Twisted Eyes

While driving from Accra to Tamale our vehicle overheated.  Sitting in a stationary vehicle in the tropics in the middle of the afternoon has little to recommend it to the sane.  So we got out and found shade.  One of my fellow passengers spotted a juvenile chameleon in a clump of elephant grass.  Out came my camera.

While the slow and patient adult chameleon will pose almost endlessly for any photographer, this young fellow did not want the publicity.  He was racing (well, in chameleon terms) around the grass to escape.  He obviously was not aware of the dangers of speeding away from determined paparazzi.  But then, he did not have a chauffeur and so was doing his own driving.  Meanwhile, I was single-mindedly bending and bobbing to stick my camera into the elephant grass at the angle and moment that would get me a photo for which the tabloids would pay big bucks.
I finally caught him in the bizarre pose seen in the second photo.  To keep track of me, he has twisted one of his independently revolving eyes so far around that it is glaring at me backward over the top of his head.

Seeing that, I experience a curious combination – a gasp of awe and a chuckle at the same time.  Did God intend that parts of his creation strike us as awesome and amusing at the same time?

Here we have a creature who can keep one eye peeled on where he is going while tracking paparazzi behind him with the other.  The heat, fatigue of travel and my crazed photo hunt must have fried my brain because the most bizarre thought came into it.  If he weren’t green and reptilian, this little fellow might make a good spokesman for car insurance.

Paa Willie

I have been doing some consulting for an organization in Ghana doing Bible translation – the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT). One of the amazing stories I have encountered is that of Paa Willie.

Paa Willie is the affectionate title of respect that all Ghanaians give to William Ofori-Atta. In the 1950s, Paa Willie was a leader in the independence movement in Ghana when it was a British colony. Along with five others, he was arrested and imprisoned by the British. Their arrest made them popular heroes. Even today they are known throughout Ghana as the Big Six.

Paa Willie is the third from the right in this photo of the Big Six. The faces of the Big Six including that of Paa Willie (upper right) are on all Ghana money.

Paa Willie was more than a political figure. He founded a church in Accra out of which came the first generation of influential educated Christians in Ghana. He and they believed that true faith and the Ghana’s development depended on all Ghanaians having God’s Word in their heart language. So, along with others, Paa Willie also founded GILLBT. In Paa Willie, GILLBT has a tremendous heritage – the equivalent of an American organization having Benjamin Franklin as one of its founders. But he did much more than sign founding documents. He gave himself in practical ways. When the missionaries working in the languages in rural areas came to Accra he had them in his home for food, relaxation and fellowship. He took an active interest in the work of Bible translation, asking questions and making suggestions.

His life has inspired books. The 100th year since his birth will be celebrated in October. That will be a big event in Ghana. Among the things written about him are:

“Paa Willie has shown by his way of life that men who lead other men must know that it is God only who endows powerful men with their power, and that therefore to wield that power effectively and rewardingly, they must he humble and God- fearing. This is the greatest lesson of his long life.” (-K A. Gbedrrna)

“Paa Willie was all these: a prince, an educationist, a barrister, a nationalist, a “freedom fighter” with no gun, a politician, a CEO of excellence, a Minister of State an unblemished Presidential candidate, Chairman of Council of State and above all a born-again believer.” (Prof Stephen Adei)

Some may put missionaries on a pedestal. But all successful work springs from its committed supporters. In heaven, Ghanaians will loudly bless Paa Willie for their political independence. But their thankfulness to him for the freedom they got through reading the Bible in the 32 (and still counting) Ghanaian languages which GILLBT has translated will be so much louder and happier and longer. I am looking forward to lending my own hands to the applause.

For more about the transformational capacity of the Heart Language which Paa Willie thought foundational to faith and Ghana’s development see


After a 10 1/2 hour flight from Atlanta to Accra, Ghana and another 90 minutes clearing immigration, retrieving my baggage and getting to the Guest House, I was dry as a bone.

So I went to the Guest House self-serve cooler. On the cooler was posted a price list in cedis (the local currency): small water 0.60 cedis, large water 1.20 cedis, minerals 0.70 cedis. I saw the water, but no rocks or other minerals. There was Coca-Cola and other soft drinks.  It turns out that soft drinks are called “minerals” here.

I could not keep that in my head. So every time I was offered minerals I returned a blank stare which qualifies me as a “dumb foreigner” – a category I have been in before more often than I would like to admit.  Maybe I need more minerals.

Weak Things

In concluding his popular book, “The State of Africa” (The Free Press, London, 2006, Pgs 681-682), Martin Meredith writes:

“In reality fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before. Already the world’s poorest region, it is falling further and further behind all other regions of the world. Its average per capita national income is one-third lower than the world’s next poorest region, South Asia. Most African countries have lower per capita incomes now than they had in 1980 or, in some cases, in 1960. Half of Africa’s 880 million people live on less than US$1 a day. Its entire economic output is no more than $420’ billion, just 1.3 per cent of world GDP, less than a country like Mexico. Its share of world trade has declined to half of what it was the l980s, amounting to only 1.6 per cent; its share of global investment is less than 1 per cent. It is the only region where per capita investment and savings has declined since 1970. It is the only region where school enrollment is falling and where illiteracy is still commonplace: two in five Africans – and half of all African women – are illiterate, compared to one m every eight adults m East Asia or Latin America. It is also the only region where life expectancy is falling. On a list drawn up by the United Nations Development Programme, all twenty-five countries that rank lowest in terms of human development are African.”

Meredith is more pessimistic than other authors, but there is no doubt that Africa’s people have suffered much and many continue to suffer.  Some have given up on the continent or considered it “hopeless” as did The Economist magazine in May 2001.

Like many writers, Meredith does not treat one key aspect of Africa’s life and history.  That aspect is the spectacular growth of Christianity in Africa south of the Sahara.  According to Wikipedia, “Christianity is embraced by the majority of the population in most Southern, Central and Eastern African nations and in some West  African nations”  A website entitled “African Christianity” maintained by Bethel Seminary ( declares that “…  worldwide Christianity has become increasingly African. African and Latin American Christians outnumber those of any other continent.  There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than on any other continent …”

The growth of the church in Africa and other places outside North America and Europe was first noticed by Dr. Andrew Walls who wrote “The Missionary Movement in Christian History”.  A spate of books has followed as you can see below.

In ways they probably never saw during their lifetimes, God honored the faith of the first missionaries, those who sent them and those who stood behind them financially and in prayer. We also easily forget the hardships endured by the first missionaries, as a previously undecipherable letter from David Livingston recently revealed.

Those who believed under the missionaries’ ministry did most of the evangelism.  The majority of African Christians today believe because of the witness of another African and the vitality of African churches.

Sometime in the next decade Africa will become the center of world Christianity at least in terms of sheer numbers of believers.  Some church denominations which sent missionaries to Africa now have more believers in Africa than where they originated.  The Anglican church is but one example.

In 1900 about 80% of all Christians lived in North America and Europe.  By 2020, North America and Europe will have only 40% of all Christians in the world.  This trend caused Lamin Sanneh, professor of history at Yale who comes from the Gambia, to write a book entitled “Whose Religion is Christianity?”

During my visit to Ghana in June 2010, the evidence of this trend was everywhere.  As I noted in my blog at the time, there were churches everywhere including mega-churches filled with growing numbers of the middle class.  Bible themes and names are evoked in the names of businesses and on vehicles.  The country where Dayle and I work – the Democratic Republic of Congo – went from 3% Christian to over 90% from 1900 and 1970.   It is estimated that by 2020 that country will have more evangelical Christians than any other country in the world.

For some, this presents a conundrum – how is it that a continent can be overwhelmingly Christian and yet fare so badly?  That is much too big and complex a question to answer here.  Its answer is probably found as much in the assumptions behind that question as in Africa.

The growth of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa brings Christianity back to a reality it knew at its birth.  I am reminded of verses  26-31 of I Corinthians chapter 1:

26 My dear friends, remember what you were when God chose you. The people of this world didn’t think that many of you were wise. Only a few of you were in places of power, and not many of you came from important families. 27 But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.      28 What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important. 29 God did all this to keep anyone from bragging to him. 30 You are God’s children. He sent Christ Jesus to save us and to make us wise, acceptable, and holy. 31 So if you want to brag, do what the Scriptures say and brag about the Lord.

At its birth, Christianity was a religion of the powerless and marginalized but for the last few hundred years it has been associated with the most powerful and prosperous countries of the world.  Today, God is taking Christianity back to being a religion predominantly of the marginalized and oppressed.  There is no doubt that those in the powerful countries who are abandoning the Christian faith consider Africa one of the “weak things of this world”.  If we watch long enough, the rest of this Scriptural equation will come true – Christianity in Africa will “put the powerful to shame”.

If the shift in Christianity has you worried, the solution is to follow the instruction in the passage  – “So if you want to brag, do what the Scriptures say and brag about the Lord.”

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