Loving one another – Serving others in Ghana
1 John 4 (New Revised Standard Version)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
We may ask…what is Christian mission? Sometimes it isn’t where, or when we expect it. Sometimes we may never know that we were even part of it. Sometimes we may think we are on a mission for God, but we are not…
In Wigan we have a secular volunteer-run charity called Book-Cycle. It has its own ‘missions’. One is to ‘replant’, they have a saying “from tree to book and back again”, so they plant fruit trees all over the UK. Not literally replacing the trees used for wood, but a gesture of sorts. They plant in public areas to provide free food for anyone and everyone.
Another ‘mission’ is ‘education’, not only does Book-Cycle provide education in the UK with free bookshops, but they also send children’s books, including school books from our ever changing UK curriculum, by the container load to Ghana and other developing nations. They create school libraries in schools that literally have no books.
Ghana is politically quite stable, and as a former British colony, English is the official language. It is also the law that English is taught and spoken in schools at all times. So what better place than the UK to send books from.
Leading up to World Book Day in 2016 Book-Cycle encouraged the school children of Wigan to be involved in the sending of a container of books. That container left Wigan with over 50,000 books loaded, along with some other useful items. That year, Denise and I raised funds by doing car boot sales, quizzes and cake bakes among other things and travelled to Ghana on a secular mission with a group aged between 15 and 70 (we were 56 at the time).
Before the trip we had been told that we would have the chance to visit other projects which included an orphanage and a special needs project. We were also told that Turkish Airlines, who we were travelling with, would permit us to take a second large case each for free. We took advantage of this and filled two big suitcases with clothes for the special needs project and orphanage.
With our inoculations up to date and our visas all stamped, we were on our way.
Our flight was like any other we had been on until the wheels touched the runway in Ghana. Cheers erupted as people showed their gratitude (and maybe a few prayers of thanks) for a safe flight, something we don’t do anymore. I think maybe the skill of a pilot deserves more recognition than a footballer scoring a goal, but that’s just my opinion.
The arrivals hall was a little daunting with the hustle and bustle, the locals looking for a little money to carry cases, and people shouting names. A world apart from the quiet rows of people at Manchester Airport who stand quietly and patiently in the arrivals hall.
Because Ghana is quite close to the equator it is dark all year round by 7pm. By the time we had arrived, the buses had stopped for the day so we were taken to a local hotel for the night.
The hotel was ‘interesting’. A notice on the back of the bedroom door promoted safe sex and talked of HIV risks. The ‘condoms for sale’ sign was quite prominent. Also, the rooms were not single and double but “a bed for one, two, three, four or five” could be requested. A row of mattresses would be laid out together to fulfil the requirements.
Our culture shock had begun.
Our room (a bed for two, I might add!) did have a comfortable bed with fresh linen. The rest of the room was more of a glamping experience which included a cold only shower. The bedroom walls were tiled which could be washed down easily. All very different to what we are used to in the UK.
The tap water in Ghana is only fit to use after a sustained boil (even to brush your teeth), so you are encouraged to only use purified water in your mouth. Water is sold in 500ml poly bags and is very very cheap.
The next morning it was time for hotel breakfast. I was born in 1960 and remember certain brand names from my childhood. Blue Band Margarine was sitting on the table next to our toast, and as the trip went on we would see other brands from our childhood – OMO washing powder for example. Surely I hadn’t arrived in a time machine?
We would witness so many things that reminded us of our youth and in some ways we were reminded of a more innocent time. This really is a land of contrasts.
Day one and we finally see Ghana. We travelled from Accra to Kumasi in a modern air conditioned coach. While still in the city of Accra we could see huge billboard advertising, no different to the adverts you may see in the UK, with one interesting exception: advertising on a large scale for churches and ‘prophets’. Then, as we travelled further, we would see so many businesses named after Bible passages. It soon became obvious that Ghana was well and truly a Christian nation.
After a few hours we arrived in Kumasi. We had travelled in an air-conditioned coach, much of the time on a modern dual carriageway road, yet we had sped past villages with satellite dishes on the roof of houses that wouldn’t look out of place in the UK, but also the most basic of villages with mud hut, straw roofed homes and a single fresh water well.
Our accommodation was, as we expected, simple dormitory rooms, but as Denise and I were married we were given a private room. Ahhh, the advantages of married life.
One of the projects on our trip was creating libraries in schools and supplying the books. The moment the children see you arrive at the school you can only feel like a movie star or pop star as they rush down the hill towards you. To experience of the joy in the faces of the children is something which will stay with me until my last breath. We created five libraries in disused school rooms, including painting the walls, building the bookshelves, benches and chairs…and of course stocking them with books from Wigan.
We visited a special needs project and delivered clothes there. Having some of the lovely children sat on your knee and seeing their faces light up was worth the visit. But something else happened.
It appeared we were having the ‘Diana Effect’ (if you remember when Princess Diana held the hand of an AIDS sufferer). We could see that as we accepted the children, as we were interacting with them and played with them, that locals who may shun special needs would warm to them. (Many in Ghana and other African nations still consider people with special needs to be cursed or possessed.)
But where was our mission? It’s true we did many good deeds in Ghana but were we on a Christian mission? Not really, or were we?
We travelled with a group of great people, people with a shared passion make a positive impact, to educate and to break down barriers. I think we achieved this. We had no idea before we went that we would sit outside on the balmy nights talking about this and that. We talked about Brexit as the vote had only just happened, and we talked about our philosophies of life. And we found ourselves sharing our various faiths and beliefs.
Christian, Druid, Agnostic, Buddhist and Atheist: we all had our opportunities to defend our personal beliefs in a friendly atmosphere. We had our opportunity to give people the good news of Jesus Christ, and we did.
Reflecting on our trip we can see that we had travelled thousands of miles to a predominantly Christian country, where there are countless people very capable of giving the good news to the nation of Ghana and our chance to share, defend and explain our faith was not with Ghanaian people, but people who live close to us in our own town and even in the next street.
The sharing of faith can come so naturally from a friendly conversation about something completely off topic. But it’s those opportunities we must never waste. Some day in the future you may learn that someone you spoke to years earlier has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. You were just a small part of the jigsaw puzzle, but without you the puzzle would have been incomplete.
not all of us are called to be missionaries abroad,
but there are people who live in our community who need your salvation.
Lord please help us to find opportunities
and the willingness to be aware
when you are directing us to someone.
It may be that the simplest kind gesture in these troubled times
will open the door to bringing someone closer to you.
Cliff and Denise Oakley