Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mmmmm.... first of all, Happy Thanksgiving! I have to say it didn't really feel like Thanksgiving today as it was 90 degrees and I taught my normal classes. But there were some bright spots that made it a good day. First of all, I was introducing fractions to my 3rd graders, so I got to brag on my Grandma's cooking skills, share about Thanksgiving, and eat her pie vicariously through the fraction examples! :) That was fun!

Then, after school, Priscilla-- a girl who lives in the village nearby-- came over and taught Tawnee and I how to make my favorite Ghanaian food...waakye! It was really fun to learn how it's prepared and have some bonding time! Some interesting differences in cooking were that you first need to sift the small stones, rice, and "bean shells" (for lack of a better word) from the beans before washing and then cooking them. Then we put these "weeds" (as Priscilla called them) in with the beans as they cooked to color them. Here we are pulling out the weeds!

...and here's our Ghanaian Thanksgiving meal! haha...on Saturday we're planning on concocting a more traditional version. :)

After eating we walked Priscilla home, and got to see the village at night, which doesn't happen very often. And I'm sorry to my faithful blog readers for all my ranting and raving about the village, but I just love it! The stars were out, it was pitch dark, and the frogs were having quite the concert. It was fun to walk around and visit all of our friends (and students) in the village and see everyone preparing their dinner over the fires by candle light. I always feel like I'm in a movie out there, but I love it, because the people are so loving and friendly.

All in all, besides missing being with my family, I'd say it was a good Thanksgiving. I have SO much to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A breath of fresh air...

With the way things have been going at the home lately, Friday night was a breath of fresh air. We took three girls-- Attah, AfuaKyere, and Aisha--to Mr. Fred's house for a girls' night sleepover. It was a night filled with laughter (lots of it!), games, talking, and of course popcorn!
These girls are so full of joy and remind me why I can press on! They are precious and such great encouragers!

AfuaKyere-- the popcorn expert :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas...

...just like the ones I use to know."

I’ll admit it… last night I woke up dreaming of Christmas and I just can’t stop! :) I’m dreaming of the smell of Christmasy candles filling the house, sitting by the fireplace and watching Elf, wearing warm clothes, going to the Christmas Eve service at church, looking at all the pretty lights, getting bundled up to go outside, sitting inside making Christmas cookies while the slow flies outside, eating Dad’s stew, making chili, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, going sledding (maybe skiing?!), going ice skating and coming in to some nice warm cappuccino…and most of all spending time with my family and friends! …25 days! :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let us run with perseverance...

"Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..." Hmmm...I sure know what that's like! That's what my body is screaming to me every morning around 6:45 a.m. in the middle of my run when all I want to do is stop and walk. But I don't...I keep "trotting" away (as they call it here).

Why? Why don't I just quit and walk? Well...numero uno, because I was crazy enough to sign up for a 10K in HK in February and if I don't keep on keeping on, I won't finish it. I want to cross that finish line knowing I did the best I possibly could. It's a goal I've had for awhile, and I was finally committed enough to sign up for it. Second, I know I'll never get faster and gain more endurance if I just stop and walk when I'm tired. Those times that I push through the pain and temporary discomfort are exactly what help me to build endurance and get faster.

I can't help but see a significant parallel in my life right now to this picture of running with perseverance, not giving up, finishing strong... Life’s been a little rough this week. I’m hurt, saddened, and frustrated beyond words—probably more than I have been since coming here. It’s probably a result of all the little things built up over time, but the straw that broke the camel's back is the disrespect from the kids this week. One of the hardest things for me is to feel like I’m pouring my heart out for these kids…giving them love the best way I know how, spending time with them, teaching them, laughing together, reading stories, providing material things, and then in the blink of an eye you can become their worst enemy simply for disciplining one child who was—for Pete’s sake—harming another child!!!!

As a result, for the past few days we’ve been insulted and given the cold shoulder from most of the girls and some of the boys. Not getting a response to a simple “hello” is so hurtful when you love these kids so much. Yesterday I’d had enough. Sometimes I wonder if it’d just be easier if I didn’t care… if I didn’t love them at all, then I couldn’t be hurt. However, I do love them. That’s not going to change. I care about them so much and only wish they would see it.

Through this all, I’m comforted by two truths. First, these troubles are temporary and don’t come as surprises to God. Jesus states in John 16:33b, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” How great to know that as followers of Christ all of our trials and troubles are temporary and so minor compared to the glory that is to come! Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Second, I’ve been comforted by the realization of God’s love for me. I have been chosen and loved by God and have been just as stubborn, rude, unloving, and ungrateful as some of these kids are being right now. Yet God does not turn His back on me; He does not refuse to have anything to do with me. His love is constant, sacrificial, and real. Romans 5:6-8 says it better than I possibly could, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In the midst of our own sin against God, He didn’t give up on us—in fact, He DIED for us!

I pray that I have the grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love that can only come from God to love on these kids, because everything inside me just wants to hide out for the remainder of my time here, but I know that’s no way to finish. Just like in my morning runs, I need to press on, push through the pain, insults, and hurtful ignorances, and realize that we are to rejoice in our sufferings because they produce perseverance, character, and hope. (Romans 5:3) Why? Because I'm running to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

School is school, right?

Not really... :) As I walked down to the “office” last night with my trusty flashlight to make copies—in hopes that the generator wouldn’t be turned off before my copy-making-mission was accomplished, I realized all over again that so many of the things that are just normal to me now as a result of living here for over a year, really aren’t normal at all. So, I’ve compiled a list of interesting school facts that are probably pretty unique!

- All the students (Nursery through JSS1) gather for assembly in the morning, where we sing, pray, recite the memory verse, national anthem, and pledge.

- When a teacher is absent there is rarely an effort made to find someone to substitute or cover for them.

- The JSS1 class (equivalent to 7th grade) meets in the chicken coop…don’t worry, there’s only one chicken!

- There are 11 and 18 year olds in the same class.

- The female teachers serve the male teachers at lunch.

- The kids sweep the classes (and the dirt) before school each morning, and a group is also assigned to clean the toilets before school starts.

- Classes are cancelled if it rains hard, because most of the classes meet outside with just a roof over their heads.

- Pencils are a huge problem—between handing them out, discussing who lost theirs, and sharpening them, class is always delayed.

- We usually find out about days off due to holidays the day before the holiday.

- The bell that rings to change classes is a small hand-held bell.

Just a little bit different!

Service with a Smile?

Service…seems like a fairly simply concept. You do a few nice things for people who are less fortunate than you in your spare time and at your convenience, right? HA! . If there’s any lesson I seem to be learning lately it’s that my life is not my own and much to my dismay, service doesn’t happen on my timetable. I often have my priorities, preferences of what I’d like to do and when, and my ideas of how my time should be spent. However, as a follower of Christ, I am instructed to “deny myself, pick up my cross daily and follow Jesus” (Luke 9:23).

I have never been in such a position where it is so clear to me what it means to serve (even when that’s the last thing you want to do), and although it can be very challenging, I know God is using these experiences to teach me to have a servant’s heart and be more sensitive to His Spirit leading me. Back in America and even HK, I use to wake up and have a pretty good idea of what my day would look like, which is good because by nature I’m a planner and love schedules and predictability. However, being here in Africa, it seems like planning is a foreign concept and any plans and expectations are temporary and can change in the blink of an eye. There are a countless number of things that can change plans-- from rain, dentist visits, vaccinations, football matches, dorm inspections, and staff meetings—all which cancel classes—to impromptu trips to drive ill teachers out to the junction, bring one of the cooks to grind maize, take the kids home, or take the dog to the vet from a suspected snake bite.

When these “surprises” come up—especially when I have just sat down to do lesson plans or grading, have planned something with the kids, or have planned to take a short siesta—I have two possible reactions to the inevitable circumstances—I can serve with joy and sincerity or I can serve with a grumbling and reluctant spirit. Honestly, at times I react one way and at times the other. However, God has really been showing me lately that my life is not my own. I belong to Him and Him alone…whether I live or die (Romans 14:8).

Since I belong to Him, I need to be more submissive to His plans for my life, which cannot happen if I have all my plans already set in stone. So, although it’s not always bright and rosy, and I sometimes fail in the attitude department, I’m learning to put my agenda on hold and embrace God’s plans for my minutes, hours, and days. And I’m trying to serve joyfully, for Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, “…for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

God is able to strengthen and equip us for all good works! I often find that even when I may be reluctantly helping someone out, there are blessings that quickly give me an attitude check. For example, last week when I had to take the kids and teachers home from school, which is about an hour worth of pot-hole filled, gut shaking adventure, I wasn’t feeling the most excited about it, but as I was getting in the van the kids were so excited that the “oburoni” was going to drive them home, and then when I dropped them off about 10 of the younger ones stood by the passenger door and blew me kisses. What’s not to love about that? They are precious and just melted my heart.

Service is not always convenient, fun, or easy, but it’s what we’re called to do as Christians and Jesus set the perfect example for us while He was here on earth…serving selflessly even unto death. What’s a minor (or major!) schedule change in comparison to sacrificing your life?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Costume Party

Saturday we had a costume party for the kids, which seemed to be a hit. At first many of the kids were reluctant and didn't know what to be...but some last-minute creative juices seemed to flow and they came up with some creative costumes!
MaaAbena, Anna, Tawiah, Attah, and I
SUPERMAN! (aka Bequin)

Joshua and Father Christmas (Sylvester)

We had 5 different stations set up with games and prizes, and it's so great how they get excited about the simple things. It was a great day, and so fun to see even the oldest kids find the "kid" in them for a few hours!