Friday, March 23, 2012

Leadership Conference upcountry...and beyond

So it happened that I really had nothing to do before the wedding...
Must have been a blond moment... that is why I agreed to go with Franck, my boss to help him with the Leadership Conference in a place far-far away...

This is the official report I wrote while taking pictures, while listening to the translation, while printing the certificates, while bringing more chairs to the room, while turning down marriage proposals, while trying not to think about my own wedding in a few days...

So, read the report, check out the pictures and don't forget to read the short comment AFTER the story. Trust me, it's worth it! :)

"The location is Kara, a city 7 hours drive away from the capital, where the percentage of Muslims and Animists is considerably higher than Christians. This is the place where Mercy Ships organized a Leadership Conference with the objective of impacting the local community.
Over 300 invitations were sent out ahead of time and 350 notebooks were printed for the future participants. On Monday morning (March 5) we started to set up one of the main auditoriums in the Palace of Congress building. Soon participants started to arrive and the slow, but steady flow of people didn’t stop until 10 am. Soon the conference hall was filled with people eager to hear what Dr. Chris Ampadu, a Ghanaian Director of Samaritan Strategy in West Africa had to say. He has been a main speaker since 2007 in conferences organized by Mercy Ships.

Dr. Chris Ampadu teaching
The conference was opened by the Mayor of Kara who came to share a short message. Mr Bakali-Hemou Badibawu thanked Mercy Ships for organizing the conference and thanked the pastors for taking their role in developing their communities seriously. He reminded everybody of President Gnassingbé’s objectives which includes all the different communities around the nation to be initiators of their own development. Mr. Badibawu applauded Mercy Ships for coming alongside this initiative in such a powerful and inclusive way.

Franck Gouhizoun, Off Ship Projects Manager, a native Benoise spoke briefly about Mercy Ships. The medical aspect of our work is well known to the Togolese people, however they applauded loudly to the non-medical work that Franck was speaking of – this conference being one of the many ways Mercy Ships seeks to assist the nation’s capacity building efforts. Dr Ampadu started his presentation with a question: Is Africa cursed? That got everybody’s attention since this is a common misconception among West African people regardless of their country, tribal background or even religion.

from left: Chris, Happy, me, Franck, Atavi
Imam reading our Christian materials :)
One of the materials we used
The answer to his question is an obvious no. As Dr Ampadu introduced himself he explained why a Ghanaian was chosen to speak. He emphasized the fact that „we, West Africans have to work together. What happens in Nigeria or Liberia affects us in Togo, Benin or Ghana, whether we like it or not. It’s time to look beyond the tribal or language barriers and learn new ways of working together.”

People sitting on stage behind Chris
When the first break came more chairs were needed as people kept on pouring into the room. In an effort to facilitate as many participants as possible chairs were put on stage as well behind and around the speaker. All around the hall animated discussions took place and participants had a chance to comment or ask questions from Dr Ampadu.
After a traditional African lunch the conference continued with Pastor Happy Aziadekey’s presentation, who is a senior pastor at M.E.S.A. in Lomé. He spoke about God and the four areas of development according to Luke 2:52 (wisdom, physical, spiritual and social). When his session was over, to our delight, one of the imams, who was eagerly taking notes in the first row, encouraged Pastor Happy firmly to continue speaking. Although the Head Imam didn’t come but he sent many imams to attend the conference.

At the end of the first day we registered exactly 350 participants.

Happy and I working hard behind the scenes :)
The second day started with Dr. Ampadu explaining the different world views that African Christians, Muslims and Animist have, how that influences people’s everyday life and how that can often be the obstacle of development. His words left a huge impact on people’s hearts, far greater than any Western speaker could have had. Pastor Happy took over after the break and he talked about the lies we hold true in our cultures and how to transform them into godly truth in order to break the cycle and start a change. His accurate examples from everyday life brought smiles to everybody’s faces as he challenged participants to identify the false beliefs in their own lives.

On the second day we registered 376 participants. The number is increasing due to the fact that the word was getting out that Mercy Ships is organizing a Leadership Conference. Over the day people became more active, eagerly participating in the teaching sessions, thus turning the conference into an interactive platform of exchanging ideas. Both days Dr. Ampadu spoke for 3 hours, while Pastor Happy was teaching for 1,5 hours, each session was followed by a Question-Answer segment.

Room temp: 30. A/C set for 16 Celsius. You think it was HOT???
People eating lunch on the floor
On the last day Chris was planting seeds as “love in action”, He was teaching on “everybody can do something small to demonstrate God’s love to their families, neighbors and city”. He was explaining the holistic approach – how to apply godly principles in every areas of life. The most important question in everybody’s heart (Chris included) was: what do we do now with this knowledge and how to put it into practice. “We shouldn’t wait for the West or for our own government to make a change. It can start with you. Today! With something very small, like a seed. We all can do something small for a short period of time with local resources, so that God would be praised at the end.” He was sharing several real life stories of people who did something big with the little they had.

Full House - full of colours
 Pastor Happy took over as he was bringing practical examples to the audience again. The listeners wanted to know more on topics like how to spend time with your wife/wives if you live in polygamy or don’t have money to take out your wife for dinner. Many delightful conversations followed with the participants often shouting advice to each other across the hall.
from left: Imam, head of Muslim Ladies Association, Chris, another Imam, Happy and me
Réka Borsiczky, who was helping Franck organizing the conference reported on a good conversation with a local lady, who was the leader of the Muslim Ladies’ Association in Kara and was very excited about learning more on unity. Réka explained that on Africa Mercy there are around 350 people from 30+ different countries and cultural backgrounds and crew members have to practice each day how to live in unity. “It is not easy, but that’s the only way to make it work.” The lady was thrilled to hear Mercy Ships people “practice what they preach”.
While the parents learn new things inside...
Leadership Conference - Happening NOW
After the break Eliphaz Essah, Agriculture Facilitator went on stage to introduce shortly the Biblical concept of agriculture. His presentation was often interrupted by clapping from the audience. The conference was slowly coming to the end and participants seemed reluctant to let Dr Ampadu off the stage. He announced the forming of a committee with 13 local leaders who will carry the vision forward, organize follow up meetings and share the success stories that are sure to follow.

As an official end to this 3 days conference all 367 participants joyfully received their certificates."


This was published on our website. What didn't make it to the report is the fact, that we left Sunday morning with the intention of coming back to the ship on Thursday evening. Friday was supposed to be a last minute preparation for me before the WEDDING on the next day.

My dear husband-to-be-back-then kindly told Franck a day before we left that unless he brings me back safe and sound and in time, he should not bother to come back at all, actually Darren's words were: "leave the planet" :) You can imagine, the dear Bossman didn't let me have any fun. Every time I wanted to try something he got scared and told me NO :(

I spent about 8 hours (with stops) in the car with 4 West African men who entertained me all day long. At a particular road Franck was telling me that long time ago there were monkey and elephants roaming the forests. How about now? - I asked. No more. Why? What happened? "DEMOCRACY HAPPENED!" - was Atavi's answer and we were laughing for 10 minutes. :)

In a future post I will show you some of the pictures I took from the car. The landscape was truly amazing as we were heading up north towards the Burkina Faso border.

This post is getting too long, but here is the punch line: While we were there I managed to pick up a new pet. Yup - you heard it well. I have now a new pet in my... well... stomach. :( A cute little parasite that made sure I was throwing up everything and a bit more...

I was pretty ok on the way home, but by Thursday night I developed quite severe pain as well. By Friday morning I could hardly walk, I was week beyond measure. Darren took me down to the crew doctor who ran some tests. He said that IV would be the last resort, but since we are kind of pressured by time, let's do that.

20 min later I was down in the ICU with an IV hooked up onto my right hand and I was about to take a good handful of painkillers, antibiotics and anti-nausea pills. On an empty stomach...

20 hours before the wedding:
Me: hooked up to IV, fully drugged and cheerful
Husband-to-be: on the verge of sanity trying to look strong for me
 Poor Darren was running around trying to sort out the wedding while trying to stay sane and not worry too much for me. Let me tell you, he did an AWESOME JOB!!! :)

Me on the other hand really didn't look too good. Friends started to come down to pray for me and offer help. Some even suggested that we should postpone the wedding. The wife of the Managing Director was visiting me, holding my hand and praying for healing, but as soon as she mentioned the word "throwing up" I had to run to the bathroom again. :(((((

Will I get married tomorrow??? 
To Be Continued

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