Return to Bolgatanga

Steve is on a tour of Ghana to visit our Mission Society Colleagues serving in northern Ghana and Togo. Having spent some time with Sue K [her blog], he is now in Bolgatanga, with the Bolga Bartletts, Dave and Ellen.


Ellen and Dave Bartlett

On the field its called it Member Care, when missionaries care for each other, what we in the church would call pastoral care, trouble is, I have difficulty relating to our friends until I can visualize their ministry setting. I come to the north thinking I am coming to meet their friends, experience their ministry, and learn how I can better help, but not long into this journey I realize, as Brian Mann put it so well, “that my deepest spiritual discoveries can be found in observing the lives of ordinary people who seek to practice their faith in ways that are authentic, truthful and unheralded.” [1] Dave and Ellen help me into a spiritual discovery from the highly relational ministry they live, “authentic, truthful and mostly unheralded.”

Steve in 2010, at Bongo Rock

In 2010, our daughter Anna and I spent a week in Bolga, and we have such fond memories from that trip. I was anxious to see it again, and see if I still felt the same way.
Read more about my 2010 Bolga Trip with Anna:
Welcome to Bolga, Crocodile Pond
Bongo Rock, Coming Alive
Navrongo Cathedral, The Art of Barter
Four years ago, Anna and I stayed near the center of town, but staying with Dave and Ellen, their home is on the outskirts, in a community of scattered houses that seem to have spilled out from the road, like an overturned truck. I’m sure there is some order to the houses, some rational in the placement of the traditional, and cinder block structures, but from the ground, I can’t see it.
What I do see is how connected Dave and Ellen are to this community.


Grandpa walking home from the bread store

“Grandpa, hello!” I hear as Dave and I walk to the corner store to buy bread. Along the way Dave drops off some paperwork to be photocopied, he knows everyone by name, and they by “Grandpa” . We do not walk alone either, at every part of the journey, kids or adults join up with us, to carry our bag of bread, to chat with Grandpa for a while, or just joins us along their journey. It is good to see their connection to the people around them.


Celebrate Recovery Bible Study

Ellen’s Small Group at Bible College meets under the shade of a tree.

In the evening they take me to Bible Study with their small group, and I hear stories from the lives of these people who serve the Lord so remotely, but so deeply connected to their community that there almost seems to be no line separating them.

Ellen leans on Dave, demonstrating Trust

The next morning I watch Dave and Ellen team teach at a local Bible College, modeling both the method of Celebrate Recovery Bible Study and good marriage practices for a class of young men and women who are training to be pastors.
Though none of them are known to be in recovery, the method the Bartletts are teaching will be well used in their future churches.


Neighborhood Bible Study


Why Dave is doing math in worship is beyond me.      2+3 = 5

In the afternoon we prepare for the neighborhood Bible Study, when about 70 high energy kids show up before 7pm to study the Bible and learn about Jesus in a positive way. Dave and Ellen host it each Monday night, but a group of friends and local pastors do the bulk of the teaching. Imagine a weekly Vacation Bible School, but one that goes on all year, building a relationship with each child and their through the gospel. Tonight a grandmother shows up just to see what has so captivated her granddaughter’s faith.

A grandmother came to see what’s happening.

I had been warned that worship was intense, but nothing could have prepared me for its intensity. When overwhelmed, I have been known to crawl into my camera and observe from the safety of a lens, but tonight the drumming, neighborhood kids singing and dancing crashed into me, like a huge ocean wave.  I wimp out and sneak into the kitchen to see if Ellen needs any help, abandoning Dave. He does fine, after all, he does this every week.
See Dave in Action!
Bolgatanga Regional Hospital
The next morning we go to the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital to help along the process of a young man who has Hepatitis B. The process we are helping out has nothing to do with efficiency. The hospital has misplaced Brother A’s folder:1, and so orders are given to create a new folder:2, then to wait in long slow moving queue, to create a new folder:3, and with folder in hand to wait to see the doctor:4,5. It could be a study in inefficiency but Dave and Ellen know the system and somehow captured the doctor’s cell phone number. A quick phone call later, the doctor agrees to meet them and we join the queue to wait to bypass what could have been days of waiting, instead of just hours:6. Six hours.


Receiving the doctors news, and what is next.

It all would be a tragic situation, hopeless, without the evidence of God working through Dave and Ellen, and yet through it all Brother A’s mother is patient. Jolia’s son is the top student in his class, a strong good looking young man that is the picture of health. He is in contrast to the baby Jolia back loads all morning. Known locally as a spirit child, something is a bit off with Baby Y. His eyes don’t catch yours, and he fusses and cries even less than most Ghanaian babies, who are stoic, a back loaded passengers to their mother’s life.
It is believed that the birth of a spirit child’s coincided with some tragic event in the village or family , like a sickness or death of a family member. Babies born under these circumstances are believed to be a bad omen, cursed by the ancestors, and must be returned otherwise more bad things will happen. Yet Jolia has gone against tradition, and fought for the child to live, not letting the village elders take it to be left to die. Read more about Baby Y’s story.
Jolia is the living embodiment of a quote by Barbara Kartz Rothman:
“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength” [2]
And I would add that for Jolia, her inner strength, if evidence of a quiet faith in God. Read more of her story
Still the process takes all morning. Lab tests are ordered for Brother A, new prescriptions given, and by 1:30pm–we’ve been at this since 7:30am–we drop him off at school. Ellen gives him a cedi to buy lunch (thirty cents),and that how we learn this will be his first meal of the day.
Ellen asks “Jolia, do you have any food in the house?”
“Oh, no Mommie.” So it is off to the market to buy rice, oil and fish.


At the Market

Ellen’s compassion is so heartfelt. Dave is so steadfast in his support of her heart’s longing, never complaining, or even rolling an eye. Later we meet another woman who runs a foster home, whom the Bartletts have been helping and Dave has to reminder her that they can only help One by One. In fact Dave made her a t-shirt that says just that “1×1”, and she happens to wearing it today.


Bolgatanga Sunset


[1] Mann, Brian D. Spotting the Sacred: Noticing God in the Most Unlikely Places, Baker Books, 2006

[2] Rothman, Barbara Kartz Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Religion, Beacon Press, 2005


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