Reflections on a
Ghanaian Experience

Liz Mooney

Liz is parish administrator for the United Benefice of St Faith's Great Crosby and St Mary the Virgin, Waterloo Park. She works from the parish office at St Mary’s
and worships at another St Mary’s, at Edge Hill in Liverpool. She tells us of her recent epic journey to Ghana.

The team at Buako Ground-Breaking Ceremony with Archbishop Akrofi and the tribal Chief

On Friday 9th October, 2009, an eclectic bunch of Christians left Liverpool and journeyed to Ghana to join a medical mission.  Whilst none of us had any medical backgrounds, we were going to serve in whatever capacity we could and we joined a twenty-strong American team who although similar to ourselves had the added bonus of a couple of nurses and a dentist!  We were all part of “Branches of the Vine” (John 15:5) a non-profit organisation that partners with the Anglican Diocese of Accra in providing medical and educational assistance in West Africa, predominantly in the country of Ghana.  Although formally established in 2006, their work began in 1995 when a small group of Americans partnered with Dr Justice Akrofi, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa and Bishop of Accra, and the need to assist him in spreading his vision throughout West Africa.  “Branches of the Vine” are committed to supporting the Ghanaians in their mission to evangelize their people, with time, talents and resources.  They have a heart for mission and a commitment to serve God.   

My own association with Ghana began in 1996 when Maria, a Ghanaian lady joined our congregation at St Mary’s Church,  Edge Hill.   Studying in Liverpool to become a consultant anaesthetist, this lady was Dr Maria Akrofi wife of Dr Justice Akrofi.  With Maria and her family playing a significant part in my own spiritual formation and having been unable to go to Ghana last year, 2009 was right and in God’s timing.  So here are a few reflections on my experience!

As soon as you arrive in Ghana, you know that God is at work!  The people are very warm and friendly, and they like to demonstrate their faith by naming their businesses after religious sayings.  Here are some that I noted:

The Lord is my Light Fashion
King of Kings Fast Food
Jesus is Lord MTN Phone Cards       
God’s Time Auto Electrical
Blessed Beauty Salon                            
Christ Way Ventures
In God’s Will We Trust Hair Salon       
Innocent Blood Restaurant
In God We Trust Fitting Shop       
Justice Haircut

Ghana, like many African countries, participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Therefore, a visit to a slave castle is part of any African experience.  Elimina Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and originally it was used as a trading post where the Portuguese exchanged guns, gunpowder, liquor, enamel bowls, tobacco and iron bars for gold, ivory, spices and artefacts.  Early in the 16th century the trans-Atlantic slave trade started and the slaves were kept at the castle before transportation all over the world.  Men and women were separated, kept in squalid conditions which only got progressively worse.  

When the ships arrived, the men and women briefly saw each other for the first time since incarceration at the castle and had to duck as went through a very short door  and entered the “room of no return”.  The captives did not move freely as they were in chains and chained to each other.  In these chains, they made their final exit from the castle through a door (now known as the “door of no return”), and descended a ladder to canoes and finally entered the ships to begin another dreadful journey to unknown places in the world. This door was extremely narrow, but after months of starvation diets and ill treatment, they were just skin and bone and so all fitted through very easily.

                                                                                                                                                The short door                   The door of no return    

The ships were the worst leg of the captives’ journey, with the Africans being made to lie side-by-side on the decks unable to move or sit up. With their hands and legs in chains, the captives defecated and vomited all over themselves.  On one ship it was recorded that of 700 captives taken, only 350 survived the voyage.

Having briefly looked at the past, now was the time to look to the future.  On our first Sunday the team split up and went to worship at a number of different churches.  I went to St Alban’s, Tema. Transport around Ghana is not easy and what starts out as a tarmac road rapidly disintegrates into a dirt track with endless potholes.  Suffice it to say that after a very early start, we arrived at St Alban’s about 10am to find everyone sitting in bible study groups.  Our party joined the English-speaking group,  who were studying Anglicanism and the Creeds. As we later moved into the service it came as a surprise to be handed a 1950s copy of the Book of Common Prayer.  In Ghana, whilst the official language is English. there are over 50 different African languages spoken and over 70 different dialects.  Consequently, services are conducted both in English and the local language.  Resources are very limited, hence everyone knows the Book of Common Prayer and as there is a very strong oral tradition, new hymns are taught and memorised! Apart from the sheer joy and exuberance of the service, two particular highlights were the offering and the imaginative use of the incense. The offering happens not once, but twice, sometimes three or more times during a service!  The priest and choir sing, accompanied by any musicians and everyone else dances up to the front, waving white handkerchiefs and then places money in the offering receptacles. 

                                                                                                                  Rocking with the incense                                                                 Collection time                                                                                                                      
The Medical Mission took place on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and over the four days 1,230 patients were seen at Akwaaba, Buako and New Ningo.  For nationally known puppeteers Ian and Elaine Couls from Liverpool, this was their second visit to Ghana, and the previous week they had provided training in making hand puppets and performing a puppet show.  They were a hit with both the children and adults, sharing the gospel with all who waited patiently for hours at a time to be seen by the medical team, who were mostly Ghanaian. I was most gainfully employed working with one of the American nurses, recording temperatures and blood pressure readings! I have to say that prior to the mission, there were “prayer warriors” in Ghana who fasted and prayed for weeks before the mission started.  Indeed, before we did anything we prayed and certainly before any travel!  We prayed before we departed and upon a safe arrival, immediately gave thanks! 

    Waiting at Akwaaba                                               Prayer at Akwaaba

Other highlights of the mission were visiting a prison at Akusha. A prison for minor offences, many had no bed and slept on the floor. We distributed blankets, bibles and food.  A visit to a community called Twerbo was most enlightening.  Ten years ago the villagers contracted many water-borne diseases from a polluted water source.  Now through the intervention of Branches of the Vine, they have a well, a school, a church and are in much better health.  A similar project is required for the communities of Akwaaba and Buako and the Liverpool contingent have pledged to raise the £26,000 to fund this.  With £12,000 being already raised there is another £14,000 to go. During our visit, there was a ground-breaking ceremony with the Archbishop at Buako.

At Twerbo: a classroom                                                Inside the church

All-age classroom                                             It's hard to stay awake!

For me, the highlight of the whole week was the “Healing Service” on our final Sunday. Starting at 9.30am, it lasted for 5 hours without a break!  It started with a normal service and then at about 12 noon just moved into a healing service. The Archbishop was there as he was at some point during most of the events.  However, the greatest privilege of all was praying for individuals.  Each person was given a piece of paper and on it they wrote their name and what they wanted praying for.  A job, a better job, their family, health, forgiveness from a number of temptations not pleasing to God,  business success  and a long life  were just some of the things  I was asked to pray for.  Their humility  and openness  was something  to behold,  together with their strong belief that Jesus really could transform their lives.  And it was not just the adults who came forward; all the children did as well! 

Queue for prayer at the healing service                                           Archbishop Akrofi and Fr Bernard

I have so much more to tell but unfortunately have no space!  Our mission was very much “Go, See and Tell!”  If you would like to know more about the work of “Branches of the Vine” or feel you would like to make a donation to support their work then have a look at their web site 

Photos: Liz Mooney

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