Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts from Laura Carpenter...thanks to Nate VanderStelt

Last week, when I shared that Laura was going to be in Ghana, one of the regular readers of the blog asked if I could have Laura, as well as Fanny and Allen, share some responses to some specific questions.  

Below is the beginning of Laura's thoughts on these questions..

What are some of the things that give these brothers and sisters great joy when they experience other cultures?

I love the accent, the formal way of greeting and even engaging in conversation, I am Madame, younger women curtsy when they meet me, the homes that I have visited range from quaint to really nice.  I love the way I see extended family living together.  I love seeing mixed income neighborhoods (that’s good and bad).  Of course I have eaten really good Ghanaian food!!!  To see folks who represent my heritage; to some how in a strange way connect in a deeper way with my history.

What gives them concern, pain or brokenness?

It is becoming painfully clear to me in my travels that many Africans do not understand the African American struggle.  This makes me angry and want to teach African American History classes, because when I start to share some things they don’t know about our history, they are surprised, appalled, sad and feel misinformed or not informed at all. I don’t mean to sound angry, but I am!  I have not gone to Cape Coast yet (to the slave castles) but I am still feeling some pain.  Ghana is a pretty strong country compared to other African countries and Ghanaians seem to be independent, not desiring a “hand out”.  However, I still see the evidences of a struggling 3rd World country – intermittent electricity and water supply, corrupt government, extremely poor people, sick people, mentally unattended, orphaned children, Chinese and Lebanese with the big contracts like road construction and building (I believe) . . .  It also makes me sad to see BET offered as one of the television stations, so Ghanaians can get a skewed image of African Americans, compounded with what they are told by some whites prior to coming America about lazy, violent, drug-abusing African Americans, and they should have no dealings with us, its true!  Many Africans I meet tell me that.

How do they see God’s people rising up (or not rising up?) in each context?   

I see a woman like Fanny Atta-Peters, she is the executive director for Hopeline Institute, the NGO that Renita works with to help develop, train, mentor African business owners.  I have met some ingenious, entrepreneurial folks like Gallant Kwame the Yummy Cashew Company owner, Rev. Theophilus Quartey who owns a mushroom farm and leads a growing group of mushroom farmers, who are making a mushroom juice (it’s actually pretty good and good for you), mushroom flakes, even mushroom powder; there is Alberta, who owns Albie’s Shoes (yes, I had to get a pair); the brother who is middle man for manufacturers and trains folks to sell all kinds of products from cutting boards to camping lanterns, and the list goes on . . . I am so proud to now know these determined folks.

My final thoughts . . . for now . . . for real this is just the beginning and patchworked thoughts
Some might say why focus on taking just an African American team to Africa?  I believe from past experience with teams and my own personal experience, if we don’t focus on and encourage African Americans to see the value that they/we bring to this work, we opt out, really without much thought.  Here are some of our thoughts: It sounds good, but I couldn’t do that, will they accept us, it’s do dangerous, I’ve never done anything like this before . . . and the list of negative thoughts continue.  I really truly believe this way of thinking is a result of being socialized in a racist society.  A socializing that tells me who I am, who I can be, and the worse thing is tells me that I have nothing to do with those people on the other side of the Atlantic......and that just is not true.  And it tells our African brothers and sisters they have nothing to do with us, until one of starts to talk to the other and we find that a bridge needs to be built between Christian Africans and African Americans especially.  I want to help build the bridge; I know by the power of the Holy Spirit it can be done.
View from Aburi, north of Accra overlooking a project of family housing that an orphanage is building to better serve the orphans in a more foster family setting.
As Laura was missing her grand-daughter, she had a hard time keeping her hands off the babies.  I have the same problem!
Mushrooms growing out of bags.  This mushroom farm can hold up to 6000 bags of these mushrooms and harvest mushrooms on a daily basis.
Rev. Theophilus, a former pastor now farmer who trains people in mushroom farming as part of his business as a mission.
Yummy Cashews - a picture that captures the spirit of the day, lots of learning and laughing.  On the left is Fanny Atta-Peters (Director of Hopeline), then Laura Carpenter, then Ebow Graham (program manager for Hopeline Institute), then the owner, Gallant Kwame,  He has 22 employees and processes 2.5 metric tons of cashews per month.
Alberta is a fiesty SME owner and a great participant in our SME class.  Here she is in her shop, and it was the only time during the day when we "lost" both Fanny and Laura as they got caught up in shopping instead of listening to this business owner's story.:-)
Sunday at Elim Family International Church, Laura led worship.  And we really worshiped.  It was beautiful and if you know Laura, you aren't surprised.  She received many invitations to move to Ghana and do this on a regular basis.  It was another Reed family thing as well - Hannah is in the back singing backup and also played the flute with me, I'm on the far left, and you can't see Noah, but he was doing the data projection.  What a blessing to do this together!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seeing Through New Eyes

I returned on Friday from a ten day whirl-wind trip to the US where I spent countless hours in conference, meetings, conversations, and trainings surrounding the work of Partners Worldwide.  It was a very blessed time with opportunities to watch networks form before my eyes, lightbulbs go off with new ideas, and intense dialogue regarding the work that we are doing.  I was especially pleased to see how strong the West Africa team is and how they got to know each other and develop relationships with each other.  I am blessed to work with such gifted and committed people.
I had the opportunity to travel to the United States with both Fanny Atta-Peters from Ghana and Allen Gweh from Liberia.  For both of them, this was their first trip to the United States and it was good to see Grand Rapids through their eyes.  Places that are so familiar to me look somehow different when you imagine seeing them for the first time.  On my way back to Ghana, I traveled with Laura Carpenter, the Director of Diversity and Worship at Madison Square Church.  While Laura has been to Liberia and Senegal, this is her first trip to Ghana so I also have a chance to see Ghana through her eyes as well.  Pictures can't portray the experiences we shared together but they may be able to show you a little.  Enjoy!
Our venue for the conference.  Grand Rapids is beautiful, especially in the fall.
A trip to the US has to include trying out a Big Mac and fries from McDonalds.  Here we were able to enjoy this at John Ball Park Zoo before going to enjoy the animals.
On Friday night, Robert and Kathryn Shane (and baby Eli) had us over for a West African team dinner.  In the back row, from left to right, is Derek Hoogland (intern in Liberia), Saidou Ba (Senegal), Jeremiah Yongo (Nigeria), Rick Slager (working in Agriculture throughout West Africa), Allen Gweh (Liberia), Robert Shane (NA team leader for Liberia).  In the front row, Mrs. Yers Truly, Fanny Atta-Peters (Ghana), Bonita (friend of Saidou), Marietta Yongo (Nigeria).
Tina Oh (on the left) has agreed to be an intern in Ghana with Hopeline Institute!  We are so happy to have her join us in February 2011.  Welcome, Tina!
After both Allen and Fanny have so graciously welcomed me to their churches in their respective countries, I was very happy to take them to Madison Square Church and introduce them to my church family.

Brett Pfister (left) is a new intern for Liberia who will be moving there in January, 2011.  Derek Hoogland will be returning for an additional six months of internship in November.  We thank God for both of them and ask for your prayers.
Art Prize was in Grand Rapids, which was a pretty amazing collection of art from many places in the world.  It made for a great time to walk around Grand Rapids.  In this picture, Allen is listening to and "feeling" the music in this interesting piece.  Both Allen and Fanny thought this piece should win first place (it made the top 75:-).
This beautiful tree was in front of my sister Janette's house.  My kids have not seen a fall since 2004 and while I hesitated to take such a picture because it would make them miss it even more, this tree was too beautiful to pass up!
Laura Carpenter joins our family (and Jack sneaks in the picture) and will spend a couple weeks with us exploring Ghana before going to Liberia.  Her objective is to pave the way for groups coming from our church beginning next year who will learn about African culture and heritage focusing on African-Americans making the trip.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Reed Update: October 2010 Edition

On October 7 and 8, Partners Worldwide will be holding their International Conference, called Marketplace Revolution, at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.  This conference will have international attendance from over 20 countries and I am happy to say that West Africa will be represented as well.
Dea Lieu (left), Director of ACLCP from Danane, Cote d'Ivoire, left already two weeks ago and is spending some time traveling in the US visiting various supporting churches and friends.

Allen Gweh (right), National Director of LEAD, will leave Liberia today (Saturday, October 2), fly to Accra and join me on the flight to Grand Rapids tomorrow (Sunday).

And Fanny Atta-Peters (below),  Director of Hopeline Institute in Ghana, will also join Allen and I on that flight.  We are still hoping that another staff person from Hopeline, Ebow Graham, will be able to come.  He has been waiting approval for his visa for 12 days now, still without a definitive "yes" or "no". 
This will be a busy time, with many meetings before and after the conference, taking my West African friends around my home town after they have been such good hosts in their countries, and many other events.  If you are in Grand Rapids, please join us on Sunday evening at Madison Square Church where we will be showing the documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell and having a dialogue with Allen and other Liberians in Grand Rapids.

While I am in the US for about ten days, Hannah and Noah's teacher and his wife, Ryan and Melissa Von Hoyningen Huene (yes, that is one last name - no, it's not a combination of two names) will be staying at our house with Hannah and Noah.  This is their second year teaching in Ghana and I am very thankful that they are willing to stay with the kids while I travel. While I am gone, Hannah will be taking her last SAT and Noah will take the PSAT.

In other news:
And then there were three.........
Back to three dogs.  Ah...suddenly three dogs (which felt like a lot before) seems like so few.  All seven puppies found homes, Hannah raised a little money for her senior trip, and we are not tripping over puppies when we walk outside, while trying to avoid little puddles and droppings.  Here is a picture of the first puppy who found a home, along with several of Noah's friends.  From left to right they are:  Noah, Ravindra, Armand, and Kojo.

A cultural event...
I was able to attend a play at the University of Ghana, entitled "Emancipated Captives".  It was very well done, in an outdoor theater [which was risky given that we are the end of the rainy season - and unfortunately during the last 20 minutes of the play it rained so we all huddled together while the players (who had a roof) finished their act.]  The play covered a good portion of Ghanaian history and was humorous as well.  I took a brief clip of some of the dancing for you to enjoy - this dancing was happening in the context of a lament over traditional dancing becoming a lost art as more Ghanaians begin turning to Latin American dances.