Iain Cunningham (Convener of the World Mission Council's Local Development Committee) and Carol Finlay (Twinning and Local Development Secretary) are visiting Ghana from 14 - 27 January 2011. They are meeting with our partner churches, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Say hello and wave goodbye

Friday 22 Jan:

Following our now familiar pattern of 'pack and go' we met with the officebearers of Kwahu Presbytery - last night strangers: this morning friends.

We exchanged gifts - we were presented with Kente scarves saying Kwahu Presbytery. We finished the meeting by singing 'Auld Lang Syne' -at the request of the Ghanaians. Then we went to visit the parish minister who is also one of the Presbytery Directors. He had been involved in a very serious car crash and had sustained multiple injuries. He is minister at the Ramsayer Church in Abitifi. Then we went walkabouts for a short time around Abitifi looking at some of the original mission buildings and a missionary cemetery and on the way meeting a local traditional healer who showed Carol the potions he was carrying.

Back on the road we reached the top of the escarpment and on a sharp bend we saw a lorry which had crashed through the barrier and was hanging over the precipice. A lucky escape for the driver.At least we learned something from the incident - the barriers were not likely to stop us.

The journey to Hohoe was longer than we had anticipated and so we had to buy some snacks from roadside stalls on the way - including groundnuts,  tiger nuts (look it up on Google) roasted plantain and the ripest, juiciest, sun-warmed mangoes. We have some photos of Carol eating a mango but they are not for publication. We crossed over the Volta at Akosombo and once again the landscape changed.
As before, we entertained ourselves by singing through our repertoire of hymns, songs, choruses and Scottish folk songs - none of which we could remember properly - but at least we could remember our new Ghanaian songs.

We arrived in Hohoe (pronounced something like Haw-hoy-e with the stress on the first syllable. We had thought that it would be pronounced 'Ho'Ho' and we might be able to twin it with Macmerry Church in Lothian! But now we know how it should be said.)

However we first of all had to find it. After one or two about-turns in tight spaces in the main (and busy) marketplace Solomon phoned ahead and they sent out the catechist (a bit like a lay reader) on his motorbike wearing a T-shirt which said "PRAY WITHOUT CEASING." It turned out that his name was also Fred just like our driver.

The congregation here in Hohoe have just agreed to twin with North Queensferry Parish Church and we were able to share with the minister and some of the congregation a few of the possibilities that this twinning might open up for both churches.On first meeting everyone was a little bit shy and perhaps tense until Solomon introduced Carol by her newly acquired Ghanaian title 'Talata Abina' - which let everyone know that Carol was born on a Tuesday. The woman next to her had also been born on a Tuesday so immediately they hugged and became sisters.

The congregation is a newly established one in an area where there are not many PCG churches and the minister has only recently come but he is energetic and has a vision for his congregation and he was excited at the prospect of the twinning. We were shown around their church building which at the moment is simply a large shed that the congregation rents. However in front of the Manse is a growing pile of concrete blocks. They are being handmade by the parishioners in preparation for the building of a new church.

On the way into the compound Iain had spotted a sign saying "Grasscutters Breeding Programme" and wondered "What do you you get when you cross a scythe with a sit-on lawnmower?" but it turned out that a grasscutter is a kind of rodent which is something of a delicacy. As far as we know we haven't eaten one yet...but we may have as we just eat what is given to us.

Before we left, Iain discovered that one of the women present was the leader of the church choir and he asked the group to sing. Within a few minutes we were all joining in. They are a wonderfully happy group of Christians and we are sure the folk at North Queensferry Church will love to meet them. We'll be bringing back for North Queensferry a short recorded message from the minister.

However, we could not stay there as long as we would have liked because it was still quite a long journey to Ho. It felt quite sad that it would be our last journey with Solomon and Fred who have become such good friends.

By the time we arrived in Ho it was already dark and we persuaded Solomon and Fred to stay in Ho until the morning rather than drive to Accra in the darkness. It meant that our farewell to them would be at 5am but we didn't mind.

It was time, however, to begin making new friends and we were welcomed by Rev. Dr. Seth Agidi, the newly appointed Programmes, Ecumenical and Social Relations Secretary of the EP Church, and a short time later by Rev. Godwin Osiakwa, Clerk to the General Assembly.

Our accommodation in this instance is the Kekeli Hotel which is owned and run by the EP Church.

Shall we gather at the river?

A blog entry from 18th January - previously lost in the ether!

Picture the scene. The church is full (about 300 people) and the preacher is in full flight, his booming voice amplified and the congregation responding vigorously and vocally. There are shouts of “Halleluia!” and loud bursts of laughter. We are ushered into the sanctuary and led up to a high platform towards a line of “thrones” or so it appears. As we are behind the massive loudspeakers we can hardly make out a word that the preacher is saying or even what language he is speaking in. We are at a Revival meeting in Ebenezer Presbyterian Church at Sunyani. And we are “on next.” Thankfully the preacher continues for at least another half hour giving us at least some time to think of what might be an appropriate message to give in the situation.

All of this is at the end of a day which started at 6am in Tamale. After saying our goodbyes to the Chairman of Northern Presbytery we set off on our journey south towards Sunyani. On the way we visited an agricultural project. While there we witnessed the morning rush hour which consisted of several large flocks of cattle egrets about a metre above the road flying at speed along the course of the road only moving aside for any traffic coming in the opposite direction.

A further two hours down the road we reached the Black Volta, scene of devastating floods last August, the signs of which were still very evident. We got out of the vehicle to take some photographs and chat with some of the locals. The Church of Scotland had given an emergency grant towards the relief  work being done in the area by the PCG.

Further South again we stopped to see the Waterfalls at Kintampo which gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs (climbing up and down the 152 steps to the  falls.)

By around noon we had arrived at Sunyani where we were met by the Chairman and other representatives of the Brong Ahafo Presbytery. After lunch we had a formal meeting with them in which we exchanged ideas and  recorded some interviews. We were particularly impressed by the commitment to Prison Ministries,including the emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. We were also impressed by the work that is being done in the field of HIV and Aids.

There was time after the meeting for an hour of "Market Ministry" by Carol in the local street market, where at last she was able to use  her full haggling powers. It was interesting to see all the different kinds of grain, cereal, fruit and dried fish on sale and to interact with the traders and other locals of all ages, many of whom asked us to take their photographs. The Ghanain people are extremely friendly and outgoing.

Back to the hotel for a quick dinner and then it was off to Ebenezer thinking "I wonder what we are going to encounter tonight."

At the cross and around a table….sharing together

Wednesday 26th January

Started the day again with the staff of the EP Church head Offices at their morning worship and where we were presented with a lovely Ghanaian Kente scarf. We were able to say goodbye to them as this was our last day in Ho. However before we left we had further things to experience. We set of for Bremen Village which is a few miles beyond the city of Ho towards the border of Togo. It is here that the EP Church and particularly the Western Presbytery has established a weekly healing service. We were surprised and delighted to discover that one of the ministers leading the service was none other than our friend Rev Gabriel Akoli. The service was already underway in the church and after praise and prayer and a short sermon, all in the local language, the congregation made their way outside to a clearing among the trees where there was a large white wooden cross – the remainder of the service took place around the cross. At a particular point people were invited forward for prayer and many people responded.

Although the singing was lively, there was a sense of unhurried calm and gentle peacefulness as the sun filtered through the trees around the cross. The church and the area on which the cross stood were situated in an agricultural station owned by the EP Church and it had been arranged with the Director of the Agric Programme that we would meet him. However the service was still going on and Carol remained there while Iain and Rev Agidi met with the Director. At the end of the service Carol was able to share with the congregation why we were in Ghana and the importance of being able to not just hear about the various church activities but to participate in them.

Meanwhile Iain was finally getting to see a ‘grasscutter’ in the flesh as the Agric Programme was breeding them – their real name is the African Cane rat and they are about 18-24 inches long, with thick fur and a set of very sharp teeth. They are vegetarian and can destroy crops. However they provide very good nutrition and are bred for food not for their ability to mow the lawn! He also saw the small ruminant programme and the rabbit breeding venture.

On the way back to Ho we visited Mawuli Estate Church. They had tentatively started a twinning with a Scottish Congregation, however some work needs done to develop it. Carol had a picture in her mind that this was an estate such as a tea estate or something similar but we found it was a church within a housing estate, with some impressive houses and some new building work happening. This church was another example of a ‘church without walls’, bizarrely the walls consisted of chicken wire fencing with rolls of razor wire at the top. It was difficult to understand why the razor wire was there as there was a very large doorway and no door! Perhaps the razor wire was an artistic alternative to stained glass?

We had been invited to Dr Agidi’s house for lunch; of course he was now Seth to us as we had become friends on the journey. His lovely wife Madeline had prepared a feast which included …guess what….grasscutter soup to eat with our fufu. The meat tasted like a mixture of venison and brisket…sort of!

By mid afternoon we were packed and ready for the drive back to Accra, traffic was heavy and progress slow. It was nearly 7pm when we arrived at the home of Rev Solomon Sule Saa where we were greeted like long lost friends….which is precisely what we felt we were. It was great to spend the evening with Solomon and his wife Beatrice and with Seth. Together around a table we ate with our colleagues from both Partner Churches in Ghana…not doing business but enjoying time together as friends. Sounds familiar?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What a palaver

Everyone in Ghana wants to talk to you
Tuesday 25 Jan: Burns Night and not a haggis in sight! But we've just had a meal of rice and fish and spicy sauce and vegetables. It's been a long, and very hot day. Thankfully it is not 'burns' night in another sense, as we have been indoors most of the day at meetings avoiding the sun. 

We began with Morning Prayers at the Headquarters, the talk being given by the Moderator. Then, after breakfast, we met with the Standing Committee, who, surprisingly enough, were all sitting when we went in. The Standing Committee consists of The Moderator, Clerk to the Assembly, and several Directors of Church Programmes probably with a similar remit to our Council of Assembly.

We confirmed with the Moderator all the things we had talked about on the Sunday evening. Yesterday we forgot to let you know about the Sunday evening. We had been taken to the Sky Plus Hotel which, as far as we know is not owned by Rupert Murdoch, but it was definitely HD, that is Highly Delightful. The hotel is set on the top of a hill overlooking Ho. It was night-time. The stars were shining as we sat outside and looked down on the lights of the town, while behind us the illuminated fountain provided a gentle background sound (which was occasionally drowned out by some bizzarely-chosen country music on the sound system.) Food was great. Carol had a bit of a palaver eating hers however, simply because what she chose was boiled yams with palaver sauce (which is made from spinach and fine shreds of beef in a hot chilli sauce.) Iain chose freshly-caught Volta perch. We had an opportunity to talk informally with the Moderator and the members of the Standing Committee (they were sitting then too.) It was lovely to be able to talk at length and in some depth about twinning, volunteers, prison ministries, HIV and climate-change, interspersed with general chat and lots of laughter.

But back to today... The more formal meeting with the Moderator and Standing Committee gave a positive endorsement to all the ideas and suggestions which we had shared on the Sunday evening and the EP Church Executive committed themselves to taking forward our shared work.

We then spent most of the rest of the day in the company of one particular SC member, Mrs. Lydia Adajawah who is the Presbyter Executive of the General Assembly. She is responsible for a number of programmes, including HIV and climate change. She took us first to a project which ministers to 'street children' integrating them back into everyday life, their own families and school or employment. Then we visited a couple of large high schools and met with the Headteachers. We were able to share with them about Professional Volunteers and Books Abroad.

Next stop was the Conference Room of the hotel where an HIV-Counselling Workshop was being delivered to a group of religious leaders, Christian and Muslim. We had an opportunity to speak with them before going back to Lydia's office to meet the Project Co-ordinator for HIV and AIDS work in the EP Church, a young but very able man called Godwin. He explained their vision for setting up a network of 'focus people' trained in HIV issues in each Region, Presbytery, District  and Congregation. As with Scotland, stigma and discrimination are still very real issues here in Ghana.

We had a short break before then meeting with the Climate-Change Desk Officer, Charles (otherwise known as Chas.) That was a very interesting and inspiring conversation, some of which we recorded. We look forward to sharing it with Adrian, the Church of Scotland's climate change officer, when we return. 

We then returned to the HIV conference to meet with the EP ministers, just before they left for home to share a little bit more with them about the Church of Scotland's own HIV Programme.

All in all a very busy schedule but some good work accomplished.

Before supper we had hoped to meet the Woman's Guild at Dela Church but Seth said he had misplaced them (careless.) We think he meant that he had got the wrong night. So instead we visited one of the several choirs. I think probably it was the 'Great Choir.' In any case, they were great and it proved a very enjoyable way to bring our day's work to an end.
Making friends

A bit Ghanain

Monday 24th January

Before breakfast we went over to the Head Office for morning prayers which were being led by one of the catechists. She wasn't supposed to be leading it but the person on the rota had not turned up. Carol said it made her feel very much at home - just like 121 on a Monday morning!

We were welcomed by the Clerk to the Assembly and both Iain and Carol spoke to the staff. Then after a breakfast of corn-flakes with evaporated milk, followed by sausage, beans and toast, we set off in the car for Peki, visiting a poultry farm on the way to collect eggs for our hotel's restaurant.

Before Iain left for Ghana he had received a message from a colleague asking him to look out for someone he knew in Ghana- a Rev. Gabriel Akoli. We both thought this would be an unlikely scenario. However, arriving in Peki we were introduced to none other than the Rev. Gabriel Akoli, who had been a Faithshare Partner in Perth Presbytery in the year 2000. He is now Presbytery Moderator of Western Presbytery as well as being the national director for Prison Ministries. We recorded an interesting conversation with him on this work.

He then showed us around the area, which included the first EP Church (the old building no longer used as such) and the newer church nearby, as well as a missionary graveyard and the 'Shepherd Centre for the Ageing.' This is the main centre for a network of 78 branches of this programme which supports elderly people in the community. The programme was established by our host- and now friend- Rev. Dr. Seth Agidi. The service offered reflects much of what is provided by Crossreach in its day-care centres. 

This is how meetings should be held ...Peki EP Seminary
We also visited the nearby seminary, walking to it through blistering midday heat, and meeting some interesting characters on the way. It has been a very hot and humid day altogether. The meeting with the Principal and staff of the seminary was interesting not least because the Principal's first name was McWilson. No Scottish influence there then. It was a beautiful place but what caught our eye most of all was the sign which read:


That has actually been a bit of a struggle for us, especially in the first part of this trip where we have been in a different location each day, never sure of what day of the week it was - although we have always known why we are here.

The plan had been to return for lunch about 1pm but it was, in fact well after 3.30pm before we were tucking into a large plate of rice with peanut soup, which included green chilli, okra and garden eggs (a kind of small squash) and fresh pineapple.

We had a short break before our next trip which was to visit another large congregation (ELORM CHURCH)  in Ho. When we arrived in the car park we could hear the strains of a lively band of young musicians playing trumpets, trombones and drums under a tree. Perhaps it was the BB band ... but not as we know it. In fact, the level of musicianship was excellent and not surprisingly exuberant.

We were introduced to Rev Obed Klu, a parish minister brought out of retirement to help lead this large congregation of 1800 members, with the help of a second minister and a catechist. Rev Klu had once been the Principal at the seminary in Peki, as had Dr. Seth Agidi, but perhaps even more interesting was the fact that as well as being a practising minister Rev Klu is a registered traditional herbalist. Carol asked to see some of his medicines and he brought in some samples of herbal potions and a bag of dried herbs. She also asked him a few searching (perhaps even sceptical) questions.

The main reason for our visit however [i.e. WHY WE WERE HERE] was to hear one of the church's eleven choirs! This choir, usually responsible for leading the singing of more traditional hymns, is called 'The Great Choir' and to be honest it sounded pretty good, if not great - even when Iain taught them how to sing the Peruvian Gloria.

So we know where we are tonight - because we are staying in the same place as last night -and we know why we are here, but we are not so sure of who we are any more. We think we have become a bit Ghanaian.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Who said Sunday was a day of rest?

Sunday 23 Jan 
No such thing as a lie-in here. We were up, breakfasted and ready to be collected by Rev Seth Agidi for the first of three morning services by 7am! It is great to see that Seth is committed to building relationships at grassroots level and had picked for us three congregations which were different in size as well as the way in which they worshipped. 
The first service was in the very large congregation of Dela Evangelical Presbyterian (EP) Church which is beside the Headquarters of the EP Church. We were at the youth service and there were around 300 people there. The church is vast and has a congregation total of 4000 members. The worship was led by a praise band and a different choir from the one we had been with last night- the singing was fantastic. As we came out the folks were gathering for the main service and we met last night’s choir; they were busy singing to us the song Iain had taught them.  Quick learners! The whole scene was bright not just with the sun but with the beautifully coloured outfits of the ladies and some men in traditional dress – a cloth that covers over all their body apart from one arm – a bit like a big plaid. Some were carrying seats or large traditional drums, others standing chatting and others scurrying around purposely. It was a scene which made you want to stay but we had to move on….
The second congregation was a small rural congregation around 30 minutes drive from Ho and was called Wegbe Kpalime congregation and is the home of the current Moderator, Rt Rev Francis Amenu, who is coming to Scotland for the General Assembly this year.  The Moderator was not there as he was on other business but we were very warmly welcomed by the congregation and we literally had to squeeze into the small building as it was already crammed with worshippers. They had the bunting up and the band consisted of drums, shakers and 2 trombones and two trumpets. Carol sat in the congregation with a lovely lady called Mabel and Iain was on the platform at the front with the ministers. However, as we do in every congregation, we both spoke to the folks. We also saw the site of their new church which they have been building from congregational donations for 10 years now. It is almost ready except for the roof which is a major expense for them but they are hopeful they may worship in the new church soon.
The third congregation was EP SSNIT Flats. The flats around the church are about 4 storeys high and are aimed at a low to middle income renter. This was our middle sized congregation of around 150 people. Their singing was fantastic and their choir so smart in their black and white robes.
Lunch today was red-red which we have been waiting for all week – a bean stew which was very tasty. It was served up with plantain and chicken, followed by fresh juicy watermelon. Iain preached a mini ‘sermon’ to Mawina, the girl who works in the restaurant as we waited for lunch to be ready. We then had a couple of hours to relax – first this week!
Now we are about to go to a meeting with the Moderator of EP Church and various office-bearers. Will let you know how it all goes in our next blog.

Photo Gallery ... in no particular order

Choir leader, Hohoe

Fred the Catechist in Hohoe
On the road to Fushugoo

In Fushugoo
How to eat a mango when travelling

In Fushugoo, northern Ghana

Kente cloth

Marketlace in Sunyani

Rev Dr Solomon Sumana Sule Saa

Update - Pure heaven

From last week - a blog entry that got lost in transit ...

Wednesday 19 Jan:

The send-off party from Brong Afaho Presbytery met us at 8.30am to pray for us and give us gifts. The kaftan that Carol received had on its pattern a symbol which we had seen in the church the previous night and elsewhere in our travels. We discovered that it is an Ashante symbol meaning "Accept the will of God."

The journey was an interesting one as we saw the changing nature of the vegetation. The Ashante region is quite tropical and lush. It is the area where most crops are produced. We saw bananas, plantains, paw paw, mango, cashew, cassava, maize, palmnut oil trees and cocoa trees. We stopped at one point to photograph the cocoa and we were suddenly overtaken by fits of coughing and sneezing. It seems that the area may just have been sprayed with pesticide or some other chemical. (The use of illegal and wrongly-labelled chemicals is a troubling issue in Ghana at this time which the PCG is concerned about through its Agricultural Director.) So it was quickly back into the car and back on the road.

Fortunately, we came across a village in which the local farmers were preparing cocoa beans, sorting, drying etc. We drove into the village and they graciously explaiend the whole process to us allowing us to taste raw cocoa beans as well as those which had been fermented and those which had been dried. These were smallholders who are part of a co-operative and we found out that they receive a premium for the village as well as the payment for the beans so although they were unfamiliar with the word "Fairtrade" we are prety sure that they were Fairtrade producers. The village itself was very neat and clean with one of the best kept shallow wells you could imagine. 

The villagers allowed us to take many photographs. It was an extremely friendly welcome to a carload of strangers who had suddenly appeared among them but we have found Ghanaians in general to be extremely open and welcoming.

After getting temporarily lost for the first time, because one of the usual routes was closed and none of us had been at Ashante Mampong before, we arrived at the Presbytery office and were greeted in the usual Ghanaian way first of all by being given water, then prayer, then lunch. The lunch itself in the Chairman's house consisted of a large bowl of fu-fu with beef and fish mixed together in a chilli/red palm oil soup and, of course, has to be eaten with the fingers. Messy but delicious!

Then it was straight into another meeting hearing about the work of Brong Ahafo Presbytery. The highlight of our discussions was to hear from the two youth representatives who are engaged in a Peace Education Project run by the PCG. In the lead up to elections in 2012 the PCG is concerned to address issues of conflict and the project allows young people themselves to lead peer education in conflict resolution and and inter-denominational and interfaith activities, including sport. The main part of their work involves visiting schools. Carol managed to record interviews with both Dominic and Daniel.

After the meeting we were taken back to the Chairman's house for dinner which we didn't really need as we were still "fu' of fu-fu" but we were given mountains of rice, beef stew and chicken and fresh watermelon.

We were taken to the Bauer Memorial Church at Nsuta about 10km from Mampong. It was quite different from the service the previous night, being much more traditional in format and style, including a fully robed choir....mortar boards and all. It proved to us that there is as much of a variety of congregations in Ghana as there is in Scotland. The choir had only nine members but the sound they made was wonderful especially given the great acoustics in the sanctuary.

At the end of the service we processed out behind the choir as they sang, stepping into the warm moonlit night. The sound of their singing, accompanied by a chorus of cicadas in the trees, was deeply moving. When we had reached the hall the choir began a kind of chain of handshakes which is too difficult to describe here but which we will demonstrate to the World Mission Council at the next meeting.

We were offered tea or coffee or a choice of fruit juices. One carton of fruit juice carried the brand name "PURE HEAVEN: out of this world" a drink of pineapple and coconut juice. We didn't try it but it seemed a fitting end to a lovely day.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Heaven Gate - no bribe

Saturday 22nd January

Our first full day with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church began before 5am the time that Solomon and Fred were leaving for Accra.

The original schedule arranged for us was changed at the last minute and we were asked if we would like to attend the funeral of a relative of the Clerk to the Assembly. The man who had died in mid November last year was a traditional chief in a town called Kpando. He had also been a committed Buddhist.
We were invited to view the body of the late chief, sitting in state on his throne in his finest attire and surrounded by gifts of traditional cloth, shells, beads and foodstuffs. The whole event, which was attended by traditional chiefs from all around, political leaders and dignitaries, took over four hours and included cultural dancing and a brass/jazz band. Afterwards there was the inevitable food, not in one place (as there were many hundreds of people present) but in the homes of various family members. We went to the home of the deceased's sister and were given a substantial meal. 

On the way back to Ho we spotted several interesting shop signs, including an Irish bar entitled "Daughters of God Spot," the "Feel Free Store" (which advertised that it had 'comfortable chairs and mattresses for hiring') and "God's Finger Fitting Workshop" (the mind boggles.) But I think our favourite was "Heaven Gate No Bribe"

After a short rest we were taken to the Choir practice in the neighbouring church, or to be more precise outside the neighbouring church. It was already getting quite dark by the time the rehearsal started but the sound of the choir in the warm, humid evening was amazing. 

Iain was asked to teach the choir a song. Rather than choose one from Scotland he chose to teach the Gloria from Peru, another slightly surreal moment as a Scotsman taught a Ghanaian Choir to sing a song from South America. Then the choir finished by singing 'What a friend we have in Jesus' in their local language.

Heaven Gate No Bribe?...but we were almost in heaven and it was absolutely free.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The top of the palm trees

The representatives of Sekyere Presbytery came to the Guest House perhaps to make sure we were awake and then we were taken to the Chairman's house for breakfast. The Chairman's wife is an excellent cook and the breakfast was expansive. There was 'Tom Brown' (not an extra member of the Presbytery but a form of smooth oat porridge eaten with sugar and carnation milk.) There was also omelette and bread (brown or white) and a salad of chopped leaves, herbs and fish in a very tasty dressing. To round it off there was watermelon, pawpaw and cake. So you can imagine we are both fading away to shadows.

Carol interviewed Margaret, the wife of the Chairman, about her involvement in the HIV Training programme for ministers' spouses which was funded by the Church of Scotland HIV Programme. It was encouraging to hear about how she has taken forward activities within the Presbytery training the other ministers' spouses and also working with children in the local church secondary school.

Then we went once more to the Presbytery Office for the official farewell and we exchanged gifts. This, however, was not the last time we saw the Presbytery Officials. We had to go back to the Guest House to collect our bags and when we came out again the Presbytery representatives were there again to see us off (or was it to make sure we went away?)

In fact we had had a wonderful time in their company and it was difficult for us to say goodbye and even though we had only been in Sekyere Presbytery for about 24 hours we felt so much at home and that so much had been achieved.

However, we had to move on towards Kwahu Presbytery. En route we stopped at a Kente-cloth weavers' co-operative to watch the hand weavers at work. They use very narrow hand looms. Kente cloth is very narrow and brightly coloured, usually with symbolic patterns and the strips are sewn together to make wider reams of cloth. (Carol got more practice with her haggling skills.)

Once more on the road we found the landscape changing again. We were heading for the highest inhabited town in Ghana which is Abitife which means literally 'the top of the palm trees.' After winding slowly up the steep escarpment we could see why the town was so named. The area is quite different from any of the other areas we had so far visited. There are many large and impressive houses built on the hillsides.

When we came into Abitifi it was obvious that we were in a strongly Presbyterian area with many church schools, a church lay training establishment and the Presbyterian University, not to mention many churches.

After lunch we set off again, this time to Dwerebease, passing on the way the farm owned and operated by Kwahu Presbytery. The farm produces mangoes, pineapples, cabbage and tomatoes.

After a while the road almost literally disappeared. In one village there was only a rough outcrop of rock and no road at all. The soil is very shallow in many places and sometimes there seems to be no soil at all. The road goes steeply downhill but in places much of it seems to have been washed away. This was a journey deep into the heart of an extremely rural area which is also very poor.

Dwerebease has a nursery school which was the project of Portobello Old Parish Church, and where two members of their youth group -Caitlyn and Kate- spent some months last year. Carol enjoyed meeting again Ben Antwe a retired headteacher, and the local village chief who was very surprised to see her arrive unannounced in the village. Carol had first met Ben in Edinburgh when he came as a Faithshare Visitor to Portobello.

On our way home from the village we also met and were introduced to the Queen Mother and her Chief Councillor (like a Scottish Provost.) The Queen Mother (who reigns over the whole Kwahu area) is elected and her son becomes King. She is a Presbyterian and a member of the Woman's Fellowship. This relationship is of great benefit to the church when it comes to issues such as land rights.

After our supper we met with the Chairperson and two of his directors to explore issues of twinning, particularly because of the newly signed twinning agreement between Kwahu Presbytery and Hamilton Presbytery. This was an opportunity to discuss how to move forward the Presbytery Twinning and to develop within it a number of congregational twinnings.

The headquarters has lovely guest rooms... that's where we are heading now zzzzzzz

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Monday 17 Jan, 9.25pm

It's been another very long day but a very rewarding one. After a 7.30 breakfast we were taken back to the church at the Presbytery Headquarters at Bolgotanga for a meeting with all of the Presbytery officials and representatives of various programmes and projects run at grassroots level.

We were given a very comprehensive overview of the history and structure of this new Presbytery, formed only a few months ago. The original idea to separate the "Upper Presbytery" from the vast "Northern Presbytery" had been put forward in October 1989 but was orginally rejected.However four years ago the seed germinated and agreement was made to progress with a transition to two Presbyteries instead of one. We were encouraged by their visions and the commitment they have to making it work. They have a holistic approach to mission and in particular we noticed how HIV issues have been integrated into many of their programmes. The "Upper Presbytery" had prepared for us a detailed profile of their vision and we believe this is a Presbytery ripe for twinning and they have a real commitment to developing a friendship with a Scottish Presbytery. The possibility of professional volunteers being engaged in some of the programmes was received with great enthusiasm.

One programme which particularly touched us was the Go Home Project, here the church have initiated a caring service for people who are accused of being witches and are then ostracised by their own villages. They now provide homes for 85 "witches", 35 children and 1 "wizard". As well as the caring component the church seeks to reintegrate the "witches" back into their own villages by working with the local communities. This demonstrates a n imaginative and creative commitment to the poor and marginalised. Another interesting programme was their prison ministries initiative. This included chaplaincy and a commitment to provide a weekly service of worship in each of the 3 male prisons in the Presbytery area.

The spirituality and genuine grace and warmth of the people we met is something that would be a great gift to people in Scotland.

Not untypically the meeting went on much longer than planned and our hope to visit a local market has had to be shelved for the moment. So far Carol's haggling skills have only been exercised in the purchase of three watermelons at the side of the road at the knockdown price of 4 cedis.We had a late lunch of fu-fu and light soup with goat meat (eaten with the fingers of course) followed by a selection of fresh fruits - pineapple, avocado, bananas and orange.

Then it was back into the car for the 100 mile drive South to Tamale once more.
We met with the team who are responsible for the projects run with the support of Christian Aid in the Northern Presbytery and it is great to see the impact that working together in this way has made to the lives of many people and communities, particularly the empowerment of women. We hope to share more of this at a later date. The Development and Social Services Programme Office has also benefited from the input from Christian Aid in organisational development. Christian Aid are helping the NGOs in the area to take a proposal to government to change the laws in relation to agro-pesticides as some illegally imported or wrongly labelled pesticides have been responsible for several deaths and poisonings.

We went for a meal with some of the local church leaders in Tamale and Dr Solomon Sule Saa to a local Ghanaian restaurant. It was lovely to sit outside in the warm evening sunshine, sipping fresh melon juice before a meal of goat jollof rice.There was little time for after dinner conversations before we were taken back to the Presbytery Headquarters for a meeting of the management team where they shared the vision of "Northern Presbytery."

We recognised that some of the challenges they face are similar to those faced in Scotland, especially in rural situations, although in the case of Ghana long distances between churches are really long! and the shortage of ordained ministers is a very real shortage. The problem of nominal membership is also one that we share but the commitment to mission and outreach to unreached areas and to church planting is one we could do well to emulate.

Time now to squeeze in some sleep before a 6am start on our next journey of discovery.

Monday, 17 January 2011

A dose of blessings - 2

Sunday 9.45pm, Iain writes:
Bolgatanga is near to the border with Burkino Faso and the north-south road is the main transport link from Burkino Faso through Ghana to the sea. As a result the road is often busy with heavily-laden lorries with everything from bicycles to goats- and often more of them than ought to be on one truck! The road is fairly straight and has fewer potholes than many of the other roads in Ghana but sometimes the potholes are quite spectacular and it is no wonder that the suspension on many of the vehicles looks pretty suspect. Fortunately our driver, Fred, has kept us very safe through careful driving.

The Northern part of Ghana is poorer economically than the South and our travelling companion, Dr. Solomon Sule Saa who comes from the Northern region, gave us an explanation as to why this is. Apparently at the time of the British colonial rule the policy was not to allow Christian missionaries to work in the North as it was already predominantly Muslim. Presumably this was to minimise potential conflict. However, while the churches in the South promoted education and health-care and general economic development, this was not the case in the north which was therefore left behind.

In many areas of the North there is still no Christian church presence and the Northern and Upper Presbyteries have a strong missionary and evangelism focus within which they are working to address social and development issues including HIV, literacy and agricultural education. We heard the story of one young man who had never been able to read. He was taught to read the Bible in his own language and to understand its message, He has been serving as a local evangelist in his area while continuing to learn. The Church recognised his potential and enabled him to enter theological college, even though he has never been to school. He is very soon to be ordained as a Minister. What a good news story!

We arrived in Bolgatanga just in time for supper which included something called TeeZed (no idea of the right spelling) It was a mixture of maize flour and groundnuts boiled in water till it becomes a gooey paste. This was served with a spicy soup of guinea-fowl and cocoa-palm leaves. The whole thing has to be eaten with your fingers! Yum.

After this we arrived at the church and it sounded like the local hip-hop disco had taken over. To the sound of a very loud band the congregation were leaping about wildly in what may or may not have been traditional dancing but was certainly energetic. We only had four sermonettes tonight but that left plenty time in the two-hour service for more singing and dancing.

We were treated as highly honoured guests being the first official visitors to the quite newly-formed Upper Presbytery which has only been in existence for around three months. Previously Northern Presbytery was simply too big an area to be administered practically. Travelling distances were enormous. Now they are only huge. Perhaps the Church of Scotland may learn something from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana about Presbytery re-organisation as the transition here appears to have gone quite smoothly.

We've had a giant dose of blessings today: now we need to be blessed with some giant dozing as tomorrow promises to be just as busy.

A dose of blessings

Sunday 4pm, Carol writes:
Picture the scene - a small village church in very rural Northern Ghana. This was at the edge of the Gomba region, an area of high illiteracy. Inside when we arrive we find a congregation who are swaying and clapping as they sing praises to God. We are welcomed and find ourselves alongside our brothers and sisters from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and a visiting group from USA, and visitors from Mexico and Brazil who just decided to worship in that church today. I felt we really were an international family and representing the World Church. There was a total of 5 'sermonettes' from the various groups represented, each one building on the previous and culminating in an atmosphere of joy and love and a real feeling of the Spirit of God.

Included in the service was one of the songs in a local language which we learned on our 13-hour drive north so we were able to join in. The benediction at the end of the service given by the Chairman of the Presbytery - a kind of executive moderator, wished "a dose of blessings" to all.

This was actually our second service of the day - the first one having started at 7am in Tamale, the adminstrative capital of the north. After a 2pm lunch (yam, plantain, barbequed fish and 'contumelly'(?) which is a dish of yam leaves, beans and fish with palm oil and chilli - delicious) we had a meeting with the Presbytery's management team and discussed twinnings, lay training, HIV programmes, possible volunteer exchange and the shared Christian Aid programme which we will visit tomorrow.

Now it is time to load our bags back into the vehicle to head even further north to Bolgatanga in Upper Presbytery near the border with Burkina Faso and on to service number 3 for today!

Friday, 14 January 2011

First day

Arrived in Accra three hours late but still felt warm of a Ghanaian welcome, first by the temperature being 29C at 11pm and, more especially, by the smile of Rev Solomon Sule Saa who was waiting for us. He is an excellent host and guide.

We had an excellent meeting at the British High Commission where we spent an hour with the Deputy High Commissioner, Matthew Johnson. He was very positive, sympathetic and interested in our partner relationship with Ghana and the programmes we are running together. We also met Stuart Gardner, the Entry Clearance Manager for the Visa Services, another Scot hailing from Johnstone. Very consrtuctive dialogue on visas in relation to faithshare visits and volunteering. It was great to have a full hour of their time.

Back at the HQ of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, we had an interesting discussion around developing a corporate image for the church and relationship with the state. It was great to bump into the former Moderator and other friends, Rev Frimpong-manso who with his wife Lucie were excitred to see us.

Iain was reflecting on the issue of young people in the church and common features in many of our partner churches to ourselves in Scotland when we met on the stairs the National Youth representative on the General Assembly, Joyce Nanna Esi Acquah, a vibrant young woman with a vision.

Solomon ensured we enjoyed our first proper Ghanain lunch of Joliffe rice, fish and plenty fresh pawpaw and pineapple - delicious.I cannot believe we have only been here half a day yet we have achieved much.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Preparing to go

Carol, Wednesday 12 January:
Why change the habits of a lifetime! Several folks phoned tonight to wish me a safe trip and said "are you packed yet?" Most of them should have known the answer before asking the question. "Of course not...there is still plenty time before the taxi comes at 7am".

Now 01.30hrs and I think I am now packed and ready...not too many clothes...you do not really need many when the temperature in Ghana will be between 28-32 degrees C. I can't wait for the heat and the sunshine. Ghana is in the same time zone as UK but only4-11degrees north of the Equator.

This is my first visit to West Africa and I am intrigued to find out how it differs from East Africa. When asking one friend what I might not think of packing she replied "moisturiser". At this time of the year a hot wind called the harmattan blows from the Sahara region and plays havoc with your skin so moisturiser duly packed along with the Scottish calendars and other gifts for our hosts. So now to bed...hope I do not sleep in!

This time tomorrow...Accra.