Ted and Mike go to Ghana
Dear friends-This is a special blog post, indeed! Ted is “guest writing” to share a bit about his trip with Mike to Ghana in the early part of December. Enjoy!
After a fantastic week in Akatsi, I lost my voice on the tro-tro ride to Accra as Dad and I prepared to return to the States. It probably indicated that I talked far too much and listened far too little, but our hosts were gracious and loving as always, and especially thrilled to meet my dad on this trip. I have always wanted my dad to come to Ghana with me. He’s a board member of Eight Oaks and has been one of our most devoted believers since the beginning (and one of my personal supporters since the early, early days).
But more than anything, I wanted Dad to meet the girls because he is so good at games. The ability to draw crowds of children and entertain them for hours is a rare gift in an adult. This talent drove me crazy when I was younger, because Dad always encouraged my brothers and me to invite neighbors and strangers to join in our games, but I just wanted to play with him by myself. Of course, under the guise of "playing," Dad was teaching us about fairness, healthy competition, and the importance of treating everyone equally. He taught me that the person whose day is made by joining in on the kickball game is more important than the final score. He used sports as a vehicle to teach us about human kindness. He taught me to share, and as an adult I could not have been more proud to share my Dad with our extended family at the Yellow House.
I was struck by how much the girls have aged and matured (I think we say this after every trip). There are the obvious physical signs, like getting taller and entering puberty. Because they primarily speak Ewe to each other, it’s hard to gauge their growth in language or humor--but their maturity really came through as I watched them learn to play Crazy 8’s. I thought the concept, explained in English, might be a bit out of their reach and I was totally wrong. They grasped the strategy immediately and a few of them were (unsurprisingly) very competitive.
We were lucky enough to spend a morning visiting The Father’s House. The Father’s House was the inspiration for Eight Oaks and its founders have been wonderful mentors and friends to us. Jeremiah Banini gave us a tour and traded stories with our staff. I was especially glad that Bernard, Celestine, and Mercy were able to accompany us on this visit; they are each trying to fulfill unique roles, and being able to converse with Jeremiah--someone who understands our mission exactly--was so beneficial.
I think one of the highlights of the trip for Dad was the opportunity to visit the family of the triplets. We were able to bring along some basics like underwear and groceries and, on Mercy’s recommendation, we purchased fabric for their entire family. It’s common in Ghana for families to get custom-tailored outfits for Christmas, but the cloth can be pretty expensive. It’s critical to supply necessities like a roof for their house, groceries for their bellies, and education for their minds, but equally important is giving them something that makes them feel valued and dignified and special.
In honor of her absence, we ended the week at Ellie’s favorite restaurant in Accra, Mama Mia’s. My voice finally gave out completely as we were packing up to leave for the airport. We spent the next 30 hours in relative silence waiting in lines, flying on planes and reflecting on what a great week it was.
I’m not used to writing these blog posts or taking pictures on the trip, as Ellie usually manages all of the social media and documentation (which I appreciate anew each time I travel without her). She keeps the camera with her all the time and is really great about capturing candid shots and special moments. I’m less inclined to be behind the camera, but I tried my best (the girls laughed at me and would teasingly call me “auntie!” when I tried to organize photo shoots. They were missing Ellie as well). Thank you for all of the support and prayers for this trip--our travels were smooth, and with the exception of my lost voice, our health was perfect. The girls are thriving and we feel lucky to be a part of their lives.
(Ellie again. I’m going to “narrate” the pictures to the best of my ability!)
Mike teaching the girls to play hangman.
Teddy's Grandad gave us money to buy Christmas presents for the girls and staff this year. After some sneaky texting with Mercy, we elected to buy fancy dresses and art supplies. We gave Mercy a dress and some snazzy high-heels (previous posts, you'll recall, reference her being a clothes horse), Mama a leather purse, Destiny some office supplies (his request) and really nice headphones, and Bernard + Celestine a hard-cover photo book and a picture of them framed, for their new house.
One of my favorite things about the girls receiving gifts is that they IMMEDIATELY want to show Mama everything.
Beauties! L-R: Dina, Lucky, Sarah Sr., God's Way / Sarah Jr., Gloria, Regina, Richlove
Sassy! I love this one. I also love that they were good sports about wearing these RIDICULOUS headbands I found at Target.
L-R: Sarah Jr., Dina, Gloria, Richlove, God's Way, Sarah Sr., Regina, Lucky. Thanks, Memaw and Grandad!
Dina and Mama. I've mentioned here before that the girls LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to color. They each got their own "suitcase" of paints, colored pencils, markers, and crayons and two coloring books EACH.
Richlove + Regina. Last year I was chatting with Trinity's yearbook teacher, Linda Werhan, and we dreamed up a project that would allow the yearbook kids to be a part of Eight Oaks. Aside from creating a full high school yearbook, the class combed through my many pictures spanning 4 years of visits to Ghana and created a "Yellow House" yearbook for the girls. They raised funds to have the books printed and Teddy brought them over on this trip. Access to beautiful printed pictures is something we take for granted here in the States, and seeing pictures of themselves in a real BOOK made the girls feel like celebrities!
Dina and Richlove
Sarah Sr., Regina, Richlove
God's Way & Lucky
Even looking at pictures from this trip, I can tell that Regina has grown a LOT since our last visit. The outfit she's wearing used to be Lucky's, and something about her expressions in the photos Teddy took say to me that she's well on her way to becoming a woman.
God's Way. The cutie she's holding is the daughter of one of our Ghanaian board members. The girls babysat while they had a meeting:)
This is Wilson! He was our roommate when we lived in the Banini house in Akatsi, for our first 3 months in Ghana. He showed Teddy and I how to fetch water from the well on our first night and ironed our clothes for us before we went to church the next morning. He was very protective of and patient with his yavu roomies and he holds a very special place in our hearts. He's moved around a bit, and I'm jealous that Ted got to see him!
Mike and Matilda at the meeting. I might have mentioned this before, but she's a nurse in Akatsi and visits the Yellow House to talk to the girls about puberty, hygiene, etc.
Celestine. We also gave "yearbooks" to all of our board members, who LOVED them. They asked for extra copies to show to the district office.
I love Celestine so much! She is powerful, strong, intelligent, compassionate, and beautiful. She does not stand for disrespect of anyone. I'm so glad the girls have her as a role model. After the board meeting, she, Bernard, Teddy, Mike, and Destiny visited the triplets and Collins' dad.
Juilet, Justine, and Julianna with Mike and Ted.
The triplets' house.
When people ask us what we "do" in Ghana, this image comes to mind. It's a LOT of sitting around and talking.
One of the triplets' little brothers.
Ted and Bernard. So grateful for this friendship!
Mike and all the kiddos.
Mike and his new friend. I didn't recognize this cutie when I was looking through photos, and when I asked Teddy who he was, he responded "I have no idea--just a neighbor. He just walked up to Dad and sat on his lap." Behold, the power of Mike.
This mama was SO pleased with these gifts. Absolutely all credit goes to Mercy--she knew exactly what would be best received and most helpful. Thank you, thank you to everyone who donates to Eight Oaks. Moments like these are sometimes few and far between, but the impact of $100 can truly be life changing.
Collins is away at boarding school (yay!), but the crew stopped by to see his dad and pass along a few gifts.
Kobla! He drives the tro-tro that Bernard owns, and as such is with us pretty much non-stop when we're in Ghana.
If you're wondering why there's 1,000 photos of this meeting with the triplets and less of the girls, it's because Teddy passed off picture-taking duty to Destiny. He did a great job!
Our staff with the staff of The Father's House.
On the way to school (iPhone photo by Mike).
Mike with Regina, God's Way, Richlove, Sarah Jr., and Gloria.
Teddy and Mercy
Baseball in the courtyard! This is Bernard and Celestine's niece, Rosemary.
Mike and his outfielders.
This image calls to mind elementary-school coach pitch games. I also often sat down when it was my turn to play outfield.
Mercy takes a whack at it.
The game moves outside, to the soccer field on the college campus. The best part about this, of course, is all the neighbor kids who joined in!
Mercy as pitcher.
I have no doubt that this game will be a Yellow House staple. My mom taught the girls to play tic-tac-toe when she visited and they still like to play.
One of the things Ghana taught me was that chores don't have to be tedious. Mercy would do her laundry with me sometimes and, aside from making the time go faster, we had some of our best conversations while hunched over buckets of water.
Thank you again to everyone whose prayers covered Mike and Ted on this latest journey. Aside from being enjoyable, it was an extremely productive trip and we are so grateful for this opportunity. I hope all of you are having a wonderful Christmas season and savoring what's left of 2017. I love the holidays, but the hustle, bustle, and general commercialism of December always makes me yearn for Ghana--for simplicity and the stripping away of frivolity, for a slower pace that digs into this feeling of anticipation that is at the heart of Advent.
I love this passage by Jan L. Richardson:
“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s back fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”
Indeed, there is.
Peace to you this season! Love, Ted, Ellie, Mercy, Helen, Bernard, Celestine, Destiny, Dina, Lucky, God's Way, Sarah Sr., Richlove, Regina, Sarah Jr., and Gloria