Newsletter 1, January, 2004
We had a great time in England and a lot to thank God for. Much was achieved in my personal life and the preparations for our new venture through Bethesda were encouraging. We were blessed with great ministry, fellowship, accommodation, work and it was brilliant to have had time with my grandchildren. These things truly are blessings from God but we were also on our guard from falling into a comfort zone while relishing these blessings from God.
The icing on the cake during our visit was the valedictory service at Bethesda. As usual, in God’s perfect timing, it came after all our personal affairs were sorted out, broken bridges repaired and relationships restored, making it perfect for our farewell ‘celebrations’. It meant everything to us both to be sent out by our church and knowing as we serve God that we will be saturated in prayer at home.
At the end of my little sharing time that evening I said, "I am sure I wanted to say something else". Ray, who was the next to contribute, allowed a few moments for my brain cells to come into ‘drive’ and remember but to no avail. I could not remember then, but I can now!
What I wanted to say was about after when Akua had come out of Warrington Hospital, where she had been for two weeks. I was thinking what would help to pass her time away while she convalesced. I went to Rocco’s charity shop and bought her a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for £1. I thought it would take Akua weeks to do, as she had never seen one before and what money’s worth I would get for my £1 purchase. Of course, I was going to lead the way and do the straight pieces first and then leave her to fill in the centre - rather that was my plan! It took less than one hour for us both to give up. There seemed to be hundreds of the blue sky bits which all looked the same. Akua would try and force some of the pieces together or some would be too loose when joined one to another. There were hundreds of those pieces all looking the same but there was a special place for each one of them to be.
Ray had spoken on Isaiah 28.23-29 the previous week, which speaks about the same sort of thing. There is a special place for all of us in God’s huge jigsaw, but sometimes we can put ourselves in the wrong place. We want to be in a particular place, so we try to find scriptures to justify this, but any spirit filled Christian knows if they are in the right place or not - like Akua trying to force the jigsaw piece in the wrong place. Deep down she knew it was not in its rightful place.
Arrival in Ghana 26/10/03
Having arrived in Accra we needed to go to government officials to register the ‘Malak Book Centre’ ministry. This is to make sure that nobody else is operating under the same name. When we return to Accra we will receive our registration certificate. We spent five days in Accra then we set off on the horrendous 14 hour bus journey to Tamale. The African people pack as much luggage as they possibly can onto these buses, even goats can be seen on the top of the roof rack, as well as people. They also have an aisle seat on the buses which is usually occupied [ when next to me ] by the largest woman on the bus, accompanied with her mountain of vegetables and screaming sibling.
Arrival in Tamale 1/11/03
We found, on arrival in Tamale, that the proposed building for our ministry was at a standstill and we must use the house where we lived before for our work and the apartment adjoined to the house to live in. This will be great for now, as we have the whole complex and it gives us lots of time to prepare. We have lots of work to do in categorising the books etc. In the middle of November we had seven large bookcases made which I painted all myself.
The vision is to saturate the Northern [ Muslim ] region with good quality Christian books. Ghana is made up of ten regions with each region having a principal or capital town. The top half of Ghana has three regions with the largest being the northern region and Tamale as its capital town. The upper east and west regions are both on the Burkina Faso border with WA being the capital of the upper west and Bolgatanga the capital town of the upper east.
We felt that it was important to pay both these towns a visit, to make ourselves and ministry known to whoever the Lord led us to so, armed with our ‘Malak Book Centre’ business cards and computer bag filled with book samples, off we went to our first town, Bolgatanga.
Bolgatanga [ upper east ]
The visit to Bolgatanga on November 21st was about 140 miles and took over three hours in a sardine tin-like mini bus. On arrival, we were led to a lady running a little vocational school. After the introductions she gave us one of her girls to escort us to some little stationary outlets run by Christians. They showed great excitement over the prospect of having quality Christian books and want to hear from us as soon as the books arrive.
WA [ Upper West ]
The following Monday [ 24th November 03 ] we travelled to Wa which is 180 miles from Tamale and takes seven hours to reach. Most of the journey was driven on dirty dusty roads with the driver on ‘mission impossible’, trying to avoid the potholes.
We set off at 4-30 am with no return journey until the same time the following day. On arrival at Wa, we were almost immediately led to a white woman from Atlanta, Georgia, USA [ where I ministered for a while ]. She had been in this place, which seemed like the end of the earth, for many years running a small literacy centre. She had a small store with a few Christian books in and her manager had a hunger for quality Christian books. She said that she would occasionally have to travel a 1000 mile round trip to Accra to collect a couple of small parcels sent from a missionary organisation in Holland. The pair of them was excited about the prospect of quality Christian books coming to relatively nearby Tamale and the manager Matthew said he was coming to visit us as soon as the books arrive. I mention the word ‘quality’ because most of the imported books in the Accra area of Ghana are from Lagos, Nigeria and are usually titles about ‘witch doctors’, etc. Good ‘quality’ foundational teaching books are hard to come by.
He is Faithful
Both of these towns are predominantly Muslim but God was so faithful when we made the effort to visit them. The terrible long journeys were nothing compared to the joy we received in making contact with these people.
Obviously we have made connections in Tamale and we have found a Baptist training centre in need of reference books.
We received confirmation on November 29th that the ship carrying our books is due to dock at Tema Harbour, Accra on Tuesday, 2nd December 03.
On arrival in Accra, we went to the courier company for the documents authorising us to collect the container of books at Tema harbour. We then set off to pass the documents on to an agent who would act on our behalf. It’s supposed to cut the corruption down to a minimum but we were to find out the hard way that this was not the case and they all work together. Corruption is an evil trade and all the different government authorities cover up for each other as they exploit it.
We spent two weeks in Accra, being bribed, held to ransom, you name it, on a daily basis, while the custom officials delayed releasing the container for as long as possible, charging daily rent [ amongst other things ] for the idle container on the harbour.
On 17th December we were promised that the container would be released by the following Monday, 22nd December. We decided that I should travel back to Tamale to prepare for the books arrival and avoid more guest house charges in Accra, while Akua stayed with family to be on call for the agent at the harbour.
Monday arrived and, with Christmas only three days away, nothing could go wrong or could it ? I received a phone call from Akua telling me that the container would not now be released until 29th December and this of course meant that we would spend Christmas apart. Christmas is not celebrated in Tamale because it is predominantly Muslim but we had really looked forward to Christmas this year, as we were apart last year as well.
Akua phoned me on Christmas day to let me know that the agent had called in at her family’s home. He offered no apologies for the distress he caused, or any flowers or compensation, but told her that we owed ‘so much’ extra rent for the container being on the harbour over the Christmas period. I feel like I have gone through my mother’s old ‘mangle’ she used when doing her washing many years ago, as they try to squeeze as much out of me as they can.
The corruption in Africa is evil and done so openly it would take another biblical flood to get rid of it. I have been on the receiving end of it many times and sometimes I wonder how much I can take. If anybody refused to pay they would simply sell the contents of the container and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. It’s easy to see why missionaries have packed up and gone home, unable to cope with corruption, but we must think of how Jesus was stripped bare as He walked to the cross for our salvation. We must endure whatever God has called us into in our own walk to the finishing line. For Akua, corruption is something she has lived under all her life; she is a tremendous encouragement to me, constantly reminding me that it is only through us that the people in the north of Ghana are going to have access to these books.
Christmas Day, 25th December 03
Christmas day, without a decoration in sight - none of the commercialism associated with the west, in fact, for the residents around here, it’s business as usual. As for me, I have got over my malaria but have been left with a bad back; I have trouble with my ears, the water electric and phone keep going off and I am spending Christmas without my wife. I am cooking my chicken outside on a charcoal fire because we have had no Calor gas for five weeks. What a privilege!!!
I say that because after the storm the sun shines and we are excited that the Lord has the victory over all things and His purposes will be achieved.
The books finally arrived in Tamale on 4th January, from Accra, after many days of trial and frustration. There was great rejoicing at the goodness of our Lord.
Please pray for...
Yours in His Name,
John and Akua
Only 378 more to go
The first 7 bookcases being made, but more will be needed.
Starting to paint
Preparing a meal of fu-fu from plantains and casava
Temporary cooking arrangements but fresh mangoes to pick
The bananas are coming on well