Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Non-diplomatic Community

Remember your journey…that others may know the righteous acts of God… Micah 6:5

In January I returned for the fourth time to Ghana. I’m not sure I will ever get over the sites of Africa – a foray into uncivilized civilization. “God Saves Hair Cuts”, “Protect Us From Evil Tires & Brakes”, “God First Carburetor” Talismans of faith and protection displayed so proudly and openly! Images of life far out of the fast lane, the smell of livestock commingled with lives. Red dust in the air mixed with heat and 100% humidity weighed heavily upon this winterized Texas traveler.

The road from Accra’s suburb of Medina, to Echoing Hills Home for the Disabled is quite an “African experience”. Once you turn off from the main thoroughfare, commerce of all kinds commences; household goods hang from tree branches, and mattresses, ready for honeymooners make good afternoon resting spots for vendors unable to rid themselves of their wares. Cars compete with goats and the gutsy pedestrians bravely trying to get from here to there – but where is there? The last turn leads to the end of the pavement and to the raw red earth rising to choke the unfortunate not traveling by car. Allan and Patsy Fulton (APF Ministries) both commented it was good for the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States of America (Claude Allen) to arrive by a “real” African road; one that would lead him through the squalor and poverty surrounding the oasis of mercy – Echoing Hills Home for Disabled.

The Director, William Aghbetti, greeted me with warm enthusiasm and reflected on my first visit in 2001, one that brought the Fulton’s and their well-digging ministry to the complex. The US government was now investigating the success of that water project as a model for future wells in the region. But imagine the schedule of a clown and a government official’s visit coinciding! It was no coincidence – more like God’s providence. Cell phones rang between security personal and various aides. The US Embassy Site Director explained in detail where we should be standing for the greeting, what could and should be said, all to ensure proper protocols were followed; exciting, and yet so alien in this uncultured setting.

“… you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of My name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.” Luke 21:12-13

Sirens blared, blue lights flashed from the police motorcycles leading the official motorcade, while the maelstrom of dust created by the fifteen-car entourage mostly obliterated the approaching vehicles. Police first, then security, and finally the official stepped out into the heat of the day, into the heart of Echoing Hills Village.

I think we were all a bit surprised to see the Deputy Secretary was African American. It seemed to immediately make him more approachable by those of us gathered for this momentous occasion. He was very cordial, and of course “diplomatic”. Allan spoke eloquently of the efforts initiated by APF/Living Water Ministries to provide the well. He explained the obvious benefits of safe, clean and sanitary water, not only to Echoing Hills and their 40+ disabled residents, but also to the surrounding community. One that had been forced to dangerously gather water (unclean at best – poison at worst) from an abandoned cement encasement for old telephone wire; unbelievable to learn, astounding to see first hand. The well enables them to give water freely, and helps the community see the disabled no longer as cursed – but blessed.

Our group (consisting of Diplomatic Corps, Embassy Personnel, TV Crew, Journalists, Diplomatic Security, and of course VERY armed guards with VERY BIG guns) all crossed the property hearing about Echoing Hills Village, how it began, what it does, and the 100% funding from US Christian organizations. After the tour of the facility, including stops in the Joni & Friends Wheelchair workshop, we gathered for a performance under the thatch-roofed gazebo by four of their residents.

Once the officials had taken their seats, the cameras rolled, the drums began, and their beat summoned the awaiting dancers. The brightly colored costumes and headdresses were striking on the four figures wildly gyrating, their movements momentarily masking their very apparent disabilities. The rhythm rocked the rafters, while the performers moved in motions of unabated passion for life – they danced!

Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. jeremiah 31:13

The Deputy Secretary fought to control his emotions, eyes welling with tears several times. When it was over, the Director explained how the four “dancers”– before coming to the Village had been at death’s door, their lives marked by depression, starvation, and self-inflicted wounds. Claude Allen (the Deputy Secretary) responded with a very sincere “God bless you”, and in that moment there were no diplomats, no countries, no language or color barriers. We were in a community of God service, brought together by Christ.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Luke 14:13-14

We walked back to where the forty residents were gathered under the shade of the trees. Politicians and those who accompany them are familiar with navigating quickly through crowds. But this was no ordinary crowd. Many have joints and knees with huge baseball-sized calluses formed from pulling the dead weight of their broken bodies through the dirt, using flip flops to protect their hands from shattered glass and rocks in the roadways. Those not crawling have an assortment of equipment - old stools utilized for walkers, handmade crutches, canes crafted from tree branches, wheelchairs with only steel rims and ropes holding the discarded parts together. An obstacle course I’m sure they have never encountered before.

But amidst this array of the broken and beaten down was laughter. I think their joy caught the visitors off guard. The gathered group was not a constituency to be “worked”; they were simple human beings involved with making various cloths, personal hygiene items and enjoying the company of others. The group interacted, laughed and proudly showed us what they were doing. The typical “flesh” pressing of a politician was not so typical. Here it involved laying a hand on a withered leg, reaching to embrace one with no arms, touching the face of a child so happy, his spastic head moved uncontrollably, and looking deeply into the features of one whose cataract covered eyes could not register the sincerity of the beholder.

Coming from the land of “Much, More and Medicaid” to seeing what happens to people who have NO resources – no care, no advocate in the halls of the state, that for us - is traditionally believed to be there to protect us. Here, a representative group from the United States of America saw Echoing Hills Village; the largest facility for the disabled in the ENTIRE country. It houses a mere 42 individuals in a nation where there are 2 million affected by disability. 1,999,958 falling through not “cracks” in service – but great canyons and crevices of NO help at all. Reality check – they were definitely not in Kansas anymore.

You cannot enter into this kind of reality and claim “diplomatic immunity”. As believers in Christ, we were definitely a non-diplomatic community, providentially brought together, at this time, in this place to see how in the world our different “worlds” can help. I believe they all were moved and I pray what they encountered changed them.

One visit, one day by an American representative - what can that do? Remember, one visit one day in 2001, the King’s clown came and things changed!