When a mission trip starts, I’m never sure how it is going to go, it could go well, it could go badly, and as the first day unfolds, I’m wondering which way it will go. Maybe its like a cutting down a tree, and the best you can hope for is for it to “fall well”. You can do everything right, and still with just the wrong gust of wind at the right moment, and the tree crashes into the house. I remember one mission trip, the last one I did with my youth, was supposed to be the best ever, and the last hurrah for myself and my then-to-be-former youth director, Paul. So much planning had gone into the trip. Paul had assembled best people, planned the best menus, put together the best worship services, even had the best location, and yet as fate would have it, we were paired with a church that for what ever reason, doomed it, causing the tree to not fall well, or into the house. It was a disaster, and most of the youth from that trip dropped out of youth group, families who had kids on it, left the church, and none of the adults who had volunteered for it ever volunteered for another mission trip (myself included). The tree did not fall well and we could see it happening, but couldn’t change it.
So mission trips are make or break kind of things and no amount of planning, preparation, or even repetition can insure it goes well. Afterwards, folks will ask you how it went, and they expect you to say well, or good, or great. For those going on the mission trip, the most dangerous thing is to pack in is a whole set of expectations about what it will be like. It is what it is.
[The two tired doctors]
On Wednesday morning, the free clinic opened, after we went to greet the chiefs. That morning, like the ones that would follow it, opened with prayer and singing and there were perhaps 150-200 people already waiting to see a doctor. Because this was the grand re-opening of the clinic, Andrew wanted to make a bit of a splash in the community so that everyone would know that the clinic doctor was back, and to do that, he invited Cam G. another missionary doctor from Kumasi to join Ju in seeing the patients. Together these two made a great team seeing upwards of 500 people. Ju ’s passion is children, and there were plenty to see, Cam saw everyone else. The mission team had brought “plenty, plenty” medicines but by the final day, they had run out of most of the malaria, pain, high blood pressure, and general infection meds. The first day, as I was working in the pharmacy, I watched one of the team nurses cringe as we counted out meds by hand. “I’d get fired for doing this in the states,” she said, but what else could we do? We would count out a week, or month’s supply and put them in a special zip-lock bag, writing the instructions on the outside. Then we would had the meds to the translator, and explain to him the procedure. He would explain it to the patient.
It occurs to me that the Jernigans will be living the more traditional missionary lifestyle, at least the one that most people have in their minds when they thing about missionaries. Living in a remote village with few modern conveniences. Granted their house is nice and inside it could be anywhere in the developed world, but outside and down the hill, it is still mostly mud brick homes, covered with crumbling stucco. For me it was exiting to be here for their first mission team, and second week at the lake. Even though they had just moved from Kumasi seven days before the team arrived, their home looked more “homey” than ours, and we’ve lived there eight months. It was the kind of excitement you get when you know that someday you’ll look back on this week knowing that you were there for the start of something great.
What will it be like for Lucas, or Luiza in five years? Will this be all they know or remember? Lucas is four, the same age that Grace was when we sold our house in Austin and moved into Seminary housing. It is the age Anna was I became pastor at Foundation, and so that community, especially that church is all they know and remember. What will it be like for Lucas and Luesia having so many village kids as their friends? Will God send Andrew and Ju a set of best friends to bless their lives there?
At the end of the day there were more people than time for the doctors to see them, and so some were going to disappointed. In the late afternoon, Margaret was hanging out in the “waiting room” area, really an outside porch/sidewalk and we could tell that the people were hungry and tired. Ju would comment that there was a spirit of uneasiness at that time. That first day there was only one seller, and she was selling these fried things called donuts, more like a really large donut hole. She was selling them for ¢1000, and all I had ¢12,000. So we bought all we could, prayed over them, and then began passing them out to those who were still waiting. We knew there were not going to be enough, and so some part of us was hoping for a miracle like the loaves and fishes. It certainly felt to me like a sacrament and inside I caught myself saying, “this is the body of Christ” as Margaret handed one out to every other person saying, “share, share” and the remarkable thing is that everyone did share, share.
[enjoying a ‘bo-frute’ , share, share]
In fact we had just enough for each person waiting to have half. I don’t know if there were just the right number of people, but I like to think God used us to do something small but really incredible. Later Ju would say that something changed in the people she was seeing, like there was hope again, I like to think we had a part of it all.
[By the second day, a whole market has appeared]
At night we ate a wonderful meal, and then gathered for worship and a time of reflection to help people process what had happened. We did this each night and I looked forward to hearing stories of what God had done that day, and where team had seen Him. Like in the 114 year old man, or the 4 month old named Grace, who was so sick with malaria, that most of the two page prescription had the words First Dosage: NOW and Leigh Anne and Brett had to administer her first dose of medication, to this very little girl. It was a different sort of sacrament I think, but just as life saving, at least in this life.
[Even on light out, Ju studies her book on Tropical Medicine by flashlight (or torch as they say here)]
There is this point in a mission trip that you know it is going to go well, the team begins to gel, but not too quickly. People are actively engaged in their work, but still connecting to each other and to the ones they have come to serve. There is an excitement that second day, that there is still so much to do, and folks are not energized by the thought. By day two’s end, people are tired, but it is a good tired, a tired borne of fact that today, you made a difference, the world is better because God used you. It is the point that most teams start wishing they could stay longer, they see the need, they see how well they are working together, and how great it feels to be connected to something beyond themselves. Late in the day it is also the point when things start to happen because we’ve let down our guard, or started connecting more to the people we’ve come to serve than to the work of service. Its not a bad thing in itself, but how it is handled will reflect on how the mission trip ends.
For this trip it was some of the village boy being boys, and its unfortunate discovery by a tired doctor taking a break to be a mother. I don’t know if any mother could have handled it better, and maybe God will use this incident in some way, but when Ju stepped out of the clinic to take a break (or was it mother’s instinct) her first sight as she rounded the corner was Lucas, pinned by down some of the village boys he didn’t know, hurting him. Later we learned they just wanted to know if his cry was like theirs? It is. The incident could have really tainted the mission trip, and the Jernigan’s relationship with the village, but it was defused in such a graceful, yet stern way that it didn’t come to define the trip, but served more as a reminder that they have come to serve in a very different cultural. Later, Brett is on the porch of the guest house, pumping up footballs (soccer balls) and the village kids who see him doing this are in awe. They have never seen so many footballs in one place.
[Brett pumping footballs (thanks Margaret!) ]
Back at the clinic Dr. Ju started seeing patients, after Lucas was OK, but not joyfully, it was out of obligation. God sent her a old woman, whom Ju happened to think to ask, how long have did walk today? “Three hours,” she said and it broke Ju ‘s heart, to let God use her again. The woman had serious pain and other issues, and to think of her walking three hours more to go home, over God knows how many mountains, helped her put the problems of the day in perspective, and prepared Ju for the last patient, a child who had (I think) a descended hernia that required immediate treatment. So Andrew, Michael, and Father Stephen left in the Patrol, rushing off to the nearest hospital, or at least the nearest one that would admit the boy. Many hours and two hospitals later, he was admitted with the promise of surgery the next day. About 10pm they arrived back home, tired, but well used.
[football field carved out of jungle]
On Friday, the clinic was only open in the morning, and a 12 village football (or soccer) tournament had been organized by some of the clinic staff. The mission team had brought with them three large trophies to give to the winners. In the morning the coaches gathered to draw matches, but it was later that we learned that two bitter village rivals had drawn the sixth match. Even later we would learn that the rivalry was so bitter that these two villages had not played each other in ten years. We would also learn why.
[football] The plan was for six matches to be held on Friday, and the finals on Sunday, followed by awards ceremony and a film. All began well, there was even an announcer who gave the play-by-play on Andrews brand new sound system. The condition of the field was excellent, and unusual for Ghana in that it was all grass, and more or less level, carved out from the jungle that surrounded it. Most fields in Ghana are dirt. But unknown to us, about 100 miles away on Lake Volta, all seven generators at the Akosombo Dam collectively failed and the entire country lost power for 24 hours. Losing power in the remote village of Agyemen, meant sound system failure, and communication with the every growing crowd more difficult. You couldn’t just announce what was happening.
[football head shot]
For us on the team, it was another reminder that this is a very different culture, and as much as we might like to think it is similar to ours, it isn’t. Tread carefully. That night we slept behind locked doors and the drumming that had been so fun to listen to the previous nights, sounded more ominous, like the drums of war. Add to that a light out, and the team slept fitfully.
[Andrew, The Bishop, & a trilled Father Stephen]
On Sunday we went to two churches, the local one, and another miles away to witness the installation of a new bishop. There is nothing that can prepare you for the Ghanaian, or at least the Methodist Church of Ghana, worship experience. I can’t help but wonder what Brett, for whom this was his first experience, thought about it all. For me the most disturbing part is arriving 90 minutes late, and when the ushers see five obrunies walking up, two in clerical collars, they scramble to clear space for us. They also cleared space for the clinic staff, who sit behind us. I don’t know where the people who were sitting where we sat were moved to, or how they felt about it. Andrew and Father Stephen end up sitting up front between the two most powerful men in the room, and I wonder who was sitting there before? Where did they go? How much of the service is done for our benefit? Questions I won’t have the answers to any time soon.
[its hard to see in this picture, but there were about 500 people, michael is preaching]
Even though the Gala was canceled, the organizers still asked that we show the film in the village that night, so Michael, Sammy and I head down the hill late afternoon to hook up a portable DVD player, sound system, and projector. The location was a side of a building no one was living in, next to the road, so the overflow of the benches would be actual road through the village. Power came from a nearby shop via a very homemade extension cord. As people gathered we played Ghanaian praise music in Twi, which has a very Caribbean beat to it, so it felt like a party. When it was well dark, Michael gave an introduction, then Ebenezer, the Methodist Evangelist and clinic worker, lead the children in singing. I wouldn’t have thought of that it, but it really changed the spirit of the crowd. I wish you could hear their voices praising God, and rejoicing. Somewhere in the music the spirit of the people changed from curious, to anticipation that God was going to do something that night, and they wanted to be a part of it.
I’ve read and seen about films about missionaries who took technology into the village as a way to introduce Christ, but had always been skeptical of its effectiveness. Andrew and I have had this discussion, and he freely admits that the “wow factor” is technology driven, but when we showed the film, which told the basic Biblical story in detail, the kids, and adults heard it in their local language. Something happened. It guess it is one thing to hear about the Biblical story, but then to see it in full color, and hear the narrative in your mother tongue… the effect was profound. More and more people showed up, maybe they were just walking along the road, and decided to watch. Maybe they were in the village and curious. For me it was the people saying the Twi equivalent of WOW, when they saw something in the film. When it was over, Michael got up and gave a message, which pretty much all stayed behind to listen to, and then he prayed over them. It was a good night, God was honored, and I was wowed just to be apart of the process.
The last day of a mission trip is always hard. I never know when I’ll see these people again. We have shared such an intense experience, and there is this part of me that doesn’t want it to end. I don’t know what to say, or how to say it, all I know is that I’m forever changed by what has happened, and it makes me look forward to the next trip. I wonder if I went on enough of these mission trips if I would lose my since of wonder, if I would no longer be awed by the experience, of seeing God blessed in the people who have come to serve, and be served. I pray I’ll never learn.
So yes, the long answer is, it was a good mission trip.