Unperforming

We are on the way home, and I’ve been reflecting on the authentic worship we have experienced in Africa. With the long days and even longer drives, we sometimes missed a few blog posts. Consider this a makeup-post, before we land at ORD — seasoned with time to reflect.

A young man, learning drumming and worship
The lead drummer

A “Motorking”, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a cargo bed, struggled up the hill where we had set up, tires slipping in the dry red dust. The Motorking is ubiquitous. It can transport 15 people, or thousands of pounds of clean water bags (sachets). As the driver gunned the small motorcycle engine and powered up the hill, pursued by billowing black exhaust, the cargo was finally visible — massive, massive, drums. I unconsciously took a step backward as three strong Ghanaian men lifted and set the two largest drums, one by one, on the ground. The drums were old, rugged, weathered, and battered. Rusty bits of sharp sheet metal covered some of the larger cracks, and in other places, nails, wire, and animal skins were providing integrity to the ancient wood.

“Wow! Did you make this drum” I asked man who looked to be coordinating the actions of the others.

“No, these drums were made by our grandfathers,” he replied.

The metal, wire, cracks and patches were probably added by fathers, sons, and great grandsons. Heritage. While we waited for the churches to arrive, the drummers wet the drum heads to swing their pitch into the correct range.

The largest of the drums was the Female, and the smaller, the Male drum, according to the leader. He tried to explain the difference in pitch and drumming for the two behemoths, but I really didn’t understand – it seemed my cultural frame of reference could not understand the nuances of Anufo translated into approximate English, and heard by an American from the Midwest.

When most of the churches had arrived, women began wetting down the dance floor, to reduce the clouds of red dust that would otherwise swirl as everyone stomped around the circle. The drummers tested, rubbed more water onto the animal skin drum heads, and then started warming up. Other forms of percussion, carried by the dancers, were adjusted.

When worship lacks performance, it is beautiful and authentic. Everyone can participate, from sleeping babies to the oldest grandmothers and grandfathers. As the churches began, everyone found their place. Drummers pounded out energetic rhythms as sweat dripped from faces and onto the drums. I wondered how many generations of drummers had pounded out joyful rhythms announcing weddings, funerals, and church, on the dark wooden instruments. A handful of singers huddled closely around the microphone tripod, so we could record voices over the din of dancing and drumming. Babies so small they could not walk learned the dance steps and rhythm while sleeping on their mother’s back.

I invite you to watch the 4 movies below:

It is beautiful when God’s people participate in Worship without performance — there is only the church, the whole church, singing, dancing, clapping, and drumming. There were no spectators, we joined in worship. Of course, it was not perfect, some singer’s notes stood out, and some dancers may have been less graceful, but the heart of worship is not perfection, but authentic praise.

Worship is joyful.

It is Unperforming.

Another lesson learned.

Reflections of a Retired Guy in Ghana

(A Blog Post from Mike)

What is important in life? Is it our comfort? Is it having fun? Is it having a great career where you have great accomplishments? These are thoughts I’ve had on this trip.

If you know me, you know that I retired from Caterpillar last August after 34 years in engineering with the great company. At 56 years old many of my friends, colleagues, and family wondered why I would do such a thing. When I left Cat I sent an email to my colleagues explaining what I planned to do in retirement. It had things on the list like “play an extra round of golf each week”, “be a house husband”, “become an elder in my church”. But I think possibly the most rewarding and possibly most important thing on the list was this……. “Take my 16 year old daughter on mission trips around the world.”

Joanna told my wife Robin and I years ago that she feels a call to be a missionary. As I sat at my desk in my office at Caterpillar the last few years thinking about retirement, I thought how awesome it would be to help her figure out that calling in terms of “what and where.” And knowing that my heath is still with me (somewhat), and Joanna (16) would not be with us long (off to college in 2 years), I knew the window was short if I wanted to do that. You may not understand this, it may seem strange (I’m a strange guy after all), but I truly feel like God put that desire on my heart a few years ago.

This trip has done nothing but confirm that one of 10 bullet points on my list of retirement tasks was just the right thing.

Whether she becomes a missionary or not is between her and God, but being on this trip with her has been precious!

These people of Ghana are incredible! Their beautiful smiles are etched on my brain! They are so welcoming, gracious, and hungry for God’s word! It struck me as we were sitting in a remote village in Northern Ghana waiting to show the Jesus Film just how precious it is when a people group that is hungry for the word of God will do almost anything to hear it! As we were pounding nails into the mud wall of a house to hold the screen, people in the village of 100-200 people were assembling in chairs to watch the movie. I thought, “these are not the only nails they would see tonight”. They would see the precious love of God for them in Jesus hanging on the cross for them. These hungry souls would see Jesus feeding the 5000 with just a few loaves and fish. They would see Him raise from the dead! Just thinking about that and see them sit and wait in anticipation made me want to cry! There we were in the dark pitch black of night. Stars in the sky were beautiful that night. You could just sit and stare at God’s creation and it was beautiful enough! But they came for more! And then something else happened, our host “Jesus film rider”, Clement, forgot the micro SD card that had the film on it! We had the projector, we had the screen, we had the crowd (almost everyone in the village), but we didn’t have the movie! As Clement hopped on his motorcycle to race back to Chereponi to get the movie, there we were sitting with over 100 beautiful Ghanaian people waiting to see the movie! I wondered to myself…….” would they actually wait the 40 minutes it would take Clement to get back?”

Well I was blown away…..not only did they wait, they let one of the local pastors lead them in a praise song in their local language. Now in the crowd were a mix of Christians and Muslims. But everyone sang! And to my surprise, the singing actually drew a few more curious folks to the gathering! And they waited the 40 minutes! All of them!

I thought……”In USA, would people wait 40 minutes to see the movie they came to see at 8:00 pm?”

But these people were hungry! It’s so incredible to see a people like this! It has changed me.
The fields are truly ready for harvest! You just have to find them!

I really think Jesus told us to go to the ends of the earth because that is where the fields are the readiest. And it’s so so so exciting to see it! It really makes you feel alive, truly alive!

It’s worth the long trip to see!

And finally, getting back to the question I asked at the beginning…..What is important in life?

Well, I can see that it is not our comfort…..Riding in the backseat of Ray’s pickup on the dirt road from Tamale airport to Chereponi for hours over dirt roads with potholes so big that I bounced until my head hit the ceiling 4-5 times and my step counter went over 20,000 steps showed me that! As an aside, the joy Pete got every time my head hit the ceiling made me wonder if he was aiming at the holes in the road! But my 56 year old body just barely made it through the experience with 3-4 Advil from Beth! It really confirmed my decision to retire early. Not sure I could do that ride in 10 years!

And what could be more fun than watching Pete “MacGyver” frappee up a battery bracket for the truck battery to hold it in place for our 14 hour drive back to Accra using a bungie cord, electrical tape, and a plastic water bottle?

But honestly, I cannot think of something more important than bringing the Bread of life to those hungry for Him! And I cannot thing of a more precious experience to have with my daughter than to help her flush out her calling in life!

It’s been an amazing trip! Thanks so much to Pete and Beth for inviting us!

Thanks so much to Ray for driving us! Thanks to Clement and Cyrus (Jesus Film riders) for going before us to prepare!

And finally, thanks be to God for letting us help Him feed the hungry!

Where will God take Joanna and me next? I cannot wait to see!

We will go!

May He get the Glory!

Amen

P.S. For you Caterpillar folks, please rest assured that the local dealer is doing a great job in Ghana! There are Cat machines all over this place building new roads (sorry Pete)! However, the Chinese equipment is here too! But Cat still has the majority!

A Cat Motorgrader smoothing out our road south

Observations From a Future Linguist

(Blog Post from Joanna)

First, it is an incoherent jumble. Then sounds distinguish themselves. Then separate words take form, though still meaningless. Then words are repeated over and over till meanings begin to float to the surface of the confused waters of my mind and burst into the light of understanding. 

“Ashekah” is “said”

“Ifti” is “from”

“Yeme” is “God”*

Language is a beautiful thing. It is used for the most artistic expressions of the heart, yet it also has a mathematical aspect, analytical like a puzzle. The way a single word, though it has the same denotation as another, can change the entire impression of a sentence, a paragraph, a conversation, is captivating. 

Language was one of the first things, if not the first, that God created (Genesis 1:3). Through Jesus (John 1:3), God spoke the heavens and earth into existence. Language was the beautiful agent of Creation. When sin entered the world, language was broken. Words were the devil’s device to deceive Eve (Genesis 3:1). He took God’s lovely words and twisted, broke them, and with them the whole creation was twisted and broken. At Babel, words were the tool of God’s wrath unleashed on humans’ sinful pride. God confused their languages, so humans were forced to separate (Genesis 11:9), and fill the earth as God intended them to (Genesis 1:28). Ever since, people have been divided by language barriers. These prevent some people from having access to the saving words of God in Scripture that reveal who He is and how to be saved. But in a vision, God gave John the apostle a glimpse into heaven and, describing it, John wrote this: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

God’s Word tells us that people from every language will worship Him in heaven. But how will that happen if there are those who have never heard His name because the Word of God has never been brought to them in their language?

This is what BiblePlus is doing; they are getting the Word of God into the hands of the people in everything language group in Ghana. From providing access to translations of the Bible others have made, to providing additional material like sermons, testimonies, and local praise and worship music, BiblePlus brings God’s Word to those who haven’t heard in both a language and a culture they understand. 

As I sit in church after church and listen to the joy of the Lord in the voices of the choirs, and see the passion that comes from the Holy Spirit in the faces of the pastors as God’s words pour out of their mouths, I am filled with awe at the incredible blessing it is to be a part of the recording process. I am also filled with a longing to understand the words they sing and preach. And then I realize: this is nothing compared with the longing with which the unreached world waits for us to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. 

And there is still much to do. Just yesterday, here in Tuna, while recording for the Birifor language, the pastors were struggling while we recorded the Old Testament Bible stories, but were breezing through the New Testament stories. They explained to us that they have New Testament in Birifor already, but the Old Testament had not yet been translated, so they had to tell those stories from memory. This has been burned in my mind ever since. There is so much power in reading the Scriptures. In the book of 2 Chronicles, we read that when King Josiah found the scroll containing the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, and read it, he was remorseful, tearing his robes and weeping for his sins. He then had it read to all the people of Judah, who responded similarly and turned from their sins (2 Chronicles 34:14-33). Just reading the Word of God brought an entire nation back to the Lord; reading the Bible has the power to change lives. Yet we leave our brothers and sisters with only half the story. 

Language is a good gift from God, and through this trip, He has stirred up a desire He had already placed in me: to use language for His fame amongst the nations, as I look forward to my first worship service before the throne of God in heaven. 

*These words are in Anufo, the first language we recorded. The spellings are my phonetic guesses and could be totally incorrect.