Friday, March 8, 2019

God In Everyday Life

My time in Ghana has been somewhat of a whirlwind.  I am experiencing so many new and different things.  My senses sometimes seem on overload.  I am typically a quiet person who gets energy from silence, alone-time, communing with God in prayer.  Some of my typical routines have been difficult to establish here.  God called me to SAGISS for a reason.  I think He is trying to draw me out of myself and in to relationship with others.

For quite a few years, I was a “Daily Mass” goer.  It was a rare day that I wasn’t in the pew.  I loved daily Mass – it brought peace to my day.  I was also committed to two hours of Eucharistic Adoration per week.  My time was typically very early morning hours, and I was there with the Lord all by myself.  I could talk to Him about all that was troubling me.  I could set my problems before Him, and by the time I walked out, he had lifted my burdens and had answered me, had guided me in the direction of His will.  Those hours in Adoration lead me to this mission.

I miss my time in Adoration.  I miss saying the Rosary in the Virgin Mary Chapel or praying in the Sacred Heart Chapel or just sitting in the pews at the Cathedral of St. Paul.  I miss my Cathedral family.

Here on mission, I have the ability to attend Mass on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings.  I am grateful for these opportunities. Listening to the girls sing, with their joyful and angelic voices, lifts me up. 
Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration here in Damongo.  I think God felt the connection between Him and I was strong, but that my connection to the people around me needed some work.  Thus, He sent me on mission, to get me out of my comfort zone, to push me to the next level.  I am to find God in the people I encounter.  I am finding Him in the girls at SAGISS, in my fellow teachers, in the headmistress (my boss), in the priests and sisters, and in the people of the town of Damongo.  When I go to market to buy my bread, my oranges and apples, my tomatoes and onions, I see Him in the tired, weathered faces of the women who labor so hard to make money to feed their families.  I see Him in the curious, smiling faces of the children as they say “hello” to the white woman passing by.  I see Him in the Muslim men kneeling in prayer.  I see Him in the SAGISS girls always willing to lend me a helping hand.

I have now met my Bishop, Bishop Peter Paul of the Diocese of Damongo, as he invited Karen and I to his home for dinner one evening.  He is a very delightful man; very kind.  (It was there, I had my first taste of guinea fowl.  It tasted very similar to chicken.)  I have met many priests, some at Mass, others by fact I am on mission through the Diocese of Damongo.  The priests give very good, relevant homilies, relating them to the person in the pews’ daily life and struggles.  (However, last Sundays Mass lasted 3 hours!)   I enjoy working for the Diocese and the Catholic Church.  God is woven through every part of the day at SAGISS – the benefit of volunteering for a Catholic High School.  God is not just at Mass. There are signs of God everywhere – He is not kept out of the public forum as we do in the United States.   People believing in God is the norm here.  I am not bringing God to these people – He is already here.  I am learning how to become closer to God through my interactions with these people.

March 6 was the 62nd Anniversary of Ghana's Independence.  The girls of SAGISS marched in the parade, as did all the other schools in the area, down to the tiny tots.  They not only march with their legs, but their arms are definitely a part of the march also.

Young children marching - precious!

SAGISS Girls marching.

Caption: Bishop Peter Paul presenting 2nd prize to girls of SAGISS and Headmistress, Madame Pauline

It is now the season of Lent.  I struggle with what I am “going to give up”, as I have already given up so much just to be here.  Missing out on time with my immediate family for three years is the most difficult.  I know God has a plan for me and for them; that my mission here is meant to be and that from it, will come wonderful things for my family.  We don’t always understand why or see where God is leading us, but if we put our trust in Him, all will be well.  I truly believe that.
God brought me here to Ghana to draw me closer to Him, through relationship with my fellow man.  We are all children of God - no matter where on this earth we live.

In this season of Lent, I will work on my prayer life - carving out some alone time for just God and me; I will give alms through service via my mission; I will continue eating a mostly simple, almost vegetarian diet.  Life is different here.  I feel like the three pillars of Lent are woven in to my daily experience: prayer, fasting and alms giving.  This mission is drawing me closer to God through my everyday living.

The adventure continues…

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Everyday Life

I hope today’s blog post will give you a flavor of what I am experiencing, here in Damongo, Ghana.  It is mainly a compilation of photos for you to enjoy.

One Sunday afternoon, we took a short safari at Mole National Forest – which is a quick 20 minute car ride from Damongo.    Most everyone who visits Mole will pass through Damongo on their way.

We saw 12 elephants – one of which came very close to charging us.  We started following an elephant down the road.  He stopped to eat at a tree.   Suddenly we realized there was a second, much larger elephant, with tusks, following us!  We were sandwiched between two elephants!  The larger one kept coming toward us, ears wagging and he sounded his trumpet.  We ran into the bush, at the guides demand.  The guide had his rifle ready to shoot in to the air to scare the elephant, when the elephant himself, veered off the road into the bush.  We scrambled to our vehicles, having had a very exciting, yet scary few minutes. 

As our safari continued, we saw a number of other elephants.  Three teenage elephants at a water whole, some adult elephants, one taking a dip in the water while two others just having a drink.  We also drove right past an elephant whose hind feet seemed to be a bit stuck in the mud. A second elephant was in the trees coming to his rescue – again, we drove out of there quickly!

At Mole, we also saw various types of monkeys,  antelope, wart hogs, and baboons.

Here are some photos which show what everyday life looks like in and around Damongo.
Road to SAGISS
It is dry and very bumpy and we must go ever so slowly.  What would normally take 2-3 minutes to drive in United States takes us 18 minutes down this road.  Supposedly it is worse in rainy season!  I can imagine getting stuck….  We also meet huge trucks carrying gravel, logs and people – somewhat surprisingly, they are Mercedes Benz.

 Fencing along the road to SAGISS.  The hard work it took to make it is amazing.
Young boys selling chickens on side of road
Sheep walking freely through town
This is Isaac - my faithful phone guy. 
He sells me Vodafone minutes so I can be in touch with family and friends!  His stand is right next to the bank where I get Ghana currency.   He is a very nice 22 year-old young man who is patient with this older, American woman who doesn’t know much about how things work in Ghana – or how phones work in general – right Joe and Paul???!

Street vendor in Damongo selling used shoes.  Huge piles of shoes! 

Father on motorcycle with his three sons.  Common sight seeing either multiple people or large loads on motorcycles. Seeing a baby strapped to his momma’s back while she drives a motorcycle is also common.
Young men hanging out at the petrol station where we were airing our tires before trip to Tamale. 

Three girls at the Tamale market
One side street at Tamale market

SAGISS girl carrying items on head to Dining Hall after cleaning the Teachers lounge one evening after classes.
Goats sitting atop tractor in SAGISS compound

Pigs wandering the SAGISS compound
I hope you enjoyed the photos of everyday life in Damongo!  I am doing fine!  Keep me in your prayers!  God bless you.  The adventure continues……

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Getting Settled

It seems surreal to me that it has been only two weeks since I left the United States to travel to Ghana.  I have experienced so much since then.  I am starting to get in to a daily routine; I am starting to get settled in. 

I am laying on my bed, under my mosquito net, which took a few days for me to hang. (Since it is the dry season, the mosquitoes have not been so bad.)  If I think too much about being under the net, I sometimes get almost claustrophobic. On the other hand, it reminds me of those younger days when I would build blanket tents with my young sons - great memories. 
I have begun doing some cooking.  Now that we are in our new home, if we want to eat, we need to cook.  Luckily, I know a couple African dishes. My first dish was rice and peanut sauce.  My second meal was spaghetti. My third meal was rice, red sauce and fried plantains. 

At this point we are mainly eating vegetarian.  Most of our protein is coming from eggs, tuna and groundnuts (peanuts). I still have not gotten past the flies on the meat sitting out in the heat at the market. Meat just is not that attractive to me at this time.  By the way, we have dogs, cats, goats, chickens, guinea fowl and pigs grazing freely throughout the compound.  They seem as afraid of me as I am of them.  We also have had some small lizard/gecko type reptiles visiting us now and then, along with wasps, bees (we have hives in compound) and ants, ants, and more ants.

The girls attended Mass at the Cathedral on Sunday. The bus must take two trips, each time packed to the brim with girls.  They sang songs all the way there. As we passed through the town of Damongo, many heads turned to see who was making the beautiful music. Little children waived at the white woman (me) with curiosity as we passed by.

After Mass,  Karen, Mary (my fellow teacher and next door neighbor volunteering with the Peace Corp.) and I visited a friend of Mary's.  Christine is an American, who has lived in various parts of Ghana for 23 years. We had a wonderful visit, including a meal of juice and pancakes and sausage (I stuck with pancakes).  Christine provided us with insights and some sage advice.   We took a yellow-yellow (motorcycle taxi) home. They are widely used here in Damongo, along with motorcycles.

I officially started my job on Monday.  I am teaching Form 1 Food and Nutrition.  Instead of naming classes Sophomore, Junior and Senior, they are referred to as Form 1, Form 2 and Form 3.  I teach four -  one hour classes per week.  The girls are very sweet and interested in learning more about America and what I think of Ghana. The girls were excited to have their class picture taken to be posted to the United States.  As you can see, the girls have beautiful smiles.

The girls at the school are very eager to help us out.   They like carrying our bags and purses home for us.  Tonight, two Form 2 girls, Hagar and Agnes, walked home with me, carrying my bags.  They taught me how to burn my garbage (at my request), swept my courtyard for me, and did some dishes (not at my request).  They become offended if you turn down their offers to help, so I let them do it.   I treated them to some pineapple and a picture on my blog.
In addition to teaching, I have been assigned to be the school secretary by the Headmistress!  Once she found out I could type, she was very excited.  They have been without a secretary this school year. I will learn more about the running of the school and the Ghanaian education system.  Another perk is that I get my own office!
Tonight Mary invited us to supper as two Peace Corp friends were staying over on their way to Mole National Park. Mole is very close to Damongo.  (I hope to safari there someday soon.)  Mary is from New Mexico, her friends are from New York and Iowa.  They had some great stories to tell.  It was fun to compare their experiences and living environment to ours. 

I have learned I need to have an open mind in order to become fully integrated in to Ghanaian culture.  It will take some time, but I already know this opportunity is a gift from God. I will strive to make the most of my time here to fulfill God's call.

Please keep me in your prayers. 

The adventure continues.....

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

New Home for Three Years

I have arrived at my new home for the next three years:  St. Ann's Girls Senior High School. In Damongo, Ghana.

Msgr. Augustine "Gus'" picked  us, Karen and I, up from the Tamale airport. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Archbishop's home ( Diocese of Tamale ).  As we made our way through Tamale, we stopped to meet and visit a  number of priests.

The trip between Tamale and Damongo by vehicle, in our case an extended cab pick-up, loaded to the brim with 7 suitcases,  took about 2 hours.  We passed a few small villages along the road, where we saw mud huts, many goats, sheep and cattle.  

There were giant ant hills, some over 10 feet tall. 
Women and children carrying large bowls filled with various foods on their heads - often times using no hands!  
I just couldn't resist stopping the vehicle to buy some plantain chips and chin-chin (cookie-like snack) to take home to munch on.  We saw many people pumping water from village wells, and then carrying heavy buckets of water to their homes.

We were fortunate to stay in an air conditioned room in the Diocese of Damongo guest house the first three days and were served food and drinks from their very popular restaurant.  We met many more priests and the Archbishop Emeritus of Tamale there.  I have not yet met the Bishop of Damongo, Bishop Peter Paul as he is currently in Europe on business.

Damongo is in the dry season now, so most everything is dry and dusty and very hot and sunny.  Mid to high 90’s is typical.  The locals say the heat is just beginning - that March and April are the really hot months. My very large sun hat is coming in extremely handy.
Saturday, we took a trip in to town to visit the big, weekly market.  It was amazing to experience.   We walked around, seeing many types of food, from fruits, vegetables, dry beans, yams, and a myriad of spices.  There were booths selling colorful, bright patterned materials.  There were people selling second-hand shoes, clothes and children’s toys.  There were people selling foods they were cooking right there in the market. I even tasted some "local" (home-made) beer,that tasted similar to apple cider/cider vinegar.
Sunday we attended Mass at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, as Msgr.  Gus was celebrating the Mass there.  We met some religious sisters there and a number of parishioners. The people I have met are very kind.     They had both a young adult choir and a tribal choir singing throughout the Mass.   You could see the joy in the young adults as they sang, their bodies swaying to the beat of the music, large smiles beaming from their faces.  Mass lasted 2 1/4 hours, but it did not seem like it; the time flew by. 

Sunday evening   we toured the new Cathedral, which took 10 years to  build.  They started using the Cathedral in 2016.  It can hold 1,000 people.  Even though it is nothing like my home U.S. parish, the Cathedral of Saint Paul, it is beautiful in its own right. I will be attending Mass at the Cathedral this coming Sunday.

Monday, the big day arrived; we moved in to our new home for the next three years.
Karen and I are sharing an apartment in a four-plex within the compound of St. Ann's Girls Senior High School.  The compound is about 2-3 miles outside town, down a dirt road, full of bumps and ruts and dust.  One needs to drive slowly.  Looks like I won't be walking in to town for safety reasons, as it is a bit desolate. I will have to find a different way to get my exercise. Thankfully the compound is walled and gated, so I feel safe. 

The apartment is very nice.  It has a large courtyard, a kitchen with new stove/oven and new refrigerator.  There is a dining/living room combo, two bedrooms, a shower, and a toilet.  The bedrooms and living room have ceiling fans, but not the kitchen. Off the living room is a nice porch to relax in. We have running water, yet there are a few plumbing issues we need to work around - nothing we can't handle.

I am writing this blog as I lay in bed, my first night in my new home.  I feel blessed, excited, a bit wound up, yet at peace.   

Please keep me in your prayers.

The adventure continues.......

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Three Flights Away

I just received some exciting news! I will be leaving for my mission in Ghana on January 23rd. After three plane rides and a couple hour car ride, I will land in Damongo, Ghana.  It has suddenly all become very real.

I will spend the next month packing all the essentials: water purifier, solar shower, mosquito net, solar lamps/chargers, light cotton clothing, etc., and completing my last immunizations.

The most difficult task will be saying good-bye to my family and friends who mean so very much to me, most especially my two sons, my daughter and granddaughters.

I feel the LMH formation program has prepared me well to take on this adventure.  Please keep me in your prayers and stay tuned....

Monday, December 3, 2018

Called to Mission

I am Diane Yonga, a parishioner from the Cathedral of St. Paul, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  I will be serving as a Lay Mission Helper (LMH) missioner, in the Diocese of Damongo, Ghana, teaching Nutrition classes to students at St. Ann’s High School, an all-girl’s Catholic high school in Damongo.

One evening in October 2017, as I was in bed praying, God spoke to my heart and told me clearly “now is the time”.  God has called me to do overseas mission work – a seed planted in high school when I was enamored by thoughts of joining the Peace Corp.  These many years later, I am excited to encounter Christ in the people of Ghana!  I hope you enjoy following my adventures via this blog.