Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Tamale Funeral

The funeral notice.

Thursday, January 7, 2016, I traveled to Tamale with a good friend and ministry partner, Razak Abdul Iddi. We were going there to attend the funeral of his Auntie, Stella Nitori, who was an amazing woman! I left my house at 3:45 AM to walk to the tro tro station where I was picked up by Yaroo, the driver. Razak joined us a few minutes later. It was a full car! We proceeded to Wa, where we went to the Imperial Station to buy tickets for Tamale. We arrived at our final destination around 1:30 in the afternoon. I was exhausted! After a nap, we went to the family house to greet everyone. I met relatives from near and far who accepted me as one of their own.

Julius and myself in our "proper" funeral wear with bags from the Lawra area.

There was no viewing of the body at the family home. The first "formal" part of the funeral was a mass at the Catholic Church Friday night. So, Friday, we hung out at the family house, greeting people and getting to know one another, waiting for family members to arrive from all over Ghana and points beyond. And remembering...  I thought there would be viewing at the church, but, I was mistaken. (This was a Tamale funeral, much different from a funeral in Lawra. So, I was definitely a learner in this situation!)

The funeral mass - notice the lights INSIDE the casket!

Saturday morning was the Mass of the Resurrection. I arrived at the church before 9:00 for the 9:30 Mass. There were plenty of people there already, all standing outside, choir singing, choristers singing, each group Stella was involved in, taking their turn. When the time came, the six priests and the bishop came out to say their prayers and escort the casket inside the church. Crossed swords, from the Knights of St. John, made an arch over the entry way. Then, Mass with lots of singing, both in English and in the local language. Muslim, Traditional believers and Christians all gathered together in church to celebrate the life of this woman! The family gave testimonies about their loved one's life. At the end of it all, the top of the casket was undone and the entire congregation lined up and passed by. (This was the only time the casket was open.) Next, burial on the grounds of the school that Stella started. After the burial, there was plenty of music and dancing, eating and drinking and talking with people.

Musicians at the family house - tradition has it that you dance, or give them some small money.

Sunday, a Mass of Thanksgiving for Stella's life was said. Then, back to the family house for eating, drinking, visiting. Stella's sons then traveled to the village of Savelugu to see the Yoo Naa (the chief.) Since the deceased husband was part of the royal family, the funeral had to be "passed on" to the village and her death formally announced. 

Razak dancing at the funeral festivities at the Yoo Naa's palace.

Monday, late afternoon, we all crowded into cars and trucks and hopped onto motorcycles to travel to the village of  Savelugu to begin the funeral "festivities." Plastic chairs were set up in the street, making a circle around the space left for dancing. The local musicians came and started playing. They would choose a person and that person had to get up and dance, or give them a small amount of money. As a person danced, money was placed on their foreheads. The money was used to pay the musicians. There is actually a CD of me dancing at the funeral!

The village musicians.

The next morning, Tuesday, we went to the village early. The women made sure I stayed with them and took good care of me. We all filed into one of their rooms and sat around and looked at jewelry that was for sale and just talked "girl talk." It was nice. Then, we went back outside where others were preparing teezert and groundnut soup to pass out to extended family in the community. The men had gathered to say their prayers for the deceased. (The people in the village were mainly Muslim.)

Tradition calls for the family to cook for the much larger extended family in the village.

After the prayers and the food, the funeral rites were finished. Then,we went to see the chief. After a short visit, when we were all leaving, the chief called to me and asked if I wanted a picture with him. I went up to him and he gave me some kola nuts, a sign of peace. We greeted each other, pictures were taken, plenty of pictures and plenty of laughter was had! We left the village early - before noon! After that, it was relax, rest and pack to return to Lawra the next day. These few days in the Tamale area opened my eyes to a whole other Ghanaian culture. And, has given me a new Ghanaian family! I thank God for this opportunity and privilege. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Bittersweet Moment

I have been working in Kalsagri just shy of three years. During this time, I have come to love the people there. And, I believe the feeling is mutual. That was why going to church in Kalsagri was a bit difficult for me this past Sunday. You see, the pastor has posted me to be the Caretaker (similar to being a lay pastor) to the church in the village of Kunyukuo. I was told on Friday, the change was immediate. Oh! Was I not having a chance to tell the congregation? The person who would be the Caretaker of Kalsagri had traveled and wouldn't be able to be in Kalsagri on Sunday. I didn't have a preaching assignment. So, I was able to see "my people" one more time. Most didn't know I was posted to a different village. As I sat and looked out over the congregation, my eyes would fix on a person and I would remember a story or a situation that happened in the past. And, I would smile. I was really okay that morning...until my eyes found Josbet. He has grown so much in so many ways in the last three years. My eyes started to tear up. I didn't want to cry. (And, I didn't.) My eyes just got a bit watery.

At the end of the announcements, I told my church family that I had been posted to Kunyukuo. Oh, the looks of shock and disbelief. I think the women wanted to kidnap me. I had to assure them I would still be around and I might even be assigned to preach in Kalsagri from time to time. That helped make them feel better. Plus, the pastor says that it is only for one year. So, I will be back, God willing. 

The church has grown since I have been in Kalsagri. Not only in numbers, but in their spiritual life as well. I have to believe that God will continue the work that He has started in His people in Kalsagri. And, from the congregation, a pastor or two will rise up. For now, I will take away wonderful memories plus, I now have a family I never knew I had. And, before I know it, I will return! Praise God!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Help or Hindrance?

An iPhone. Everybody has one. Or they have something just as good.It's more than a phone. It's a camera. It tells you the weather. It stores your music. It's a radio. It has the latest news. A calculator. A calendar. It has an alarm clock and a timer. Map your walk, run, ride or track your fitness activities. It has games on it (for those boring meetings that you attend.) It has Facebook, Viber, Whats App, Messenger. Check your email. Video call a friend. And, it has Google. Do you need to know anything right NOW? Google it! Oh, don't forget the Amazon app. Shopping at your fingertips. What can be more fun when you"re bored? And, there is so much more available. A mini computer in your palm!

I recently traveled to Tamale for a funeral. I didn't take my laptop. But, I took my iPhone. It was really nice. I was able to check my email and answer anything that needed to be dealt with right away. I was able to read the daily devotional that a pastor friend sends out. (Thanks, David!) I was able to post pictures on my Facebook ministry page - Sue Kolljeski, Serving Christ in Ghana. I was able to post on my personal Facebook page. I had my music in the morning. I had episodes of Monk at night. It was very convenient, a big help to me.

But, my iPhone can also be a hindrance. I usually take my phone on the veranda with me when I go out on the veranda for my quiet time (for the music and the clock). But, when I am in the midst of a difficult Bible passage, my phone can "call" to me. I'll check Facebook. Or, if I hear the sounding of a message, at times, it is hard to ignore it. So, I have learned to put the ringer on silent. But when my mind wanders...discipline! That's what I need. And then, when I am working on a report or a message and I come to a point where it is not "flowing," it is easy to pickup the phone for a diversion. Just for a minute. Right? Wrong! Again, discipline. Focus. 

All of the modern technology can be such a great help to a person in so many ways. But, it can also be a hindrance. The choice is yours. The choice is mine. What do you choose?

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Congregation has Left the Building!

Sunday was a typical Sunday morning at Kalsagri Methodist Church. The service was almost over. We had taken a special collection called the Kofi-Ama collection, based on the day of the week on which a person is born. (You put your money in the bag that is labeled with the proper day.) The congregation was singing, dancing; the drums were playing as well as the gyil (local xylophone.) I went into the back room to help count so that we could announce the amounts collected for each day. As we were counting, I noticed that the drumming had stopped. I didn't hear any singing. So, I went to check it out, to see what was going on. when I looked, I saw that our worship area was empty. The congregation had left the building!

I found someone and asked, "Where is everyone?" They had gone across the street where a motorcycle accident happened. Most people were just gawking, looking to see what happened. There were a few who were very concerned and tried to help. The guy who was driving lost control of his moto...I am wondering if it was because of the bald front tire. He didn't hit anyone. He had gone into a ditch. The front wheel of his motorcycle was bent in ways that a wheel shouldn't be bent. The man's hand was bleeding, so, someone brought water from the church to wash it off. Then, hand sanitizer. (That must have stung!) The palm of his hand was really messed up. He would probably need a couple of stitches. A couple of the boys ran up the road to the new clinic, but, no one was there. We found some kleenexes and a bandana to cover his hand. A few people prayed for him. Then, someone who had stopped took him into town to the hospital. 

We went back to church and finished the service. Hmmm...was that a God appointment for our congregation? Caring for the injured on the roadside? That's how God had used the Kalsagri Church this week. How has He used your church?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Date to Remember

Many aspects of my ministry are not structured. The ministry of presence and taking advantage of God moments are very much a part of what I do in Lawra. So, saying this, here is the story of my morning...

Today was a very special day. Pius, Boniface and myself would walk into town to have breakfast at the Tea Shop. Since Boniface is usually at my house by 8:00 in the morning, I told him when he got up, he should bath and get dressed and come to my house. Today, of all days, he didn't come. Oh! It was almost 9:00! I walked to his house to pick him up. Then, we went to pick up Pius.

Pius was ready and waiting! (complete with knit hat because it was "cold" outside.) We started off toward Ali's Tea Shop, greeting people along the way, talking about school and all kinds of things. They were so funny. "Shhhh. Be quiet!" was what I was told as a group of six people approached us and passed us on the street. Hmmm.... 

We arrived at the Tea Shop and ordered bread and egg for all, Milo (chocolate) for the boys and Nescafe for me. They were so excited! They said please and thank-you and were very polite, and VERY excited! Pius and Boniface were so fun to watch. After each boy finished their breakfast, they were given money to buy bread to take home. And, of course, the universal rule is whoever carries the bread, keeps it. Needless to say, the boys carried their own bread! Before we left the Tea Shop, we read the Bible story about the Wise Men from the East, tomorrow's Scripture reading. When that was finished, we started our walk back.

On the way home, the boys politely and correctly greeted the policeman, shaking his hand. As we neared Abraham's Auto Repair Shop, the boys decided to greet him, too. So, they wished Abraham a "Happy New Year" and shook his hand. Then they dropped off their bread at their homes and came to my house to play, along with Stanley, Stephanie and Amanda. It was a busy morning.

I thank God that I have the privilege of being part of the lives of these children. I pray that I am showing them His love in action, not just talking about it. And, I hope I am teaching them about God's wonderful Word. I am also showing them that adults can make mistakes - and ask for forgiveness. (Maakum is not perfect!) I pray that God will give me more moments to help shape these young lives. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year Dawns

When I was much younger, I worried about what would happen when the year 2000 came around. 1953 sounded fine, so did 1967 and 1971. All of the "teen" years sounded fine when they were spoken. But, how would you say the year 2000? Or 2010? Or 2015? I had no idea. I wondered if the world would come to an end just because I couldn't fathom how a person would say the year starting with a "20." 

Now, I have to chuckle. The year 2000 has come and gone. So has 2001, 2002, 2003...all the way to 2015. People have spoken the year. It sounded strange at first, but then, new things often sound strange at first. God has blessed us with another year - 2016. (I have no problem saying the year.) What is your prayer for this new year? What is my prayer for this new year? It is the same as the past many years:

I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee, exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine and I am Thine. So be it. And the Covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in Heaven. Amen.