Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Monday, January 27, 2014

My New Friend, Abel

Mary Kay writes:

I want to introduce you to a young man that I have just met.  His name is Sampana Abel, and he lives in Bolgatanga.  He completed Junior High School in June, and took his Basic School Certificate Examinations at that time.  These examinations are the culmination of primary and junior high school in Ghana, and your score on the BSCE determines whether you will go to high school or not.  Abel scored well enough in his exams to move on and received notification that he had a place at Bawku Technical High School. 
But Abel has had a difficult childhood.  His childhood home in the village was destroyed in a storm.  Six of his siblings have died at very young ages, leaving him with only a brother and a sister surviving.  His parents have suffered from poverty and illness and were homeless for some time.  Abel had nowhere to stay until a local woman took him in, in exchange for him working on her farm and around her house; the work was hard, and life was not easy.  Often Abel couldn’t go to school because he had to work.  Lately, though not an orphan, he has been living in an orphanage run by a friend of mine, Mama Laadi, outside of Bolgatanga.
In Ghana, secondary education is not free.  Most high schools are boarding schools, so in addition to tuition costs, money was needed for room and board.  By the time Abel was able to pull together enough money for his school fees at the end of October, school had already started.  When Abel showed up, the Headmaster told him that the class was full and there was no room for him.
Abel tried to get into other schools in the area, but they were all full.  A couple of schools would have been willing to take him into the freshman class, if Abel were willing to pay a bribe to make it worth the school administrator’s effort.  Of course, Abel barely had the money for school fees, so he couldn’t afford to pay any bribes on top of that.
While watching television one night, Abel and Mama Laadi saw  a program sponsored by the Methodist Church Ghana.  During the program, the show advertised the Methodist Education Unit and provided a phone number to call for more information about attending a Methodist School.  Abel called and asked about schools in the Upper East Region and the potential for assistance to impoverished students .  He was referred to his local Methodist minister, Very Rev. Samuel K. Bessa-Simons.
Very Rev. Bessa-Simons met with Mama Laadi and Abel and told him about the new Methodist Senior Technical School that will open in January in Sakote.  While the Sakote school does not have boarding facilities, it turns out that Sakote is Abel’s home village.  His parents are back living in Sakote, so he will have a place to live and go to school.  In fact, one of my photographs of women at the new boreholes in Sakote included Abel’s mother in it!
Abel wants to thank Living Word UMC and the friends he has never even met for providing such a great facility for his village.  He is excited about the opportunity to get an education and promises to work hard.  When I asked him what he wanted to be now that he will get an education, he didn’t know how to answer.  He said, “I never thought I would have the opportunity to get an education, so I never thought about what I could be.”  After some contemplation, though, he said he would like to become either a pastor or a teacher.
We may never know the number of lives we touch or the impact we have on others, but every once in a while, God gives us a glimpse of the difference we can make in one young man’s life!  Thank you, Living Word, for your love for Ghana and for making education available for young men and women like Abel.
"Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense  The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool  of a fool invites ruin."   Proverbs 10:13-14 (NIV)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Mary Kay's Aggie Award

Charlie writes:

Last month, Mary Kay was named a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering at her alma mater, Texas A&M University.

Her citation read:
     Mary Kay says her civil engineering father, Daniel D. Clinton, Jr. P.E. '52 inspired her to become a civil engineer when he guided her through a 6th grade report on using math in civil engineering. Numerous trips to Aggie football games -- and the family picnics with Tinsley's fried chicken -- sparked her love of A&M traditions and pageantry. When her father said she could go wherever she wanted for college but he only would pay for A&M, she didn't want to call his bluff.
     Mary Kay's days at A&M were filled with activities ranging from President of Chi Epsilon, Dean's Student Advisory Council, ASCE, Concrete Canoe Team, to founding member fo the MSC Legislative Forum Group. Her fondest memory is the "Camraderie" of classmates during late night study sessions, slaving in the basement computer lab trying to get a program to run, and building the "Rock" and "Rock-elle" concrete canoes. She says nothing could top "the days when the CEs would take over and open and close the Dixie Chicken and have our big domino tournament. That was what really defined us as CE majors!" She credits Dr. Gene Marquis as a great advisor, friend and mentor. He required hard work and had high expectations "but was always willing to take time to explain a difficult concept to us -- as many times as it took for us to get it."
     When she was 35 years old, Mary Kay was named the Design Manager for the F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility in Atlanta, the first (1997) wastewater treatment plant designed to meet drinking water standards. The facility discharges to the lake that supplies water to much of metropolitan Atlanta. After overcoming many hurdles, the award-winning $200 million project was completed on time and on budget.
     As stated in Mary Kay's nomination, "she is doing something that most of us have never done ... using her civil engineering skills to provide people in poverty with safe drinking water and improved living conditions." Mary Kay's biggest career step was leaving the corporate world to use her civil engineering skills in Ghana, West Africa to establish the Methodist Development and Relief Services' water program that has supplied clean, abundant water for rural families. Also under her leadership, a new Pure Home Water charitable organization fabrication facility has been constructed to distribute appropriate technology water filters throughout Ghana.
     The Clintons are an Aggie family. Her grandfater helped establish the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Her father, uncle, sister, brother and now her nephew all wear maroon. Her husband, Dr. Charles W. Jackson, IV, P.E. BSME/MIT, MS, PhD ME/Stanford University is a math professor at Ashesi University in Ghana. Son Chip Jackson is a PhD Aerospace Engineering student at Virginia Tech, and son Ken Jackson has completed his freshman year in Computer Science at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

We were thrilled that Mary Kay's parents, uncle Kenneth and sister Laura, as well as our son Ken, were able to join with us in the celebration.
 Following is her acceptance speech:

Dr Autenrieth, Faculty Members, Students and fellow Aggie CE graduates and supporters, it is a great honor and privilege to be recognized this evening as a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. It is hard to believe that thirty-four years ago, I sat in the atrium of Zachry with several thousand other fish engineers as the Dean of Engineering told us to look at those seated on either side of us -- only one of the three of us would graduate in engineering. It was hard work, with lots of late nights studying, waiting for printouts to see if our computer programs ran, and of course, the nights at the Chicken playing dominoes. But for those of us who graduated four (or five or six) years later, the hard work was worth it. Our time at A&M -- both academic and extracurricular -- shaped who we are today.
I have always wanted to be a civil engineer. My twenty-three year career as a municipal consultant was fulfilling -- all I ever dreamed. I had the opportunity to work with great clients to help solve the challenges posed by the rapid growth in the southeast US in the 80s and 90s. I managed the design of wastewater facilities ranging from 1 MGD to over 200 MGD, and worked on leading edge projects incorporating the use of ozone and membranes into wastewater treatment -- now common practice, but innovative at the time. I loved my work.
But all of this was just the prologue.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report for 2013, about 768 million people, a little over 10% of the world's population, does not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water. We have made great strides -- in 2006, there were 1.1 billion people without access to safe water. But there is still a long way to go. And we are not talking about access to 80 gallons per person per day -- the amount we use on average here in the USA. We are talking about the basic human right to a mere 5 gallons per day -- within a 30-minute walk of your home.
At the same time, 2.5 billion people, over one-third of the world's population, do not have the dignity of access to an improved sanitation facility. And over 1 billion of these people practice open defecation - going out into the forest or behind bushes to do their business. All of this results in death, disease and a reduced standard of living for everyone, not just the poorest of the poor. In 2009, the WHO reported that water related disease was the leading cause of death in the world, killing 3.4 million people every year. In Ghana alone, 30,000 children die of preventable diarrheal disease each year. The vast majority of these deaths are children under 5 -- the future of the world.
In 2002, I had the privilege of visiting Ghana for the first time. While our family was there for two weeks on a short mission trip, we fell in love with her tropical climate, warm and friendly people, and rich cultural heritage. But at the same time, we saw villages without water and children drinking from rivers or ponds. At that time, my two boys started asking why children had to live that way and whether or not I could do something about it.
At the same time, I clearly felt the call of God on my life -- to love the least in this world as He loves them. God clearly showed me that while no one is dying of waterborne disease in the US, His children around the world ARE dying. God had given me the talents and A&M had given me the education to be able to make a difference, so what would I do to meet that challenge?
In 2006, I quit my consulting job with Metcalf and Eddy to pursue a new dream. Our family moved to Ghana, where I work with the Methodist Church of Ghana to bring water and sanitation to remote rural villages.
The most fulfilling part of my career is now. It is not the most technologically advanced work - pit latrines and clay or stone pot filters have been in use for thousands of years. But it is the most significant work I will ever do. Whenever I go to a village and distribute ceramic pot filters, or drill a borehole, all the small children gather around. I love to spend time interacting with them -- teaching them a song or just chasing them around the village. But the best part is knowing that these children will now have a much greater chance of growing up to live full and productive lives, all because I have given them a cup of water in Jesus' name.
Living as a missionary in Africa is not everyone's calling. Certainly, if you had told me at graduation that thirty years later I would be telling you these stories, I would have thought you had rocks in your head. But we are all called to care, and we are all called to make a difference in this world. I challenge each of you to find something you are passionate about that makes the world a better place. Dream big -- change the world. You may not be able to change everything, but you will make a difference. And life is much better when you are living your dream and are passionate about what you are doing.
And to God by the glory for all the things I have been able to accomplish.
Thank you.
 I'm proud of you, Mary Kay!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Big Day in Buiyilli

Mary Kay writes:

Last week, my friend Reed Hoppe wrote a great article about me for The Mission Society's news feed. I hope you read it through my Facebook or Twitter feeds.  If not, you can read it here.  I thought you would like to see the next installment of the story.

Today was the big day in Buiyilli.  The activity started early at the Pure Home Water office, as our staff assembled and prepared to take 58 filters to the village of Buiyilli in the Tolon District of Northern Ghana.  We picked up Jason Von Behren, the American missionary who had identified the need for clean water in Buiyilli and raised the funds for the filters, and set off to the village.  Over an hour later, driving down a VERY dusty and bumpy dirt road, we arrived in Buiyilli.

Upon arriving, the PHW staff set things up.  This is what 58 filters look like all lined up:

The women started gathering as well.  We had asked them to bring soap and basins of water for washing the buckets.  We were expecting about 50 women, but had many more than that gather.  You can see how poor the water quality in Buiyilli is - and I saw many women and children drink this water during the course of the day.  When you are thirsty, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Peter (in the blue shirt) and Abraham (with the microphone) did a great job of demonstrating how to clean and put the filter together and how to take care of it properly.  The village children were restless, of course, but the women listened attentively.

After the demonstration, I gave a small message on Psalm 115 and God's love for the village and Jesus the Living Water.  I stressed to the villagers that it was not me or Jason that brought the filters to the village, but God who had heard their pleas for safe water to drink.  I also told them that just as they will be proud to share the water from these filters with their visitors as a gesture of hospitality, so too they should share the Living Water of Jesus with their friends and visitors.  Everyone that drinks the water should know that it comes from a God who loves the people of Buiyilli and give thanks to Him!

Afterward the women collected their filters, cleaned them and got them ready for use.

The women of Buiyilli wanted to say a big THANK YOU to the donors in Atlanta, Jason, Pure Home Water, and most of all to Jesus for the gift of safe water for themselves and their children!

It was a long, hot day, but finally we had all the filters cleaned and ready to be used.  The villagers started heading for their homes, the women carefully carrying their new filters on their heads.  And we climbed back in the trucks and started the long, dusty trip back to town.

But I intentionally didn't say I would tell you "the rest of the story" in the first paragraph.  I don't know the plans God has for Buiyilli, but I do know that amazing things are happening here, as God brings His Light to a formerly dark corner of the planet.  I am grateful that I got to be a little part of Buiyilli's story today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana

Charlie writes:

On one of my treks about the Accra environs a few weeks ago, I came across a bar west of Korle Bu Hospital whose outer walls had been re-painted courtesy of the Club brewery. Since it was in my favorite color, green, and had my name on it, I just had to stop and take a photo!

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana means that you will use that form, rather than "Charlie," since the name "Charlie" (pronounced, and sometimes even spelled "Chale") would be used in the sense of "friend" as painted here. In fact, the "flip-flops" that most people here wear are called "Chale Wotes." Accra even has a street art festival called that, see photo below, their facebook page and their Twitter hashtag #chalewote.

When I first arrived, I would hear students at MUCG conversing, and my name would be popping up WAY too often. Now, I have to listen carefully, when people are using "Charlie" to refer to me by name, they generally will pronounce the 'r' in it a bit more.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 
Proverbs 22:1 ESV

Monday, June 17, 2013

Your True Love Has Produced Real Testimonies

written by Mary Kay and Pastor Peter Awane
We don't always get to see the words of Scripture come to life, but in the past month, I have seen the message of 2 Corinthians 9 play out in a very real and amazing way.
Pastor Peter Awane and his family
Friends of mine have been helping a local pastor, Peter Awane, in Zuarungu, near Bolgatanga. Peter has been a believer for more than 25 years. He spent 18 years translating the Old Testament into his native FraFra language, and in 2008 the first copies of the FraFra Old Testament were placed in the hands of the people.  Pastor Peter has a great vision for transforming his community through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peter has a 5-acre plot of land in Zuarungu where he is centering his ministries, which include a Christian radio station, a church and school for children of prostitutes and HIV/AIDS patients.  He has plans to build a middle school and high school, including dormitories and a skills training center for students and women in the community.
The Primary School at Peter's ministry complex
My friends are helping to raise funds for the construction of Peter’s school buildings.  They knew he needed water but weren’t sure what to do about it.  But one remembered that I did water projects and pulled me in to help.  I agreed to see what I could do, and finally met with Peter over Easter weekend to see his ministry and assess the need.  Through the generosity of Living Word UMC, a church in St. Louis committed to providing water in communities in the Upper East through The Ghana Project, I committed to provide the borehole, electric pump, tanks and piping that are needed for a ministry complex of the size Peter dreams of.  In mid-May, the borehole was drilled, but much to our disappointment, while we hit water, there was only a flow of about 10 liters per minute – enough for a handpump, but not enough for the mechanized system that is really needed. 
After receiving an impassioned email from Pastor Peter and a distressed call from my assistant, I spoke with the driller.  He thought there was another location, near a traditional well, that he could drill and hit lots of water.  I gave the go ahead for a second attempt, hoping that this would not harm the flow into the traditional well. 
I want to share with you the email I received from Pastor Peter recently.  (edited for clarity)

Your Obedience to God’s call, zeal for the Great Commission and faithfulness in going the extra mile especially with the poor and needy like my community has yielded very positive remarkable testimonies within Church and community. It has strengthened our faith and trust in Christ Jesus.  Our four years’ prayer for water for our school, ministry and community was finally answered in a miraculous way.
The first drilling did not provide our expected mechanized pump which the LORD promised us. And though there was jubilations for the hand pump we could not erase the memory of the promise of God neither could we stop the voice telling us that the promise will happen and the time is NOW!! It was very difficult to believe this voice and the promise which was confirmed in our prayer after the first drilling.
The ancestral well near Peter's property
Two alternate locations were identified by the driller after the first drilling did not give us our needed mechanized pump. We were so joyful when we were told the next day that Mary Kay had approved a second drilling, but at a specific place not under our control. We were faced with so many questions like how much will we pay for that land, how could we get the people to pay light bills since they were fetching the water free of charge,  the increased length of pipe needed and the different fields these pipes will pass through. The second location identified by the driller was on family land, a little closer to the school and church but almost in the same location where the first drilling failed. Now if we attempted and failed again, what would we tell Mary Kay who told us to drill closer to the ancestral well? (Note from Mary Kay:  I was never told about two possible locations, just the location near the ancestral well.)
Ben the driller who is a native saw and knew the complications involved.  He met us and we all agreed to go to prayer and ask God’s direction. The next day Ben called me and asked my opinion and l said our hearts are set on my family land and he also confirmed the same. Shortly l saw the guys who were coming to drill and they asked me to show them the locations. I showed them the one on the family land first because it was closer and asked that we go to the next location. They said no and explained that they see that place to be a problem area and so l should have confidence in God and let them drill on my family land. This was a confirmation of our prayer. So they started and in the fifth rod, a fountain!!!! a fountain!!! It continued and even more stronger up to the tenth rod!!! What a Mighty God we serve. The testimony is everywhere about how we prayed and how God worked.
Kids from Peter's school enjoy the safe water
from their new borehole.
We are now hearing that part of the members of the land on which the ancestral well is, said they were ready to oppose the drilling if we had attempted. Thanks to God who knows how to keep His children away from troubles. Now the Church is strong and has discovered that they can pray for and against anything and it would happen!!! Our faith, trust and courage in the LORD is strengthened by your LOVE ACTIONS. GOD richly Bless you as we look forward to rejoicing together in the dedication DAY!!!!
(email from Peter Awane)
This area of Zuarungu now has a community borehole and will no longer have to use the ancestral well, which is susceptible to contamination.  Pastor Peter has plenty of water for his school and ministry complex.  But most importantly, God is being glorified.  In Paul’s words...
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! – 2 Cor. 9:12-15
Kids from Peter's school say "Thank you and thanks be to God!"

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

We have a guest blogger today - our younger son, Ken.  Following is a descriptive essay he wrote for his Freshman English class at Rose-Hulman.  We are pleased to report that he received a grade of "96" on the essay.  Keep up the good work, Ken!

Meanwhile, I was a guest blogger on the Shine Girls (we're shining for Jesus) blog by Jillian Hill last week.  You can read here about how the Shine Girls celebrated World Water Day, without even knowing it!

Waking Light 

I wake up with the sun reaching across my face. My room is on the western side of the house, but the warm, golden light floods through the hallway that makes up most of the building. For a moment I just lie there, taking in this new day. The bakery next-door that had been so noisy the previous night is now almost silent. The smell of freshly baked bread wafts in, politely pleading for me to eat it. I lie still a little longer.

Somewhere I hear birds chirping, a sweet song for only my ears. I lie, listening, when a rustle of palm trees joins in. With the rhythm of the wind accompanying the birds, our secret band is almost complete. Ah, there it is – the cock-a-doodle-doo of one of the many neighborhood roosters. The group quietly demands an audience – I couldn’t leave now! I lie still a little longer.

I realize that the sun no longer covers my face. That warm feeling only lasts for 15 minutes, due to the sun’s angle and the closeness of Ghana to the equator. Now my ceiling fan, currently set to five – or ‘hurricane mode’ – sends a cool tingling sensation through my body. The fan creates a trance-like state, blocking all outside noise with its ample whooshing. I stare at the rapidly spinning blades, hypnotizing myself into a place where time ceases to exist. I focus entirely on the fan, reinvigorated by the energetic cyclone it creates. I really should get up. I lie still a little longer.

I must have nodded off; the sun no longer reaches my curtains. I am aroused by music coming from my iPod – my mother’s small playlist of ‘Hip music’ is set to wake me. It is fast-paced music, with strong rhythms and catchy melodies. My body demands action at this point; I can no longer lie still. I get out of bed and put on the first clothes I find, a plain t-shirt and some mesh shorts. I exit my room and walk down the hall to the kitchen, where my mother hugs me and offers me some French toast. This is an interesting variety, made from bread with sugar initially cooked into it. The soft, moist sweetness is quickly shoveled into my mouth – covered, of course, with a large dose of maple syrup. I down it all with a glass bottle of Coke. Ah, that’s satisfying. With that, I can take on any kind of day!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Walking the dog at ACP Estates

Charlie writes:
 When Mary Kay and I returned from a birthday getaway to the beach at Anomabo, just outside Cape Coast, I was able to return to my usual walking routine with Ziker, our beloved African-American dog. [We say this because while in the States, he seemed somewhat unusual (just a yellow dog from the pound), when we arrived in Ghana, it seemed every third dog roaming the streets was his brother!]

 As is usual when I take these walks around our new neighborhood outside Pokuase, there are new plants to see. This time, the new ones were smallish trees that were bearing large numbers of yellow, cherry-sized fruit, that were covering a bright red seed. The weight of the fruit was so much that the trees were really sagging:

Laden branches
A row of such trees, 3-4 meters high.
The landscape architect at the ACP Estates had planted the streets with a great variety of species, and they seem to bloom throughout the year. Below is a closeup of the pale blue flowers on the same trees that were bearing the yellow fruit. I was a bit surprised to see flowers and fruit on the same tree at the same time...

We also passed some Bougainvillea thorn bushes, which have the craziest colors:

as well as some ripe palm oil nuggets and a bright red hibiscus flower:

Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."