Back in 1997, my wife Fiona and 7 week old baby Tane travelled to South Africa to attend and assist with two conferences: The Global Consultation on World Evangelisation (GCOWE) and the African Evangelical Alliance (AEA). These were held in Pretoria and Johannesburg, respectively. While on the continent, Fiona’s Uncle Ross invited me to travel with him to East and West Africa, to distribute a Church Survey Database (written in Microsoft Access 97). Ever since then, uncle has feed me data updates about every 5 years, and I have done number crunching and sent back formatted reports.
This year, 2016, nearly 20 years after that initial visit, Uncle Ross is nearing retirement. So, he thought it would be a good idea to disband the Ghana National Church Survey database, split it into its denominational constituent parts, and distribute these to their respective denominations. He invited me to return to Ghana (where the national church there had run with this idea) to assist with the distribution of data, and training of their technical people. At first, I was hesitant, because the airfares were significant, but Uncle Ross is such a frequent flyer that he assured me he could probably get my economy tickets free (he’s a platinum card holder). In the end, I’m still not sure whether my flights were free, because uncle is supported by WEC International, and he doesn’t like to discuss his financial needs. Instead, he relies upon the provision of the Lord. All I know is that they were free to me.
I booked 3 weeks annual leave from my job as a Solution Architect at Spark, NZ’s largest telecommunications provider. I got shots for Yellow Fever and Hepatitis A. I exchanged NZ$700 for US$500 to take into the country with me. We flew out on 1st October. I was pumped and ready to go. In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins, “I’m going on an Adventure!”
The first notable blessing which came our way was, on our flight from Perth to Johannesburg (the 2nd leg of our 3-leg trip), we got an upgrade (because of Uncle’s Platinum card) from Economy Class to Row #1! I have never flown First Class before. It is such a blessing. There is so much more space to stretch out my 1.81cm frame. Also, by virtue of uncle’s status, we were granted access to the South African Voyager Club lounge. This afforded us access to the showers and sleeper unit. I was greatly refreshed for the final leg of our journey.
We arrived 5pm Sunday local time, which was 6am Monday NZ time, after departing Saturday 2pm. That’s a lot of travel. I was exhausted and collapsed early into our accommodations.
The first week was spent in the Ghana Evangelism Committee (an organisation uncle had created and initially chaired), splitting the databases and training the in-house technical staff. Ghana is 13 hours behind New Zealand, which means Ghana is in line with GMT. It also means that when I wake up at 6AM on Monday, it’s already 7PM in NZ. This makes for some limited opportunity for communication with home. However, mobile data is relatively cheap and the Internet is a modern marvel which makes face time possible.
As expected the days are hot, but at least I’m in an air-conditioned office. The nights are hotter, because we only have a ceiling fan to keep us cool. Needless to say, we are up early each morning because it’s too hot to stay in bed. It is usually about 30.5 degrees Celsius first thing in the morning.
After breakfast, there’s time for a cold shower. Rather than an imposition, this is a blessing. It removes the sweat from the night.
For lunch, we go to the street markets and buy either fish and (yam) chips or chicken and (yam) chips. For dinner, we pop next door to the office, and buy from the Portuguese fast-food restaurant with Western-style food. Here, it is called Barcello’s. In New Zealand we would recognize it as Nando’s. We are eating out each day, because it is cheaper than buying Western style groceries, and the facilities back at the Guest House are not conducive to cooking a meal.
Once a week, we wash our clothes in the bucket in the shower. We use soap powder that we brought with us. Uncle lives very frugally. He’s worked out the best systems for maximising his return on investment.
We are usually tired by 8pm and there’s no telly here, so we end up listening to BBC World Service on our separate radios, and retiring early.
We started meeting heads of churches. I’m so impressed with Uncle’s ability to pick up the phone, dial a Director or Moderator or Chairman to request a meeting, and getting a positive response. By the end of this week, we had meetings with:
- General Secretary of the Church of Pentecost
- Personal assistant to the President and General Secretary of the Apostolic Church of Ghana
- Moderator of the Global Evangelical Church
- Moderator, Director Church Life and Nurture & Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana
- Presiding Bishop and his head office staff of the Methodist Church of Ghana
With each, we have attempted to schedule a follow-up session with their IT department, in order to take possession of their data, and give them some in-depth training on its usage. But first, it was necessary to meet with the leadership and really get them on-board with the data. I prepared a brief 8-slide presentation, which Ross presents skilfully. Depending on the audience, he can make the presentation last 15 minutes to 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
Uncle feels it is important to get the leadership’s buy-in first. He also feels it necessary to trot me along for this initial meeting, and espouses my various qualifications and credentials. He builds me up, to lend credibility to the training and to the data. Although the data really does speak for itself. He has some old printed reports to go along with it, but the latest stuff is only available in soft copy.
On weekend, we took the opportunity to travel up to Kumasi. There, uncle introduced me to the Christian School (now University) he established in 1969. Christian Service University College (CSUC) in Kumasi is a Presbyterian school. It houses 600 students and has a campus now of 2000. The Featured Image (above) shows uncle shaking hands with his former gatekeeper: a fierce, but gracious, Fra-Fra man. Apparently, it is well-known that this tribe makes the best security. Uncle told stories of having to chase of thieves in the old days, in the middle of the night.
This is a typical example of how I conducted the in-depth training. It was in a large board-room with projector, and 3 techies, with one laptop. So, I plugged into the projector and demo-ed their database, while the senior guy with the laptop, mirrored my activities. In this way, I trained them how to create their own queries on the data. We spent half a day with them. They fed us a lovely lunch of rice, fish & vegetables.
We ended up training the following groups:
|Date||Group Name||Church||Number of Participants|
|11/10/2016||Peter & Martin||Ghana Evangelism Committee||2|
|14/10/2016||Beatrice & Richmond||Global Evangelical Church||2|
|17/10/2016||Hulda & Vivian||Ghana Evangelism Committee||2|
|18/10/2016||Jeremiah, Emmanuel & Manasseh||Apostolic Church of Ghana||3|
|19/10/2016||Statistics Department||Methodist Church||4|
|20/10/2016||Daniel & Eric||Church of Pentecost||2|
|20/10/2016||IT Department||Ghana Baptist Convention||4|
|20/10/2016||IT Department||Hope Foundation Church||1|
|21/10/2016||Data Managers||Presbyterian Church||8|
|21/10/2016||League of Non-Aligned Denominations||Globeserve||3|
|21/10/2016||LONAD||Bread Of Life Mission||1|
|21/10/2016||LONAD||Full Stature Mission||1|
I must admit, by the time we got to the last few sessions, Uncle and I had quite an impressive repertoire worked out. He presented the overview of the survey, what it contains and the types of statistics that they can get out of it. Then I did a deep dive, showing them their individual church databases, the number of congregations they each had, and how to create Access queries for the very first time. I took them right up to Grouping and Totalling. From there, I showed them how to copy/paste into Excel and use Excel to pretty up the table, and finally to create a pie graph. After that, I told them to expect a pay rise. They laughed.
This was the exchange rate:
- NZ$700 = US$500
- US$100 = GHC$400
- Therefore NZ$0.35 = GHC$1
In addition to meeting Peter in the office I also met, in Kumasi, Uncle Ross’s #1 Field worker. His name is Martin Osei-Buabeng. A mature gentleman, he’s been with uncle since the beginning and is a tireless worker.
Ghanaians are not shy of taking photos. They were quite chuffed to be asked to be in our record of our little training programme.
This was a golden opportunity to use my secular skills to advance the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, so that all pre-conditions are fulfilled, so that Christ may return, and we may all go home.