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The Letter Exchange
The final day in Nakuru was clearly God-ordained. Before we left, the boys and girls of Chapel’s Boys Brigade and Gems had written letters to Kenyan children for us to match up with students in a school in Kenya. Our children were excited to reach out in relationship to their Kenyan counterparts. But God, in his wisdom didn’t allow the exchange with a Kenyan school. Rather, He made it only possible to match the letters with residents in two orphanages in Nakuru! How cherished those letters were to these Kenyan children! Many of the Kenyans, in their enthusiasm, wrote back not just one letter, but many, and long ones, to our Chapel children!
There’s No Place Like Home
At the end of our time at the orphanages, the children serenaded us with passionate songs and dances. How refreshing it was to see boys of all ages actually singing AND dancing with heart. These children were amazing, but they had no idea!
When we arrived at the Boys’ orphanage, the sun was shining and the boys were running around and all seemed fine, much like any school. The girls’ orphanage was our last stop. We had had a full day even before we got there. The activities there stretched on, and as the daylight turned into darkness, an emptiness replaced the feeling of normalcy. There was no transition to cuddly, quality time with Mom and Dad that nighttime brings. There were not nearly enough adults to ask each child how their day was, or how they felt, or to touch their foreheads, or to tuck them in for bed. Soon, they would enter one of several rooms with rows and rows of beds and go to sleep.
This problem of AIDs-created orphans in Africa, which we’ve read so much about, surfaced throughout our trip, which is something we rarely deal with in the United States. However, we were fortunate to learn about ways to address this tragic problem from an AIM Career missionary, Barb Harbert who is based in Nakuru. She is working with groups to help support communities and extended families to care for orphans themselves. We spent a day visiting needy communities with her and she explained that establishing orphanages should be a last resort because there is a far preferable alternative. She connected us to the “Transformational Development” approach to helping these communities. This approach outlines “best practices” among experienced, faith-based relief organizations.
Since we at Chapel are considering supporting orphans in Africa, I’ll share that these best practices indicate that it is far better to strengthen extended families and communities to enable them to care for orphans themselves than to promote institutionalized care (orphanages) for children. This approach is adopted by many well-known and highly respected Christian aid groups, including World Vision and World Relief.
A quote from material Barb shared with us, “From Faith to Action” (published by the Firelight Foundation) explains it in more detail. It states, “…children may be placed in orphanages by family members who want to care for them but lack the means to do so. Orphanages can become a way to access food, clothing, and an education, when what is really needed is to make these necessities available within the community. When an orphanage is treated as the primary solution, it can weaken a community’s motivation to address orphan issues and divert resources away from the family-based solutions that are better for children…The family is the most important source of love, attention, emotional support, material sustenance, and moral guidance in a child’s life. The most important thing that faith-based organizations can do is to help ensure that every child has a family that is able to provide the nurturing and care that every child needs,” (To see a copy of “From Faith to Action”, go to faithbasedcarefororphans.org). If the child is in danger of abuse, the child should be removed from the dangerous environment and placed in a different, safe family environment.
Though the orphanages we visited are already established and helping many children, how could we support the orphans cared for by the group of mother’s I mentioned the other day? We want to avoid doing something that seems helpful but is actually harmful. We will do more research to better understand the “best practices” before we recommend specific steps to help.
I had planned to write more often, but we have had packed days and nights and sporadic WiFi service.
We have visited so many places, met so many people, heard so many stories...but where to start?...
...Perhaps the Massai children in Kikopey, collecting sludge water at the popular animal watering hole. This is also where the two camps of internally displaced people collect water. Their settlements, constructed of sticks and torn scraps of plastic sheeting, along with the Maasai families, are adjacent to the site of the developing Lifewater Kenya's compound in Kikopey. A bore hole (a deep well) is proposed for this site. If this were put in, these children and their families will no longer be drinking sludge water, but will have access to clean water.
...Or perhaps the beautiful women and children that so graciously hosted us in their tiny, one-room, mud chapel with drums and songs of praise, then surprised us with a traditional Kenyan meal and Chai in tin cups, prepared on wood fires inside a tiny hut/kitchen. They served us the meal with all the fixin's yet served themselves and most of their precious children simply rice and potatoes.
That is where I met Isaac Lucas, who was painfully shy. "How old are you?" "Thirteen", he hushed. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" "No", barely audible. It wasn't until our meal was nearly finished that I learned all those children are orphans. That is when I lost it.
Each woman present was a guardian of orphans. They were gathering for the first time to see how they could help each other by organizing their efforts. Water for this meal, and all meals, is fetched by a can strapped to a bicycle to get water a dusty 2.5 miles ride away. Would a well in this community be the kick start they need to get started or would it be better for them to organize themselves and develop a sense of accomplishment and dignity first? What timing is best for them for long-term success? Is there a role there for Chapel?
...Or meeting the women at a gathering of many grandmothers who have already organized themselves, who care for their own children and grandchildren, as well as orphans they have picked up. They meet regularly to make baskets and sing to God for help and remind themselves in whom to put their hope. One woman, perhaps in her thirties, had nine children of her own and was caring for four additional orphans. These women were timid, shamefaced by poverty; yet, they treated us as royalty. They are the heroes - heroes in desperate need of encouragement. How to get this through to them?
...Or perhaps Julius, the Principal we met at the Dagoretti School in the region of Molo. The school's water well, previously also used by the community, had been vandalized, destroyed along with many other structures after the domestic riots following the 2007 Kenyan elections.
...Or Keziah, a young woman of the congregation from AIC Parkview in Nakuru who gave an impassioned and compelling sermon this morning at Pastor Maina's invitation. Her topic? Trusting in God through the storms. She no doubt provided encouragement to the pastor and his still grieving family. She herself has known grief, having lost her husband less than a year ago.
Keziah was in the room when we presented AIC Parkview Church the books donated by Chapel of the Cross. Still hungry for answers herself, within 10 minutes Keziah was halfway through the first chapter of When God Doesn't Make Sense, by James Dobson and we could tell by the look on her face that the book was sent by God.
Many thanks go out to all at Chapel who donated books. The leadership of the church here in Kenya asked us to communicate how much they appreciate the addition to their humble church library.
God has truly blessed this trip. There is so much that I haven't mentioned, we have done and seen things we never expected to see and issues of schedule uncertainties have seamlessly fallen into place and each minute has been used to learn, meet, consider, process and challenge.
We look forward to sharing more with you soon.
Many thanks again for all of your prayers and support!
This was building day #1 and the team stepped up big time! It was hot again, and despite hours in the hot sun, what was just a concrete slab when we arrived looked like a house when we left. We are heading back tomorrow to finish the roof, and painting, and little details, but we were so blessed to get a big portion of the work done in one day! We continue to covet your prayers as we finish this build and prepare to serve in a local church Sunday morning with our skits and dances.
It is very late at night and I am only now getting the opportunity to sit down and give an update. Today was incredible! We were brought to a "soup kitchen" in the same community that we served yesterday and last year. I was not sure what to expect, but it was not what I think of when I hear soup kitchen. We pulled up to a small house in the village, and waiting for us were all these beautiful children holding a sign, "Welcome Chapel of the Cross." I'm pretty sure all our hearts melted immediately, and a few of us even choked back tears at this warm welcome!
From morning til evening we played games, sang songs, taught dances, and loved on each and every child! The conditions were difficult, the heat was extreme, and the hours were long, but our students were rockstars from start to finish. Tomorrow starts our house build, and we covet your prayers for strength as we shift into some heavy manual labor.
I wish I could sum up everything in this update, but words fail to express the power of God's Spirit moving in this place. Thank you so much for your faithful prayers over this team!
These past few days have been great. Some of the team went for a morning run along the sandy beach of Ensenada today. Aside from that the adult team has been challenged in working with Claire and Wayne in the orphanage/daycare. They told us about how incredibly happy the children were to see them and just how grateful they are for all that Chapel has given them. The teens have been preparing skits, dances, and songs which we will share on our outreach today in a small community. We'll be working with the children and tying in an "Olympic" theme. We're all very excited to get out there and reach the people of Mexico!
Please pray for health as some of the team members are feeling upset stomachs and sleep deprived. God has been revealing Himself in great ways these past days and we're all excited to see what else He has in store for us!
Michelle Sa, on behalf of the Mexico Missions Team
The Mexico Team arrived safely and with very little delay!
Chapel of the Cross wants to build a partnership with Ghana. The primary focus is to come alongside a group of churches in the Volta Region that call themselves the "Faith in God Assembly."
Our involvement with them includes: a pastor's conference, health assistance (mosquito nets, deworming medicine, and other medical needs), visiting three clean wells and seeing where a need for a fourth well will be, and Brilliant Academy, a school for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to receive an education.
We are sending a scout team: Diane Cambourelis, Kelly Canney, and Pastor David Pranga. They will be joining two other churches: Eastern Hill Bible Church and Crossroad Church, both of New York, who already have an ongoing partnership.
Check out some of the pictures from our trip!
Have you ever had one of those “ah-ha” moments? I had one of those at dinner last night. There are 13 people in our group and often we take many Ghanaian Pastors with us as we go to the villages. I have to admit early in the week that I did not really enjoy the long bus rides. The roads are pretty bad here with many pot holes and many are dirt roads with many bumps. I am guessing that our bus does not even come close to 30 miles per hour. I felt like we wasted time on the bus when we could really be serving the people here. As the week has gone on, I have really enjoyed the bus ride. It gives me a great chance to talk with many of the pastors from Ghana and Togo. It has been a time of encouragement and a chance where I can get to know the problems their pastors face, as well as learning about the culture. Now I look forward to getting to know the other Pastors on the bus rides!
Today everyone woke up very tired from a long day and night of serving. The group took off on the bus to visit a public school in Ho. In Ghana, everyone wears a uniform to school. People have to pay to go to school as well. The elementary school was unbelievable. There were so many kids in each classroom. Most of the classes had 1 teacher for 37-40 students. I was told that the ratio could easily to go 1 teacher to 65 students. There are 3 students per desk. Our group went in and did school lesson with each of the elementary classes from grades 1, 2, and 3. Then the students wrote letters to their American friends. There has been a great connection with a Syracuse elementary school and this school in Ghana. It was great to see what the children were learning in there classes from the posters that were on the wall in the classroom and the writing on the blackboard. Both the children and our group enjoyed the visit.
We then visited a private Christian school called Brilliant Academy for a brief medical clinic. On Tuesday, there was a group that was at this school while others were at the conference. After medications were distributed, the NY churches presented the school with a laptop and a soccer ball. You would have thought they had given them all thousands of dollars by the incredibly loud and joyous cheering.
Back on the road and off to a village called Ziope. In the villages we are treated like royalty. The other two churches from NY have put money together to dig a well. This is the only freshwater the villages has. There may be over 1500 people in the village. When we arrive the people of the village are beating there drums and dancing. The tribe leader will welcome us and then we will introduce ourselves to everyone. The village people’s applause was followed by fresh fruits for us coming and for digging the well. Each of the villages we give the people anti-parasitic medicine. Today, we did this at two villages. After giving medicine out there is plenty of dancing then off again to more villages. To say that the people are very appreciative of us coming would be a gross understatement.
Another hot day with temperatures in the mid 90’s today. The week has gone by very fast but at the same time I am looking forward to seeing my family. We leave Ghana on Friday night at 11 p.m., so say a prayer for safe travel. It is a 12 hour flight from Ghana to Washington D.C. and then off on another plane to Mass.
David (Kelly and Diane)
Today is a day that cannot be described, a quintessential National Geographic day, not a moment, the entire day. We drove to Collins Memorial School in Mafi-Kumasi, a remote village with a “school” of 900 students who are taught by 17 teachers -- I’ll save you the math, a ratio of 53 to 1. As the bus pulled up, the children rushed over to sing us a special welcome song. They had many songs for us, melting our hearts, crowding around us and watching our every move. The coordination of their singing was amazing.
There were no buildings for the school facilities. They used a large, open area with about a dozen small, thatched-roof pavilions packed with rough-hewn benches, no desks. No paper or pencils or any supplies were present. A piece of chalk and a coarse, wooden chalk board on a stand of branches are all that were used, and these pavilions were packed with students.
The sole source of water for this school of 900 is a polluted pond about a mile and a half away. So, the school buys water in tanks and bags for the children. I couldn’t help but think of the school supplies they could buy if they didn’t have the expense of water.
These children are so beautiful and so obedient. When beckoned by their teacher, all of them were quick to obey. That perhaps was the most amazing thing to see. It was no challenge for these teachers to call all 900 into a circle to perform more songs for us. After that we administered de-worming vaccinations to all 900 students and the teachers.
The next stop was a village with a “clinic” where we again administered the de-worming vaccinations and vitamins -- approximately 450 men, women and children in all.
The two NY churches have funded a new well there that was just completed. So, we also attended a very moving ribbon-cutting ceremony that the village had arranged. There were thankful prayers to God who set up the partnership and provided the well and there were hours of traditional dancing with drums and beautiful, dresses of bright Ghanain fabrics. Drinks were provided for all the guests, coconut milk served in the coconut opened with machetes on the spot.
Diane (For Kelly and David as well)
For those of you who have always wanted to comfort and hold the precious African babies that you see on TV, I hope you can live vicariously through my report of today’s activities. Five of us women took a 45 minute bus ride to a school called Brilliant Academy. We were accompanied by some wonderful Ghanaian friends – Johnson, Redeemer and Bless. To try to put this experience into words is pretty much impossible, but I will try.
Brilliant Academy is a school that started with 3 students in 2004 and is now up to about 240, from age 3 to 18. The school’s founder and principle is a man named John Doe (really), who has an incredible passion for Ghanaian children to learn, to thrive and to love God. He supports 17 orphans who live in various villages in the immediate area and the come to this school.
The day started by reading a book by Mem Fox called, Whoever You Are. We split up and gave a lesson to all the kids which taught them that children around the world have some differences: skin, hair, language, land. But they have many similarities: laughter, pain, smiles. They were reminded that children all over the world are loved by God equally. Then they wrote letters to students in America and made a special banner with their handprints on it! While completing these activities, there was plenty of time for amazing interactions with individual little ones and small groups. We talked, held hands, attempted to dance, looked at each other’s skin and sang songs together – both in Ewe and in English. At times we were surrounded by up to 50 children. We were often holding more than 4 hands and carrying sleeping children.
We had lunch under a large tree taking shelter from the 95 degree heat. Coconuts were opened with machetes so we could drink coconut milk. After a brief lunch each one of us was asked to give an impromptu lesson to different classrooms. I chose the smallest kids. It was amazing and scary at the same time! There were about 40 children ages 3-5 in my classroom hut and about 8 of them were sleeping sitting up on their benches! I talked to them about snow and taught them the song “Father, I Adore You”. It was such a blessing to hear their beautiful voices singing about their adoration for God!
There are so many stories to tell from this afternoon, but they will have to wait until we return. Those who did not go to the school, including Diane and David, participated in the 2nd day of the conference. When we returned to the hotel after Brilliant Academy we went outside again to play with our neighborhood children, who we know by their names – all 25 of them! After dinner we attended a youth service at a local church where we participated by singing one of the Ewe songs and teaching them an American song. David talked to the kids about honoring their parents and the job of the parents in raising young adults. It was a full house, some even had to sit outside the building.
We are all pretty tired this evening and I am falling asleep as I write. Tomorrow we go to Hil Have, another village in the bush. We will visit a school and Eunice’s medical clinic. We appreciate your continued prayer! It is a strange thing not wanting to leave these precious people, but wanting to be home with our families! Grateful for 3 more days here in Ghana!
Kelly (for David and Diane)
Hello Chapel Family,
Thank you for bearing with us as we try to send emails back to Chapel. The internet seems to be working less or not at all. It actually reminds me of 1994 and when one screen comes on at a time. It is time consuming project to get on the internet and then to be able to send email is a big accomplishment. Our team will try to send out email messages and photos every day but the internet café has not always been cooperative. Please continue to pray for us. Good news: This has been an eye opening experience as we have seen God moving in Ghana. Another piece of good news is that everyone is healthy and feeling great.
I wake up every day with a new appreciation for my wife, family, Chapel, and a bigger picture of how God is working in Ghana, Africa. Even though it is January, the weather here reminds me of the middle of July. It is hot here (I have no idea of the temperature) but people in Africa says how cool it is this time of year. It makes me shutter to wonder how hot it gets here. For me this is pretty hot.
Today, we had an opportunity to serve and meet the needs of the local pastors by holding a pastor’s conference in this region. Most of the pastors are from the Volta Region but there was at least one from Togo. The conference will continue through tomorrow. Many of these pastors have very little training and they devour the interaction with each other and with us Americans. There are times to just discuss issues relating to pastors and about God. This is so needed here in Ghana - especially since there is so little training for many of the pastors.
The major theme of the conference is Life’s critical relationships. This is including God, Self, Others, and Creation. The first session dealt with our relationship with God and in how those relationships influence our cross cultural ministry partnership. I shared a testimony during the first session. It dealt with a faulty and accurate view of God and how it can affect the way we see God. The testimony was received very well. The second sessions in the afternoon dealt with our relationship with self. How do we accept and affirm God’s assessment of our value and design for our life. Each of the sessions was made up of small group time, testimony, teaching and another time of small group for the pastors to discuss things more and to see how it relates to their current churches.
This evening was filled with time to just hang out. I (David) went down to the village and had the opportunity to talk with other pastors that were staying at or near the hotel. Diane and Kelly played with the local children across from the hotel. They played soccer, took pictures of the kids, sang songs, and blew bubbles with the children. I could not tell who had more fun: children or the adults.
After dinner, we had the opportunity to talk with several pastors about their churches and the needs of their people. Later in the evening, we worked on getting the parasite meds ready for tomorrow. It is medicine we give Ghana people. Please continue to lift us up in prayer.
David (Diane & Kelly)
Today we had the opportunity to experience a real Ghanaian church service. Despite the fact that they experience what we would consider hardships, they enthusiastically expressed joy in God’s goodness to them -- it was written all over their faces and sung clearly in their choruses. And they extended a welcome of warmth that many of us have never experienced before. Each in their congregation came forward with warm hugs and gleaming smiles, expressing with eagerness the common Ghanaian phrase, “you are welcome”. This is what most Ghanaian people say to foreigners with a wave when they enter their hotel or shop, it means literally that we are welcome to their place. It is a graciousness that we rarely see at home.
In introducing us to their church, their leaders spoke to their congregation about those they knew among us from Eastern Hills and Crossroads Community from previous visits with deference and emphasized their love and appreciation for all of us coming to visit them. They had us all go to the front of the church as they ceremoniously presented us with a “kente cloth”, a woven Ghanaian banner which they placed on each of us. Their humility, affection and extravagance moved us all. Indeed our intent was to help them but we find rather that they are providing us all with something that many of us were not even aware we lacked. They have joy in God regardless of their possessions. Indeed these new friends of ours are not even aware or easily convinced that they have already touched our lives in profound ways.
Diane (for Kelly and David also)
I set my alarm for 1:15 am (old time) when I went to bed last night, so I could get ready by 6:45 (Ghana time). Ken, Jes (from NY) and I walked into the market in Ho to get fruit for breakfast. We bought 4 of the most amazing pineapples I have ever tasted, a watermelon and 2 bags for $5.00. After breakfast we met up with several of the local Ghanaian pastors, their wives, a young child and a nurse from a local village health clinic.
I had the pleasure of sitting with the nurse, Eunice, on our 2.5 hour drive to the villages we would be visiting. We talked at length about the health care system (or lack thereof) in Ghana and in the United States. She told me about the clinic that she serves in the southern part of the Volta region. It was started about a year ago as a partnership between the Ghanaian government and WHO (World Health Organization). She runs a child welfare clinic and family planning clinic (that includes AIDS prevention education). She would also like to start an antenatal clinic (prenatal care). I asked her what she saw as the most important needs of the clinic. She was quick to answer “Lights”. There is no electricity in the area so she uses a small battery powered lantern to read in the evenings and if there are any emergencies in the building. She said that she would like to have a solar panel for power. The second need is for medication. The most prevalent illness that she sees is malaria and she often does not have the medication necessary to treat it. The third need is for an exam table so that she could start the antenatal clinic. I found myself praying often during the day for God to show us how we can help in this situation. We will be going to her clinic in Hil Have on Wednesday and I am sure there will be plenty more to write then!
We visited one small village in Wli that had a well fixed this year (paid for by Eastern Hills/CrossRoads). It had been put in by another organization but had not been working for 3 or 4 years. There was a small ceremony in which the elders of the community thanked the team for the fresh water that is so vital to their health. We all had so much fun visiting with the children who swarmed us to see themselves on our cameras!
We then headed to a larger village in Wli. They served us lunch in one of their homes and then we participated in a church service with lots of dancing and singing. God was so obviously alive and with us in the church. After the church service the team handed out vitamins and de-worming medication. The children were in one line and the adults in another. Each person would go through the line and were marked with an X to indicate they had received the medication. One of my favorite moments of the day was during the medication distribution. The children surrounded me at one point while I was taking pictures. I was able to learn their names and talk to them about my children and how they were the same age as they were. We also visited another well whose repair was funded by the Eastern Hills/CrossRoads team. I attempted to carry one of the water bowls, empty of course, and I don’t know how they do it!!!
We have many pictures to share when we get back! We are so blessed being here, God is working in all of us. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for us tomorrow!
Kelly (for Diane and David)
We left Washington DC at 10:45 p.m. and arrived in Accra, Ghana 1:45 p.m. (Ghana time which is 5 hrs ahead of the United States time). The plane ride passed quickly. None of us slept well as it was a full plane. We were served dinner at midnight and then breakfast at 7 a.m. The announcement from the pilot informed us it was 90 degrees in Accra. Walking through customs was simple enough, standard procedure is to be fingerprinted, both hands. They asked Diane a bunch of questions…she must have looked suspicious. Then we all exchanged money into their currency and loaded up our luggage on a bus. We were then greeted with warm hugs by friendly Ghanaian people.
Driving around Accra was quite an experience. Traffic went extremely slowly because of the number of vehicles on the road. Beautiful bright smiles greeted us from the road (literally on the road) selling items to all driving by. Halfway from Accra to Ho we all got to experience a bathroom break in a 3rd world country. No bathrooms like in the United States. One interesting fact, everyone has a cell phone and the reception is awesome because there is not much interference here. The drive to the hotel in Ho took 3+ hours (I believe it was 120 miles). Another interesting fact and a good one for us in Boston, every time drivers pass each other they honk their horns. The honking in Boston is nothing like it is here. We arrived around 7:15 p.m. Everyone was exhausted from a full day of travel. The group had dinner and the food was great. Then off to bed around 11 p.m.
Saturday, the group, 13 in all, will be visiting a number of rural communities where the U.S. churches (Eastern Hills Bible and Crossroads from the US) have already put up wells for the people here in Ghana. Plans are underway for digging another well. Having fresh water is a concern to the people here, something we in the U.S. take for granted. It is beautiful here, with coconut trees in front of the hotel and monkeys in the courtyard. We will have breakfast at 3 a.m. Boston time.
David, Diane, and Kelly
Despite the weather today, we made it to DC a little early! Thanks for all your prayers. We spent the evening getting to know the rest of the team from Eastern Hills Bible Church and CrossRoads Community Church (both in the Syracuse Area). There are 13 of us total on the team, 4 men and 9 women! It has been such a blessing to get to know everyone! We leave at 10:45 pm for a 10+ hour flight and will arrive at 1:50 pm (in Ghana time) in Accra, Ghana. We will then head out for our 3 hour drive to Ho, Volta Region where we will check in to our hotel and recover from our journey.
Please pray for:
1. Diane's health as she is still fighting a cold (and for protection for the entire team)
2. Tolerance of the heat for all of us (it is supposed to be 96-100 degrees every day)
3. For our hearts and minds to be focused on Christ and open to God's leading
Scout Team to Ghana