Lake Bosomtwi Medical Clinic Mission Trip, part 1


I love that feeling you get before camp starts, when you’re waiting for the kids to arrive. The feeling that God’s going to something amazing, and you get to be a part of it. It is the same feeling when I was up in Wisconsin at a kid “helping” at my brother Rod’s 4-H camp, or serving on mission teams, or even at Glen Lake Camp, serving as a dean. Maybe its because I never felt like I was a good fit for the town I grew up in, and going away to church camp, or 4-H camp, I discovered things about myself, that I was likeable, and maybe got a glimpse into the person I would grow up to be. It’s a feeling of not knowing exactly what God is going to do, but knowing that things will be forever changed by it. Summer Camp was such a wonderful thing for me as a kid, a place where time was suspended long enough to become myself, and connect with God, and even now that I have become that person, the wait for it still excites me.

So it was those feelings that I brought with me on the ride up to Lake Bosumtwi with Margaret the Missionary, and her friend Gifty. Margaret is on a two year assignment as a videographer for the Mission Society and is coming to record the first short term Mission Team to visit the Lake Bosumtwi Medical Clinic. The clinic was started in the late 1960s by a Scottish couple who, after seven good years, left to resume their lives. The sad part of the story is that no one came to replace them, and so for the last 25 years, the clinic has existed as a few long suffering nurses, and an occasional visit from the doctor.

The US Team was from First United Methodist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama, Andrew and Juliana’s home church. Leigh Anne and Brett – Brett works in the offshore oil rig industry one month on the rig, one month off. When he is gone, Leigh Anne single-handedly manages a family of five boys. Its fun to see a married couple work together as well as these two did. Billie and Sidnie are semi-retired nurses, who were such a blessing to the team with their medical experience. Billie still works with hospice, and Sidnie works at the church that employs Father Stephen, a semi-retired Anglican priest who spent 15 years at a new church pastor. He is their missions and leadership development pastor, and was such a blessing to me.

[the waiting room at the clinic]

From the time that Andrew and Juliana first stepped foot in Ghana this was their dream to host mission teams and practice medicine at Lake Bosumtwi, and now after 18 months of hard work and planning, here we are. I looked into their faces for some sign of pride or relief that it had finally begun, but saw none. I guess that is how it is with visionary people, they are always looking toward what’s next, and they both have a great vision for what God is using them to do in that place.

Greeting the Chiefs
Before the free clinic could open, the Team had to greet the chiefs. Greeting is a important part of community relations here in Ghana and everything depends on how well the elaborate protocol is followed. We learned an important lesson at the first chief greeting, and so the second greeting went much better. In Anakom, the greeting took place on the porch of the palace, really just a large mud brick building with an equally large L shaped porch. We arrived there to find three chiefs, and many village elders seated. After taking our seats, the chief’s linguist asked our Mission. Even though the chiefs all speak English, we are not allowed to speak to them directly, instead we speak to linguist. Andrew told them our story, and introduced each of us, and then we stood up and greeted each of the chiefs and village elders. Then the village elders came around and greeted us. Then we presented them with 40 kilos of Texas Star Rice, and the village elders came and greeted us again, thanking us for out gift. To greet someone means the greetee is seated, and the greater moves from right to left to shake hands and say welcome, or hello, or Akwaaba, or thank you and look them in the eyes. After the elders had thanked us, we got up and greeted the chiefs, and then all sat down. Then we were invited to greet the picture of the Asantehene, or Asante King, and so we each took turns looking at his picture and saying nice. The chiefs then stood up, and invited us to stand up, and then Andrew prayed, and then the chiefs sat down again and we left. The greeting was over, and had gone well.

The Free Clinic
Then for the next two and a half days the free clinic was open. People had started arriving at 6am, about the time we were leaving to meet the first chief. Some had walked as much as three hours to see a doctor, and spent much of the day waiting. It was loud, with as much pushing and shoving as any market. After admissions, there was the BP room, really a entryway to the consulting room where a table had been set up. All around the table people were pushing and shoving, jockeying to get into the next position. On the first day there were as many as 40 people all packed into the BP room (roughly 12x18ft), everyone trying to get inside, and there sat Billie or Sidnie at the table taking BPs, an oasis of calm amidst the pushing, shoving and shouting. Inside the consulting room Drs. Juliana and Cam saw patents. There was a deep peace and love in their faces in how they spoke to their patients. They cared. I saw Christ. I understand that a typical doctor’s visit in Ghana is less than a minute long, and the reason that people come is to get access to medications. Juliana and Cam prefer to practice differently and so took much longer, say 10 minutes. Then it was off to pharmacy, where I worked along with Andrew, Brett, Leigh Anne, Sidnie or Billie (when they weren’t in the BP room). Most of the medication was Malaria related, and sometimes we received a prescription that would say NOW, and we knew these were the worse cases. Sometimes an hour can make all the difference in the treatment of Malaria.

Village Life
In many ways life in the village of Anakom was indistinguishable from life in Accra. The children laugh and smile, and the people dressed in “brouni uawa” or dead white man cloths. I can’t get over how strange it is to see people dressed in cloths that promote American companies, or universities, cities, really anything you can imagine, polo shirts, and jeans, all cast off from Europe or the states. I assume these cloths are the product of clothing drives, or Goodwill extras but here in Ghana they are the clothing of choice. It seems that obrunies wear Ghanaian clothes, and Ghanaians where obrunie clothes, mainly because of cost. Ghanaian shirts start at ¢60,000 ($6), and brouni uawa starts at ¢2000 (20 cents).

Yet in other ways, village life was much different. Though the clinic overlooked the main, or I should say, only road around the lake, and there was no traffic. Once or perhaps twice a day the TroTro came by, and only once did I see a taxi. There is no planes flying overhead, no meat pie guys honking, or shoe-shiner twap-twapping. It is quiet, except for the roosters, and incredibly remote. The only traffic was the clinic Patrol, and other missionary friends who came to greet us and see how things were going on the clinic’s first mission trip. I guess the Jernigans will get used to life in a fish bowl, because it seemed like people were always watching us. The clinic is built at the top of the hill between two towns, and above the clinic is their home, staff housing and the guest house. As we looked over the road below us, people were always just standing there just looking up and watching.

Worship
At night in the distance we could hear the distant sound of drumming and singing. I imagined people dancing, and wonder what it would be like. But there is something abut being white in this culture, that doesn’t allow us to observe or participate without changing it. I believe in science it is called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which says when you observe it, the fact that you are observing it changes it. For example on the Sunday before the team arrived, we went to Anakom Methodist Church for Sunday worship. On Saturday was the funeral for caretaker for the church, and so there was an unusually large crowd. Services start at 9:30, but we arrived at 10:30, trying not to have a complete four hour worship service experience. Even though worship had been going on for an hour, the moment Andrew and I enter the sanctuary, chairs are cleared front behind the pulpit, and we are directed to sit there, in places of honor. They know Andrew, and I guess that news has spread that there is another Methodist pastor in the village. The rest, Margaret, Juliana, and the clinic staff sit on the back row. The service is mostly in Twi, and the music was great, lots of drumming, and hand clapping, and the choir singing without accompaniment.

It is so white (read: square) the way obrunies clap only on 1 and 3 in a 4/4 song, while Africans clap on 2 and 4. Now the more indigenous the music at church is, the more interesting its clap pattern. For example at Asbury-Dunwell, during the offering, they will often clap on 1, and 1&, so it is two quick claps and then none for the rest of the measure. At Anakom, there were three patterns, 1, 2, 3 (but not on 4); 2, 3, 4 (but not on 1), and the most difficult, just 1&. One hand clap per measure, and it wasn’t even on the beat! Talk about feeling white, I kept trying to clap, and kept missing until I started doing a faking a clap on 1, and then hitting the 1&. After church services, or at least after the liturgy was over, there was an offering based on the day you were born.

Names
Birth day of the week is an important thing to know here, and each day (Monday through Sunday) has its own unique birth day. For example Kofi Annan, the former general secretary of the UN was born on Friday, because Kofi means Friday-born. Suzanne and I are both Sunday-born, so she is AC and I am Kwasi, and when we’re feeling particularly Ghanaian, that’s how we introduce ourselves, “Kwasi Steve”.

Akan Day of the Week Birth Names.

So the second offering, (the first was for tithes where people brought forth their books to record their offering) was based on day name, meaning there were seven offerings. After each offering they emptied and counted the plate. Because the funeral for caretaker of the church was the day before (and he was Sunday-born) tradition demands that his day would “win” the offering. Andrew is watching the offering tallies closely, ¢86,220, ¢57,105, ¢63,529, ¢115,034 and he knows what I have in my pocket and what he plans to give, and quickly figures out that if he gives what he feels called to give, Saturday-born (or Kwame) will win, so quietly he slips me ¢60,000 which I add to mine, and at the end Kwasi wins by ¢40,000. “Great,” Andrew will later say on our walk home, “now I’ve rigged the offering.” But before I hear that we must sit through an appeal for funds, and an auction that goes on for perhaps 45 minutes, selling off things people have brought, like yams, stalks of plantain, bread and a tin of sardines. It feels a little desperate at times, and in the end, we’re all relived to headed home at 12:45pm.

Offerings are such a contradiction because the way the Ghanaian churches do it is so right and so wrong. It is right in that the first offering (not the tithes) is actually the high point of the service and takes 20-30 minutes with people dancing and presenting their gifts on the Altar, or a nearby box. Everyone dances and laughs and there is much joy and delight in it all, completely ruined by what follows, the appeal of funds where (which feels more like exhortation). The pastor, or evangelist demands that people give in these amounts so the whole congregation can see who is giving what what. He announced ¢100,000, and those who have it come forward and put it in the box. Next is ¢50,000, ¢20,000 all the way to ¢1000. Everyone is expected to give one of the amounts. As the number decreases, the number of people increases, until finally we’re at the ¢5000 and ¢1000 and the appeal for funds as almost over. This part of the service is completely joyless, and the fact it takes another 30 minutes really feels wrong to me. Then there is the auction and then people go home, so all told in a 3 hour service, 90 minutes of it was collection of funds related, and I have yet to leave one of these services with anything but lent in my pockets.

The Lake
At night overlooking the lake you can see the lights of some of the villages that surround the lake. When the light is off (mean the power was off) all you can see is this very round lake surrounded by darkness, reflecting the full moon. Lake Bosumtwi is a crater lake, formed from a meteoroid crashing into the earth roughly a million years ago. Its only about 5 miles wide so you can see across it, and many of the 24 villages that surround it, especially at night. It is considered to be a sacred lake by the Asanti people, the first place their souls go after death. As a sacred lake, there are certain traditions:
1) There is no fishing allowed on Tuesdays (it would anger the gods).
2) The only fishing boats allowed are plank-boats.
3) No metal is allowed in the lake (somehow we got around this one).
When light off (we were blessed with a full moon) you can see the lake as it must have looked throughout history, and it was easy to understand why this lake is considered sacred.

It was good to be serving on a Missions Team again, and much of what we did and how we worked together reminded me of the El Carmen Mission Trip I had gone on years earlier with my family in Mexico with the Erwin’s. First of all there was the spirit of the people serving, and their willingness to work so hard for such long hours. There was the feeling of overwhelming need and that we would not be able to see or help everyone. There was the fascination of the doctors, how much they loved serving, and the feeling of God blessing it all. You could almost see childlike delight in them talking about the cases they had seen that day as they would look up things in their journal of tropical medicine. At night there was the feeling of being connected to something special as we gathered for worship and shared how that day touched us.

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