I was quickly informed that I hadn’t filled out all the information needed on the form. I was required to provide the local address of my host in Ghana. This was information I had been required to write on my visa application form, but I thought that once I received the visa, it meant that information had been approved. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to produce it again at the border just to enter the country! I actually did have it written down, but due to foggy “airplane brain” I forgot that I had brought that information along. I briefly had a moment of panic wondering what would happen if I could not even pass through customs into this strange country.
The customs officer, who wasn’t sure what to do with someone who didn’t know where she was going to stay in Ghana but had suddenly and inexplicably appeared at the border, sent me to her overseer who also happened to be a woman. If I was hoping this lady might sympathize with my plight, I was about to be disappointed. There was no sympathy at all in her tone as she incredulously asked me what I thought I was doing not knowing where I would stay. Yikes! I’d better get the answer to this question as soon as possible! But I didn’t have a phone that would work! When you arrive in another country, your mobile phone won’t work unless you get a new “SIM Card” for it. I hadn’t been outside the airport yet, so I didn’t have a new SIM card. I couldn’t even call Maame (my ride) to let her know I was stuck in customs or ask her to help me.
Finally, when I explained this to the female officer, she relented and told me that if I left my baggage and passport with her, I could walk through the gate and out into the meeting area, where Maame was supposed to be waiting for me (although I hadn’t been able to verify that she was actually there). Timidly I walked out of customs and across a large, open lobby to the far doors, where there were more security personnel. I proceeded through glass doors onto a plaza in the open air, where there was seating for people who might be waiting for an arriving guest. As I was wondering which one might be Maame, a young lady finally appeared with a sign stating my name. I was saved!
I had to return to customs to complete the form, then was cleared to claim my bags.
So I was met by Maame, secretary of Theovision, and her driver, Joseph. They graciously loaded my bags into the back of an older black SUV that Joseph drives for the ministry. We were off toward Reverend Theodore Asare’s home and my first experience of Ghana.
After traversing quite a few miles of roads that ranged from city streets (4-lane divided) to lesser paved or red-dirt [read: very bumpy] roads, we arrived at Asare’s compound and were admitted by a gatekeeper. This was a surprise, but I came to realize it is customary for larger households to have help in several forms. We brought in my bags and I was shown to a spacious, clean room with a small bathroom attached, and told that I would rest for a few hours. Soon I was left alone to gather my thoughts for the first time since I’d arrived in Africa.
At 3:00 pm I was to travel with Maame and Joseph to pick up TENGUE. He had taken a public bus that morning from Lome, Togo, and let us know where to meet him, in the parking area of a mall in Accra. As we drove, I was able to begin to process the environment of Accra in a new way. The behavior of people in public was the most surprising thing to me. People were everywhere, walking on the sides of the roads, selling things, or just going about life. They didn’t seem to mind the cars whizzing by very close to their bodies. It was eye opening for me to see people whose lives were so close to potential destruction from physical danger (speeding cars) every moment, and yet, they didn’t seem bothered by it. The sense of caution is not the same. It’s very different from suburban life in the USA… and it’s even different from big-city life as we experience it here in Chicago or Los Angeles. People are much closer to their earthy surroundings and more integrated with them.
Meeting TENGUE for the first time was an incredible experience. It was easy for me to recognize him, because he wore an outfit I had seen in pictures before. As we slowed down, he saw us and came waving & jogging along the sidewalk, toting his backpack. Of course, I had to get out and give him a hug right away. It’s an amazing “reunion” when you meet a brother or sister in Christ that you’ve known through many conversations, from a distance, and suddenly they are there standing in front of you. It felt surreal!
There was time that evening, back at Asare’s home, to sit at dinner and talk, which we did to an extensive degree. We had a lot we wanted to say to each other. There had been so many shared experiences by this point resulting from my caring for the children of CUAED for almost two years. I had witnessed struggles and successes (which had been shared faithfully by TENGUE on social media and in chats) and carried each in my heart. I had been waiting for a chance to look TENGUE in the eye and know I had a brother in Christ who was “on the same page” with his heart for ministry. I was not disappointed.
By the grace of God, each of us found in the other a partner who is fully committed to seeing this through, allowing God to accomplish all of His purposes for the children of CUAED and beyond. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:9-11) It’s certain that God has placed both of us as fellow workers in the same field.
What a blessing to meet him and be sure it is ALL for real!!