Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coming Home

Although not mandated to leave, Lay Mission-Helpers (LMH) recommended that we missionaries return temporarily to the United States until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control. It was fairly easy for me to make the decision to return. I feel I am healthy, but I am over 60 years young and at a higher risk than others.

Am I happy to be here? Not really. I unexpectedly had to leave my home. I left a life in which I was comfortable.  As strange as it may seem to most of you, I will miss hand washing my clothes, bucket bathing, and eating my favorite Ghanaian meal with my hand. I will miss the look on vendors’ faces when I speak to them in Gonja, the language of the largest tribe in my home town of Damongo. I will miss the security guard at the Secretariat where I work struggling to teach me the language (I blame being 61 as the reason for my slow learning). 

Though my son’s will always take care of me, you could say I am technically homeless. I sold my home and gave away nearly everything I owned before leaving for mission. Right now I am living with my oldest son in Greensburg, PA. Once out of quarantine I will visit my youngest son in Pittsburgh, PA and at some point fly to Colorado to spend time with my son in Boulder. I have friends that say I am not homeless, for as long as they have a home I have a home.

One might ask: “Does not having a permanent home scare you?” The answer is a definite NO! If I do not make it back to Ghana, I will find a mission house in the U.S. in which to live while I continue to serve God’s people.

God has called me to mission and that is what I am meant to do. Every day I end my prayers by saying:

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Remarkable Women

The World Union of Catholic Women Organization (WUCWO) is a group dedicated to unify women around the world in religious, educational, social and service activities for the glory of God. I was surprised when I found out the organization exists in Damongo, Ghana, my hometown.

The Diocese of Damongo hosted a conference the weekend of November 29 - December 1, 2019. I helped with the affair. Honestly, I never thought we could pull it off. Four hundred women were expected to attend. Women travelled from parishes up to four hours away. Not only did we have to provide sleeping quarters, but we had to feed them. Feed 400? Without stoves or ovens? How were a few women going to prepare meals for so many?

Women in Ghana are incredibly hard working. They were able to do what I felt was impossible, and do it without any sign of stress. Amazing! Enjoy the videos and pictures I took of these remarkable women.

The process begins by preparing ingredients that will make up the sauce (soup) served with the meal. We all know any good soup begins with garlic and onions.

No stove? So how do you cook sauce?

The meal will consist of the sauce eaten with T Zed, a mixture of ground maze (corn) and water.

Wooden spoons here are a bit larger than we are used to.

So is there any protein in the sauce? Of course there is, nothing other than chopped up cow’s head. Don’t worry, it was cooked well.

Next the women put the maze, which now has a consistency between porage and bread dough, into plastic bags. This “dumpling “ will be dipped into the sauce when eaten with the meal. I will show you how in the last video.

And what better way to end the first night of a conference than with dancing.

So how is soup with T Zed eaten? Well, just know no utensils are needed.

We pulled it off, the conference was a success!

This blog is dedicated to Dr. Stephen Mills and the staff at Excela Health, Latrobe, PA. Thank you for being avid blog fans. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Merry Christmas To All

I will definitely miss my family this Holiday Season. Traditions of the United States such as stringing Christmas lights on homes and streets in communities, wrapping presents to be set under an evergreen Christmas tree, and sending and receiving Christmas cards, I have not noticed here in my little village of Damango, Ghana.

Traditions that my Slovak family observe will definitely be missed. There will be no Christmas Eve meal including pagach, oblatki, pierogis, and kolachi here in Damongo. The Slovakian Dance group will not be performing here at the Cathedral, and the First Catholic Slovak Union will not hold their Stede Vecer here in the Diocese hall.

I will miss all these events terribly. However, being here during this Christmas Season as well as the next two Christmas Seasons I will be able to adopt new traditions.

One part of Christmas I would hate to miss out on is having a Christmas tree. There are no evergreens here in Damongo, or even trees that resemble an evergreen. Therefore, with stems from bushes that grow near my bungalow and two containers of dental floss I made my own tree.
I had no idea how my crazy idea of making a tree would end up, or that I could actually do it at all, but as you see from the pictures I did it! Sitting in my living room, called a hall here in Damongo, sits my tree. I saw Christmas lights about a month ago in a store two hours from here and bought them thinking I would hang them on a wall, or a door frame, just to be able to have some sort of Holiday spirit. My little friend Anne helped me construct the tree. Without her I never would have finished.
What I did not realize was the reaction I would get from those who saw my creation. It is so fulfilling to see the looks on faces of those seeing a lit tree for the first time. We in the United States take things for granted. Something as simple as a tree with lights is an amazement to people here. 

There are similarities between Ghanaian Christians and American Christians when it comes to celebrating Christmas. We both prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ during the season of Advent; the “Coming” of our Lord. During this Season we both take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  Diane, my fellow missionary, and roommate, already decided we would attend both the Midnight Mass – THE ANGELS’ MASS, as well as the Christmas Day Mass – THE KINGS MASS. What will happen next we do not know. Will we be invited to gatherings for special meals? Will there be a community gathering? That is yet to be seen. What we do know is that we have been preparing ourselves for Christs’ coming, and that he will come, he has come, and that is what the Season is all about.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

My Beautiful Journey

Welcome back! Please let me share more of my beautiful journey with you. Since my last writing I celebrated my 61st birthday. Yikes, I’m getting up there. In numbers, that is, but not in spirit. Sister Agnes and I share the same birth date. 
My fellow missionary, Diane, as well as Sister Julianna, Msgr. Gus, Father Charles, and a few teachers gathered for some good food and drinks. The best part of the evening was when students crashed the party to wish me a Happy Birthday and shower me with confetti.  

One way to really experience a different culture is to attend a wedding. I was fortunate enough to be invited to one of the teacher’s wedding reception. Although it was a wedding in a different country, and of a different religion (Muslim),  one thing was the same, the happiness seen on the face of the bride and groom, the parents, and well, of all in attendance. It was a great experience.

The Diocese of Damongo sent me to the Tamale Institute of Cross Cultural Studies, where I learned more about Ghana’s culture and customs. Six Seminarians, two from Kenya, two from Congo and two from Togo were a part of the class. It was a blessing to hear these young men talk about their desires to answer God’s call by dedicating their lives to the work of the Church.  

While at the institute we visited a site where women make Shea butter. A gentleman from the community, who also taught us at the institute, set up machines needed for these women to make Shea butter. The work is hard. They women start by going out in the early hours of the morning to gather the Shea nuts needed. The process takes an entire day. While the women are busy at work, their children stand outside the compound and wait for their mothers to finish.  

Another experience we had while at the institute was to visit a witch camp. A witch camp is a settlement where women who are unjustly accused of being witches flee for safety. Once an accusation is made, the women are subject to lynching, or are even killed. There are at least six of these camps in Ghana, housing around 1,000 women.  

In order get to the camp we walked over a mile. As you can see, the path was flooded. I actually enjoyed the walk. I felt like a kid again, trampling through the muddy water. 
I was sad to leave the institute. While there I met an amazing little girl, Suzie. Her mother works at the institute and each day five year old Suzie has to keep herself busy. It was a joy spending my free time with her. Suzie was cheerful, energetic, incredibly smart and very loving. I saw the sadness in her eyes when I said goodbye. I felt the sadness in my heart.  

The month of October each year is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. Here at SAGISS, the Rosary is said at 5:30 p.m. The girls process throughout the campus following a student carrying Mary on her head. The procession ends when the statue is placed on a beautifully decorated table. At this time prayers are said and songs to our Mother are sung. 

Before leaving for mission, Father John Sedlak, our Pastor at St. Florian’s Roman Catholic Church in United, PA, my home Parish, presented me with a mission Rosary. Each decade of the Rosary is a different color, representing an area where the Church continues to evangelize: Green if for the forests and grasslands of AFRICA; Blue for the ocean surrounding the islands of the PACIFIC; White symbolizing EUROPE, the seat of the Holy Father; Red calling to mind the fire of faith that brought missionaries to the AMERICAS, and Yellow, the morning light of the East, for ASIA. I use these Rosaries every day.

I would like to share with you something I feel is important. Pope Francis has declared October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission. We are all called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all peoples. I came across a prayer that sums up why I am here on mission:

      Father, You will Your Church to be the
      sacrament of salvation to all peoples.
      Make us feel more urgently the call to
      work for the salvation of our human
      family until You have made us one
      people. Inspire us to continue the
      saving work of Christ everywhere until
      the end of the world.

Thank you Lay Mission-Helpers for giving me the opportunity to serve.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ghanaian Funeral

Though it has been a short period of time since my arrival back in Damongo, Ghana, so much has happened. Firstly, our senior class graduated. I will probably not see them again.  Although I  never mastered all their names, I will never forget their smiling faces.

We were blessed to have Bishop Peter Paul in attendance at the graduation to send the girls off with his blessing.
Also in attendance was the queen mother of the largest tribe in this area.

The queen mother is the president of our school’s PTA. Even though the family is Muslim, her daughter attends our Girl’s Catholic High School.

Although not necessary, when I am in the presence of the queen mother I bow and greet her  with the formal greeting given to a tribal queen, and I do it in her language. She replies, also in the language of her tribe, calling me her princess. Her way, I believe, of showing that she appreciates the respect given her.

Also in attendance was one of the tribes chiefs. Of course, before the festivities ended, I had to have my picture taken with him.
My fellow lay missioner, Diane, teaches a nutrition class. Most of the girls in her class have never seen the stove, for their families cook over a fire outside their dwelling. Diane had them to our Bungalow for a demonstration on how to cook eggs four different ways: fried, scrambled, boiled and poached. Most of us, myself included, have difficulties poaching and egg.

In the video you can hear the excitement as a student cracks an egg and attempts the task. As you can see, however, she is more excited about being in a video than making a perfect egg.

Unfortunately, our head mistress’ father passed to be with our Lord. Mr. Siesegh, 90, was one of the first catechists to evangelize in the North West Region of Ghana. A region that now has one of the largest concentration of Catholics. Many priests serving in Damongo are from his village as well as our Bishop, Peter Paul, the Archbishop of the neighboring diocese of Tamale and the deceased Cardinal Peter Poreku Dery, who is in the process of being beautified and canonization.

Mr. Siesegh was well loved by his entire village. Thursday, when we arrived, over 100 were gathered in a field behind his home. Twenty seven girls from SAGISS performed three different tribal dances.

The body of Mr. Siesegh sat in a large chair under a beautifully decorated tent.

Under a tree a group of men played what appeared to be a wooden xylophone.

Food was abundant. Many of the mourners stayed in the field all night in honor of the man who spent nearly his entire life evangelizing in the area. The following day, still in the field behind the family home, the body was placed in a coffin.

Over 20 priests were present to celebrate the burial Mass. To my surprise, as the Mass ended, a “fued” broke out between two rival tribes.  Mr. Siesegh’s coffin could not be taken away for burial until his tribe paid enough money to the rival tribe. A collection took place right there, at the coffin, in the middle of the field. Because Mr. Siesegh’s tribe did not raise enough money, it was necessary for them to hand over a goat. At this point the payment was enough for the body to be released for burial. This "fued" was carried out with laughter and cheers, however, the payment was real. 

Mr. Seisegh was buried at his home, in the same area where he, for years, evangelized to all, regardless of which tribe they belonged. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he preached the Gospel with the aim of uniting the tribes and motivating them to live together in peace. I was blessed to be able to celebrate the life of a man who gave his all to bring the Word of God to his people.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Returning Home

The last several weeks have been exceptionally difficult for me and my family. I received a phone call the evening of April 6, 2019 which started a series of events that will never be forgotten. My son-in-law called to inform me of the death of my 28-year-old daughter, Anna. 

It was a blessing that our Director of Lay Mission-Helpers Association, Janice England, was in Ghana visiting SAGISS, the High School at which my fellow missionary, Diane Yonga and I serve. Diane and Janice were of great support. Janice immediately started to schedule my travels back to Pennsylvania, while Diane’s arms were there to hold me as the tears flew.

Support from the entire Diocese of Damango was immeasurable. The very morning after the call, Bishop Peter Paul, and Head Mistress Pauline arrived at my home. Condolences were given and the rosary, one of the most cherished prayers of the Catholic Church, was recited. Later teachers arrived to give their condolences and sit with me in silence. The girls at SAGISS seemed a bit uncomfortable in showing their feelings, not knowing how to act, but those whom I associated with on a more personal level were very supportive. I felt the love of the entire school around me.

The first two weeks back in the United States was a blur. My sister, Barbara Spencer, stepped in even before my plane landed in Pittsburgh and started arrangements for the Memorial Service. The Mass, celebrated by Father John Sedlak at St. Florian Church, United, PA, was beautiful. My sister read letters from her two daughters, Anna’s cousins with whom she spent her entire childhood. The eulogy was given by me. I felt it important that those attending hear what a beautiful, creative, intelligent and talented woman my daughter had become. I also felt it important that everyone know how hard Anna fought, but lost, her battle with mental illness, a disease that can affect anyone, no matter how smart, talented or beautiful they may be. Anna’s suffering was unbearable, therefore I asked the congregation to pray with me that Anna be comforted in Mary’s arms while she waits to meet or Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Many ask of me “Now what? Are you going back to Africa?” My response is a definite “Yes, I am going home.” In a few short months, St. Anne’s Girls High School in Damango, Ghana, has become my home. I miss the girls. I miss them running after me as I leave my office for the day asking to carry my purse and computer case. I miss attending Mass with them every Tuesday and Friday morning, watching as they sway, clap and sing to the beat of the drums. I miss the goats and pigs walking with me every morning as I trek to the office. I miss going to town and having the children run up to shake my hand, and the young boys wanting to carry my bags, never accepting the coins I try to give them for their assistance. I miss the smiles from the vendors when I buy their bread, apples, onions or garlic.

This Sunday, May 12, 2019, Mother’s Day, I leave for my trip back to St. Anne’s in Damango, Ghana, Africa.  I can’t wait to be HOME!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Another Day In Africa

Welcome back!  So much has happened since I last wrote. Two weeks ago my fellow Lay Mission-Helper, Diane, and I moved into our home. We are living at a St. Anne's Girls Senior High School, a boarding school in Damongo.  Our accommodations are obviously much different than Americans are used to, but way better than most Ghanaians.

The Diocese of Damongo has gone out of their way to make us comfortable.  Our dwelling has linoleum flooring instead of the more common concrete floor, a new living room set, and I was given a truck to get back and forth from work at the secretariat. We do face a few challenges, however, such as bucket bathing, washing clothes by hand, and not being fond of the food.

We attend Mass on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.  Every first Sunday of the month we are bussed to the Cathedral for Mass.  Mass lasts one and a half to two hours and is very lively with clapping, swaying and singing. The celebration begins on the trip to the Cathedral. In the video you can see the excitement. 
Last Saturday the school had an evening of entertainment. The girls sang and danced all night (Ok, until 9:30 pm). 

Cows, pigs, sheep, goats, lamb, rams, chickens, dogs and cats roam freely.  It is not uncommon to pass by a pig
or have a goat follow me on my way to the school.  

There is a National Forest ten miles away. Sunday I went on my first safari. What an experience! Guided by men with guns, we headed down a dirt road to get a closer look at an elephant eating leaves from a tree. We heard a roar behind us. We turned around and saw a male elephant, ears raised, coming quickly toward us. 
Guns ready, the guides yelled, "Get off the road. Men, get in front of the women." Adrenalin pumping, I was looking for a tree to climb. Thankfully, we were spared. About 10 yards from us the elephant turned and went into the forest.

Just another day in Africa.

God Bless and be sure to check back!

Coming Home

Although not mandated to leave, Lay Mission-Helpers (LMH) recommended that we missionaries return temporarily to the United States until...