Friday, September 12, 2014

To God's Honor and Glory - Experiencing Ghana's Sights + History

Rev. Sylvester writes:
8:30 Everyone is bright eyed and ready for today's experience. A deep expectation of the splendor of Coconut Grove Hotel lingers in the air. We staggered to the breakfast table but were delighted by the beauty of the grounds, the pleasantness of the staff and the great breakfast served.

(Martha's editorial comment: how wonderful it is to have the 1st cup of "real" coffee--brewed not instant!)

9:15 We gathered for worship. Our journey was jolted by a misunderstanding that was quickly corrected. As I felt in my spirit, I urged the group to hug and love each other. We committed to engaging in this activity of loving each other at the beginning and the end of each day for the reminder of our journey.

11:15 We arrive at "Assin Fosu" The Last Bath and were greeted by a passionate guide who moved us along a reversed course to the site of the Last Bath. This was the place where the slaves, most of our "fore-parents" were allowed to have the final bath before walking another 35 miles to the Elmina Fort.

Within the walls of the site were two graves. One grave marked the burial site of a native 'child' and the second grave that of the body of a slave repatriated from the island of Jamaica. These graves emerged from the efforts at reconciliation by native Africans and the children of the diaspora. It was hoped that this will initiate healing for the atrocity committed at this site and jointly by native Ghanians and Europeans as they worked to to enslave the forefathers/mothers of the children of the diaspora.

Our journey to the river was guided by three significant spots. The first was the gate which now shows the chains unbroken, the second which celebrates the native chiefs that have been productive and viable in the land. The final was the actual river. Our guide identified the actual spot where the baths of the slaves occurred. Through pantomime he explained the "Market Scene" and how the slaves were shaved with broken bottles and oiled with Shea butter plus given a meal so that they may seem refreshed. He explained that the slave masters examined their teeth in order to determine their age. This was done under the watchful and dispassionate eyes of the chiefs who did not understand fully the implications of their actions.

Individually we reconnected with the past by stirring the water and mystically feeling the "pain" of this "hallowed" space. The horror of this despicable experience could only be imagined and felt in the moment. I felt the need to draw a comparison to the Jewish Holocaust. Even more so, to challenge this group of pastors to use their pulpit for social justice to assure that this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. And the prayers rang out. And the prayer was only interrupted by praises that were sung to God. Tears bathed the cheeks of this group of pastors. Young and old, white and black. Be it resolved, we cannot carry the sins of the atrocity but we embrace the responsibility for the furture. We say: "NEVER AGAIN"

1:15 We arrived at Elmina Castle. This and the Cape Coast Castle are two of the surviving forts of about 50 that have sat on this coast. We made our way past the local citizens to the fort. Our team is befuddled by the indifference of the people, the stench of this fishing village and the fractured nature of humanity.

At the fort we are guided by a most intelligent and knowledgable young man whose choice words pierce our conscience as he paints a clear picture of the past. First, the women's quarters. Several cells housing up to 150 lies below the governor and officers quaters. The dark truth of the past was that the women would be arbitrarily selected to provide sexual favors. The male quarters surrounded the church where the the slave master worshipped God and later marched the slaves through the gate of no retun. The path to the waiting ships were designed to assure rigid control up to the point that the slaves were loaded on the ships through a 15" hole in the wall. The walls of this dungeon screams of this injustice.

A journey to the business and officers quarters showed the comfort by which they lived. This was in stark contrast to the horror of the dungeons that housed the sea of black humanity. In the words of our guide, it is estimated that the horror of slavery directly impacted about 100 million people. This depopulated the continent and irrevocably impacted black humanity.

3:15 We are "numb" We journey back home; back to the comfort of Coconut Grove Hotel. Just outside the gates of the slaves is a sea of wasted humanity. We dine, we debrief and drown our sorrows with a hug. It's emotional. Our eyes betray us. Some of us have no words to articulate what we feel. We blame each other silently. We scoff at our ancestors and appease our conscience by disconnecting with the responsibility of this great wrong.

2:30 a.m. I'm still struggling to reconcile all that slaves experienced, to articulate what we all felt, to place all of this into perspective. And my spirit says "Thanks to The Lord God Almighty and our Lord Jesus Christ. For that which we can't understand or reconcile we dare to say we would understand it better by and by. These are the the same word

Mountaintop Visions, Celebrations and Ghana Hospitality

Rev. Delores Barrett writes: Sept.8: Grace and Peace, We all rise and shine to the glory of God in the splendor of his beauty on top of the mountain. The sound of the wind furiously piercing through the windows felt like music to the ears as I listened to the whistling sound of the tree branches swaying back and forth. Such melody of the sounds heightened my sensitivity as to how great is our God. As far as eyes could behold, the green plantation was reminiscent of my yester-years. "I praise God for how far he has brought me." The breakfast was so delicious but was more appetizing as we joined mind and hearts together in fellowship. The great delight was when Rev. Sylvester came into a 'light bulb moment' that today was September 8th and this day is his birthday! It was also Sister Cheryl's birthday. So everyone joined in the happy moment of singing "Happy Birthday" To everyone's joy was when the Right Rev. Dr. John Bmabeng-Odoom, Bishop of Winneba, decided to bless them with the sprinkling of water symbolic as a service of initiation in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

(The bulk of the day was spent in the Summit, listening to the presentations and engaging in dialogue)

The climax of the evening was when the entire MCG-NYAC was invited by the Rev. Joseph Washington to join with him and his family at the family's home for dinner. This was very generous and humble experience by his cousin Elizabeth who opened her home to about 35 clergy. It was a night of splendor as we sat in the open air engaging each other in conversation. We were well taken care of by the host and her team with food and drinks. This was Radical Hospitality! So, a great "Shout Out" of love, gratitude and thanks to Rev. Washington and Elizabeth. We headed back home in perfect health. So to God be the Glory. Amen

Focusing on Proclaiming the Mission at the Church Summit

Rev. Alpher Sylvester writes: Our day started with quite a sense of expectation and excitment. This was tempered by a sense of sorrow yet fervent determination to fulfill Bishop McLee's vision. This is the fourth day of our Summit. Our bodies are refreshed from the prior night's dinner, our spirits are somewhat turbulent. We did not debrief the prior evening and after speaking to a few or our members over breakfast we realized there was a sense of discomfort. There was a general feeling that we had not been full participants in the discussions thus far. MCG had dominated the 'presentations' We knew a lot about them but they knew little of us. We sensed the magnanimity of their expectations but knew that we could not speak for GBGM or NYAC. We entered this phase of the discussion with cautious determination.

After devotions we were divided into four groups and were given the charge to do the following
1) Identify three top issues that should be addressed as priority within our partnership.
2) Given the challenges what do we have to offer to each other in this partnership.

The four groups were:
1) Education and Youth/Theological Education
2) Economy, Finance and Investment
3) Health and Sanitation
4) Pastoral Relations, Inter-church Relations

Based of the information reported by the group leaders/secretary, it was evidently intense but structured and productive. Evidence of productive outcomes could be found in the written summations.

The reports were intense and provoked much discussion. Efforts were made to identify 'low hanging fruit' that potentially could be easily picked. Amazingly, the intellectual potential that was present in this forum promised incredible results for the future. It was clearly understood that standardization of process and procedure was mission critical for the partnership's sucess.

(Next steps were identified and timetables agreed upon)

The day was ended with a debriefing. It was felt that our discomfort was resolved. We were very vocal within our assigned groups and had felt that we were heard.

We embarked on a four hour trip to the Coconut Grove Hotel.

Tonight, we retire, after worship, spiritually excited, physically refreshed and with excitement and expectation for another day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Productive Church Summit and A Great Celebration

Rev. Martha Epstein writes: Our Summit is going great. Thanks for all the prayers; they are definitely carrying us through. We spent all day yesterday with the Bishops and representatives from the Methodist Church Ghana hearing presentations, being in conversation and most importantly getting to know one another and developing relationships. We feel very positive that the goal of a long term partnership is going to be attainable and we are excited as to how God is working in our midst. Today we get down to the "nitty gritty" as we will begin to create a plan for moving forward. At the end of the day we were treated to a most amazing dinner by the cousin of Rev. Joseph Washington. We felt truly honored by the beautiful decor, wonderful hospitality and delicious meal. Despite getting lost and taking us an extra hour and a half to get there, it was worth it. One thing we learned--when you make a wrong turn its not so easy to just turn around and go back like it is in America. With limited paved roads and turn offs there is no "take the next exit and back track."
The major topics we see working in partnership with the Methodist Church Ghana are Education and Youth, Finance and Health and Santitation. Please keep that in mind as you form your prayers.

The NYAC team has come together well and everyone has taken the role that was assigned to them (chaplain, health and safety, defriefer, etc) very seriously. We are enjoying the diversity that we have among us and have especially enjoyed teasing our youngest member, Rev. Jeffrey Hooker. As he is about to celebrate his 30th birthday here according to the Ghana church he is still a youth--they consider youth to be from age 12 to 35!

Rev. Jeffrey Hooker writes about Sept.7th: "As we made the journey to the church it was a quick ride; then we disembarked to eat and fellowship. The spread was awe-inspiring and delicious. It was amazing to see the reverence held for the Episcopal leaders and their treatment. After the food we headed into the vestry then the sanctuary. Before I forget, we took pictures to be featured in the Methodist Times (a news publication in Ghana). The offering experience was separated by day of the week, communion was served with wine, they had a color guard, there was a general birthday celebration done. it was a blessed 3 hour experience. Lunch was smoked fish, rice 2 ways, beef, more was wicked tasty! I'm super excited for how we can partner together. Dinner was good, but the best was conversations with the Bishops. It was fun to hear from them, see their personalities."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Day 2/3 - Praying for Bishop McLee's Passing and Moving On

Rev. Martha Epstein writes: Our hearts were heavy after receiving the news of our beloved Bishop McLee's passing yesterday, but we are even more determined to seek God's will and go forth with our work here in Ghana. We put our full trust in God and celebrate the amazing spirit filled man our Bishop was. He is resting now in that wonderful place that has been prepared just for hum. May God's comforting arms encircle all of us throughout the world that are mourning his loss.

We had a spirit filled worship service this morning at Bethany Methodist Church Ghana and we have been overjoyed with the hospitality that everyone has shown us. We begin our Summit meetings in earnest tomorrow; this afternoon and evening we spend getting to our Ghana representatives and hearing from the Presiding Bishop of Ghana. We are still a bit jet lagged so going to bed early. Thank you all for your prayers.

Day 3 Itinerary

The team will worship in Accra this morning and then have free time to explore the area today.

Day 3 Bible Verse: Psalm 106:1-5 (CEB)

1 Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love endures forever.
2 Who could possibly repeat all of the Lord’s mighty acts
or publicly recount all his praise?
3 The people who uphold justice,
who always do what is right, are truly happy!
4 Remember me, Lord, with the favor you show your people.
Visit me with your saving help
5 so I can experience the good things your chosen ones experience,
so I can rejoice in the joy of your nation,
so I can praise along with your possession.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Great Sendoff, Great Arrival in Ghana!

Rev. Martha Epstein writes: Our journey is off to a wonderful start. After many months of prayers, meetings, trainings and preparation we were commissioned in a beautiful service on August 31, 204 at the Ghana UMC in Bronx, NY. We gathered for a Spirit filled service which included lively music, festive dress and dancing. As part of the service we were witnesses to the renewal of wedding vows by the pastor of the church, Rev. Samuel Nketsia and his wife. All clergy present prayed over them that God would continue to bless them, their union and their family. After the ceremony we were blessed by Rev. Dixon's rendition of "I Want To Walk with Jesus" on the saxophone. Those present were then introduced by Rev. Ewoodzie, Director of NYAC, Mission & Outreach and an explanation of our mission summit trip was explained. The dedication service was led by Dr. Claude Gooding, the Director of NYAC Connectional Ministries and consisted of a litany adapted from "A Mission Journey: A Hanbook for Volunteers," a prayer and the presentation of a flashlight, commissioning us to go forth and be an exaple of Gods light in the world. The service continued then with a moving, inspiring sermon by Rev. Derrick-Lewis Noble, Director of the NYAC Congregational Development and Revitalization, during which time God's presence was palpable. it was the perfect way for us to begin the journey that God has set forth before us.

We praised God when we landed safely at the Accra Airport in Ghana just after 1 p.m. local time. The flight was uneventful and although not a lot of sleep had been had we were excited to have finally arrived. Before we boarded we received the blessing of prayer via a Conference Call by our interim Bishop, Bishop Irons. Although we were saddened by the fact that Bishop McLee was unable to join us due to his leave, we knew that he was praying for us just as we continue to pray for him. Many different emotions were felt as we landed; for some it was a coming home, for some the first time out of the USA. We were overjoyed to be met by Rev. Joseph Washington and he easily guided us toward our first destination, the Christian Center in the hills above Accra. God has certainly paved the way for us as we settled into rooms named like "Rest," "Faithful" and "Called." The hospitality has been very generous already and we are looking forward to our debriefing and meeting of the Bishop of the Ghana Methodist Church. Oh, and the chocolate we received as a welcoming gift was out of this world!