A Very Short Letter to My Son on His Birthday

My dear son,

You exude joy wherever you are.

Mum and I are building a future in which you will flourish and contribute greatness to our ailing cosmos. But more importantly, we are creating a future in which your decision about eternity will be founded on and connected to Christ’s saving grace. So, on this day, as you’ve turned 2, we are reminded of and exceedingly glad at the opportunity God has given us to continue moulding you.

Though I am not there to celebrate with you, I think of you everyday and I cherish every moment we have had to speak with each other on WhatsApp. My housemates and I wish you a very joyous and positively impactful birthday.

I hope you like the cake and presents I send early next month. I love you😘.



10 Funny But Serious Things I Experienced in my First Two Weeks in South Africa

This was my first time in two decades travelling to another African country and my first time ever travelling to the south of Africa. While I had heard a lot of things about South Africa, I didn’t think I would encounter these funny, sometimes serious, events. But not all of them were from South Africans by the way. Let’s start from the Cape Town Airport.

1. Immigration decided to search my bags before I exited the airport

For my journey to Stellenbosch, I took two large bags, a bag three-quarter the size of the large ones and a small bag to carry my laptop and documents. I think this caught the attention of the immigration officers and I was picked to be searched. The immigration officer who searched my bag was shocked on seeing the contents inside. In my bag were plates, cups, bowls, a utensil, cutlery, books, red pepper, Tom Brown, milo, sugar, besides clothes and footwear. She asked me, “Mr, why are you in South Africa?” And I responded, “I am here to do my PhD, and it’s for a period of three years”. To which she laughed and said, “Oh man, you really came prepared”, and sent me on my way.

2. For one week, I fed on Milo and biscuits for breakfast, and then Tom Brown and biscuits for lunch and supper

This was my own fault. While I couldn’t get to exchange South African currency in Ghana, I should have done so at the Cape Town Airport. I had just 50 rands and a few dollars on me, but I didn’t want to exchange the dollars, in anticipation of payment of the first instalment of my bursary. Sadly, the unexpected happened: my bursary delayed, and I had to survive on 50 rands. Thanks to my wife, she had asked me to take along a small cooking utensil. She had also loaded my bag with containers of roasted corn powder and sugar, Milo, biscuits, and some cutlery and bowls. That’s how I ended up taking Milo, Tom Brown and biscuits every day for one week.

Yesterday, I asked one of my house mates what she thought was happening, and she said she thought I was finding it difficult to like the food here or that I just loved Tom Brown so much that I couldn’t do without it.

3. My liquid soap got stolen, and someone drank off my fruit juice

I am not sure if this was some kind of welcome event for me. Anytime I remember this incident, I get as shocked and surprised as if it just happened. Why would anyone steal the liquid soap I bought? And on top of it, someone drank off my fruit juice.

4. I came with lots of heavy clothing thinking it will be winter

I don’t know how I kept thinking it would be winter in South Africa when I arrived. I had been told later that it was the reverse of Europe’s, but the primacy effect had caught up on me and my subconscious mind kept believing otherwise. And here was I under such unimaginable heat from the scorching sun. Alas, my senses came back to me: it was summer! Luckily, I had brought a few shirts and shorts. On the good side, I won’t have to buy heavy clothing when winter arrives in May/June.

5. An Afrikaans girl said she hates me and I smiled

On a very hot afternoon, I saw some Afrikaans kids playing outside and tried befriending them. But one of them, a girl of about six or seven was unsuccessfully asking her younger sister to stop being friendly. So she turned to me and said, “We don’t love you! We hate you!” I smiled and replied, “That’s okay, I’m cool.”

6. A house mate asked if I smoke ganja, and when I said no, he asked of my age

I was in the lounge watching the late news when a house mate asked if I smoke ganja. (He was holding one in his hand just about to smoke). I smiled and said, “No.” Then he asked, “Do you drink?” Again, I said, “No.” Can you believe the question he asked next: “How old are you?”

7. A lady looked in my face boldly, and with full knowledge, passed out gas during a meeting

We were in a meeting and the lady seated next to me looked into my eyes and said boldly, “Let me just free myself”. Immediately, she raised her right butt and passed out gas. I was torn between clapping for her and saying “well done”, or ignoring her and focussing on what was being discussed at the meeting. Looking back, I think I should have said, “Well done, beautiful girl.”

8. A friend asked if garden eggs (egg plants) were chicken eggs

Once I got notification from my bank that our bursaries had been paid, I rushed to the supermarket with a friend. I wanted to prepare some soup asap. I love soup. I asked where I could find garden eggs in the food market. She looked at me (obviously confused) and asked, “You mean chicken eggs?” Of course, I couldn’t have laughed. Cultural differences.

9. I shared a house mate’s laptop charger for one week

South Africa uses an M-type plug, but I didn’t know this. Since I had only 50 rands on me, there was no way I could buy one until my bursary had been paid. So, I had to adopt a strategy. I will normally use my mate’s charger overnight and return it the next morning. It continued until I bought an adapter. It was kind of embarrassing, but I couldn’t help it.

10. A barber thought a journey to Ghana could be made in a day by bus

I was at the barber’s shop and I got into conversation with the guy cutting my hair. We talked about Ghana and how things were relatively cheaper. But for some reason (and I don’t know why), the guy thought that one could make a journey to Ghana in a day by bus, and he was thinking of purchasing some items from Ghana. But when I told him those items may have to be shipped, he was surprised and asked, “How long is Ghana from here by bus”? I couldn’t help but laugh.

There are other things I could add like some people disturbing my sleep with rumpus sex. I will share those details with my wife only.


Support Michael’s Conference Travel to Leicester and Visit to Cambridge

As some of you may already be aware, I am raising funds to support my conference travel to Leicester and visit to Cambridge. So far, I have been able to raise 77% of the targeted amount of $1,170, and I would be grateful if you could make a donation of at least $1 and/or share this information with your network. Please click here to make a donation.

I am Michael Okyere Asante, a Ghanaian in my first year of PhD in Ancient Cultures (Classics in some other countries) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I have been accepted (with my co-author) to present a poster paper on ‘Teaching Classical Languages in Pre-tertiary Schools in Ghana’ (see pp. 124-5) at the Classical Association Conference, one of the largest gatherings of Classicists in the world, to be held in Leicester, UK from April 6 to 9, 2018.

I also intend to visit the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge on April 11 to familiarise myself with resources in the Faculty and to make an informed decision on taking up a research stay at Cambridge in the second year of my PhD. My contact person at Cambridge is Dr Caroline Vout.

The problem

One of the facts of the field of Classics is that Africa is least represented, and the problem is made worse by lack of travel funds to attend Classics conferences abroad. And so, even though I am privileged to be awarded a full bursary by the Classical Association covering accommodation and conference fees, I cannot attend the conference unless I am able to raise funds for a return economy flight ticket (Cape Town-London-Cape Town).

Background to my paper

I discovered that one of the two schools for this study was using Greek and Latin in ways that were totally different from what currently goes on in UK and US schools. The school, which uses a Government-based curriculum, had adopted a vocabulary-based teaching of Greek and Latin and provided a slot on the time table for it. The question I asked was “Why, after three decades, has interest in Greek and Latin surfaced in these two schools and how do they differ in their approaches to teaching the languages given their different curricular?”

Why this poster presentation is important

In the long term, I am looking forward to building on this research to investigate the impact of Greek and Latin learning in these schools on students’ performance in three core subjects: English, Mathematics and Science; and whether a vocabulary-based teaching of Greek and Latin can help improve literacy in these three core areas given the abysmal performances of pupils in these subjects during the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations.

Through my presentation, conference participants will learn of innovative ways in which Classical languages are being put to use in Ghana, especially under a national curriculum and environment that is unreceptive to the initiative. The paper will also provide conference participants the opportunity to understand how Classics is being used in minority areas and to reflect on ways in which Classics can be used to improve literacy among school pupils in Africa.

Budget $

Return flight (economy) 1,004

Train ticket-London (Heathrow) to Leicester 33

Bus ticket-Leicester to Cambridge 24

Bus ticket-Cambridge to London (Heathrow) 30

Accommodation at Cambridge (3 nights) 79

Total 1, 170

Where will excess money go?

One of the challenges I identified was the lack of Classical language teaching and learning materials in Ghana. Monies in excess of the targeted amount will therefore be used to purchase Classical language teaching and learning resources for the schools.

I would be grateful for any donation you can make towards advancing the Classics in Ghana and Africa by helping me attend this very important conference. Could you also share this with your networks.

To support, please click here.


Two Things I Learnt from the Delay in Obtaining Two PhD Fellowships

This is the last of a three-part article on why it took three years to obtain two PhD fellowships, and how God used the waiting period to turn things around in my favour. You can read the first and second parts here and here. In this final post, I share two key lessons I have learned from my waiting period.

In my last two posts in this series, I wrote about my experience obtaining two PhD fellowships after three years of waiting. Here are two key lessons I have picked from this experience:

Being positive about the delays that occur in our lives and letting that positive attitude reflect in our actions and reactions is key to achieving our goals.

Yes, being positive about the delays that occur in our lives is key to achieving our goals, but it’s not just about being positive, but also letting that positive attitude reflect in your actions and reactions. In other words, be productive during the waiting period.

My first disappointment at securing a PhD scholarship was when after obtaining admission to read a PhD in Classics at Cambridge, I failed to make it to my institution’s shortlist for Commonwealth Scholarship that year.

By now, Patience was pregnant. I deferred my admission to April of the following year, and again, I was not successful at obtaining a scholarship. It was in that month that Nyamedea was born. As I have indicated in my previous post, the delay helped me to bond with our new-born baby and to be involved in his personal development. I am not sure how it would have turned out without my presence.

The second positive thing I picked up was that the delay gave me enough time to care for my siblings. Two of them were in tertiary school and in their first years. As I was largely responsible for their schooling and upkeep (including my dad’s), the delay offered me the opportunity that a PhD scholarship would not have allowed in providing for their needs, besides my wife’s and son’s. By staying in employment therefore, it helped to avert the financial burden that would have overwhelmed us.

The third positive thing is that the delay offered me the opportunity to support my wife in a most difficult period. Coming out of a Caesarean Section for her first child, the least she needed was for me to be away. My support made a lot of difference in her recuperation and offered her the opportunity to bounce back to academic life. Now my wife (who is also on a fully-funded PhD programme) and I can focus on getting our PhDs. The PhD couple? There you have it😊.

We plan our ways, but God directs our paths (Proverbs 16:9).

During our marriage counselling, one of the assignments our counsellor Rev Emmanuel Adjetey Quaye gave us was to develop two separate 5-year plans on paper. Though it was a difficult task, we prayed about it and rather developed three different plans of 5 years each—call them Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. While I cannot give out details of these plans, three things were key for us: spacing of our children, timing of our PhDs, and investment/retirement plans.

On the first two scores, none of our plans went through in the exact order, but I am happy to say that God directed our steps in ways we could never have imagined. Things just turned out differently, often in ways that we couldn’t explain.

So, was it a waste of time to plan? Not at all. We encourage everyone to make such plans. They help you have a sense of purpose and direct your energy towards common goals.

Let me give you a fair idea of what our plan on those two scores looked like.

Our plan was to have a baby in the first year of our marriage and for me to commence my PhD; then in the final year of my PhD, have a second baby, so that the following year, Patience could commence her own PhD while I paid attention to the kids.

But what happened? We had our first child in the first year of our marriage, and it took three years, counting our courtship, for me to obtain a fully-funded PhD place. But as you have read from the previous articles, God brought everything into perfection.

So we plan our ways, but God directs our paths.

For My Birthday: In Praise of the Women Who Have Fed Me

I have a lot of thanks to give the women who have contributed to who I am today. On my birthday, I write to honour these women.

Mary Annor Okyere

My biological mother was the uniting force of our family. My younger sibling and I lived and schooled at Tai and Sheila Solarin’s Mayflower School, Ikenne-Remo, several miles from where my Dad lived and had his business in Lagos.

So, when it came to my upbringing in general, Mum was the point of call—and if she had not inculcated in me the spirit of kindness, respect, humility, contentment, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Indeed, my religious foundation began with her and she continued to encourage me to persevere in the Lord when bad times often shook us.

But on one such day, 18 December 2009, she wouldn’t be there to encourage me. She would leave us at the age of 47 to be with the Lord. But the legacy she left us remains and even though she is not here to see who I have become, she knew that this was going to be—because she never stopped believing in me.

On this day, I honour the memory of the best mother.

Comfort Ababio (Cee Connie)

I call her Cee Connie. She is one of my very senior cousins but a year older than my mom. When our mom departed, I was 23, a first-born, and just three months into my National Service. My three siblings—Mark, Akos, and Junior—were 21, 16 and 12 respectively, and they were all in school. My dad had not fully recovered from a severe stroke that had struck him a decade earlier. In fact, we were all dependent on my mom’s meagre income until she died. So when our family met, one of the key topics for discussion was who would take care of us—or at least my siblings—for though I was not really employed, I was done with school and the understanding was that I would be able to find my way around life.

The question was put before family members and it was Cee Connie who offered herself and took on the responsibility of continuing in my mother’s role, and she has proved to be a good mother. No two humans can be the same—so Cee couldn’t have done exactly what our mom did for us, but she has done what every good woman taking over someone’s role will do, so that we only strongly remember the vacuum left by our mom during occasions such as funerals, Mother’s Days and death anniversaries.

On this day, I honour her.

Esther Annor

Born in 1921, Esther Annor became the woman who taught me about being industrious and persevering. She was my grandmother. But for her, I wouldn’t have attended secondary school.

I had received my BECE results but my enrolment in a senior secondary school was very bleak. At the time in 2001, the full fees for a day student was 500,000 old Ghana cedis, but it was impossible for my parents to raise that amount. We went to family members, but most said they were not in the position to help. Those who promised couldn’t keep their word. By this time my dad was contemplating getting me apprenticed to a mechanic or a tailor when one distant family member loaned my mother 100,000 old Ghana cedis.

But as a new entrant, the school required full fee payment. It took the intervention of a step-uncle for the school administration to agree to an initial payment of 200,000 old Ghana cedis. It was my grandmother who donated the remaining 100,000 old Ghana cedis.

Without that kind gesture, I wouldn’t be here.

But that’s not the end. I lived with her for fourteen good years, received all the home training because as the only ones (with my brother) living with her, we had to do all the chores that traditionally were expected of a woman. That training helped a lot in my relationship with women in general and gave me an outlook of life that approached even the most insignificant thing with humility, respect and gratitude. She departed in 2013 at the age of 92.

On this day, I honour her memory.

Professor Folake Onayemi

I have already written about Professor Onayemi in one of my blog posts. But I will give a summary here.

When we lost our mom, my family assumed that since I was already doing my national service, things would go fine with me. But that was not to be the case; I would rather live in the most abject of conditions, often depending on my friends. In fact, if you wanted to see hunger live and coloured, you would see it by looking at me. I even fainted on one occasion.

When Professor Onayemi heard of my plight, she was so sorry and offered to provide a stipend of 50 Ghana cedis each month. It turned out there were other numerous persons she was supporting too.

It was also professor Onayemi who encouraged me at the time I was doing my national service to resit two Latin papers, which I passed successfully, and encouraged me to publish the results of my undergraduate long essay in a refereed journal.

On this day, I honour her.

Gladys Setordzie

Auntie Gladys, as I affectionately call her, is a Clinical Psychologist. I met her as an undergraduate student and she has been a mentor and a counsellor to me since then. She took me like her son and showed keen interest in my progress.

In my moments of indecision, in my moments of heartbreaks, in my moments of joy, Auntie Gladys has been there to share in them and to provide the most loving words of hope and encouragement, and provided direction for taking concrete decisions about my life, particularly my marriage and career. Indeed, her counsel proved very strong in my final decision of a spouse.

On this day, I honour her.

Mama Mintah

Though I was brought up in a Christian home, my point of decision to live for the Lord came when I was 18. It was through the ministration of Mama Mintah and her husband, Rev Seth Nana Mintah.

By their hands, I got discipled and spent my free time having conversations about scriptures with them, for we lived a stone’s throw away. It was she who introduced me to the deliverance ministry and groomed me to keep faith in God even in the most difficult times. Mama Mintah became my ‘spiritual mother’. To this day, though she is domiciled in Kumasi, she has never stopped checking up on my progress and providing spiritual guidance.

On this day, I honour her.

Nelly Adu and Edith Agyapomaa

When I was posted for my national service, these were the women I worked with. Since 2009, they have been an encouragement to me—from providing words of advice to supporting me in times of need.

It was during my MPhil that I received the greatest support from these women. I have written somewhere about the challenges of taking care of immediate family while schooling. In those moments, their words of encouragement, their desire to see me succeed, their motherly advice, kept me on my toes. Where it became necessary, they put in word for me for my shortcomings and my weaknesses. For nothing at all, my career progress is partly thanks to these administrative secretaries at the time.

On this day, I honour them.

Bernice Adamson, Irene Quansah, Margaret Momo Laryea, Precious Larbi, Rhodalyn Obeng Gyasi, Lily Omane Boateng, Afua Darfour, Janet Boatemaa Yeboah, Juliet Asabea

When the path through life became rocky, these were the ladies who provided for me—food, clothing, money, company, friendship, conversations. They were those friends who did not consider my background or the challenges in which I was drowned. Instead of shunning away from me like others did, these ladies exhibited true friendship—selfless individuals, expecting nothing in return.

For the many years I went hungry and was impoverished, if I have survived to this day, it’s partly thanks to them. Without their provisions, I wouldn’t have the strength to do whatever activities have contributed to where I am today. Whenever I look back, I know it was God working in my life.

On this day, I honour them.

My exes

In some respects, they taught me a few positive lessons, and I am grateful that they left me in the way. If they had not, I may not have been where I am today.

On this day, I honour them.

Araba Nunoo

She calls me ‘Obolo’ (fat man) for a reason. When I talk about reflecting hunger throughout my national service and MPhil days, you will understand why I earned that name from Araba. You know Araba can be very funny—she meant the opposite. I was so thin that you could literally see my ribs (I can show you a picture if you want).

Araba knows my story very well, and she became one of those few people who constantly nudged me with encouragement not to give up. She knew the story about my mom’s demise, my dad’s stroke, my having three dependants, and all the challenges I went through getting my MPhil done. If there is one friend who has followed keenly my progress, it is Araba.

On this day, I honour her.

Theophilia Lartey and Angela Azumah Alu

This duo is the most encouraging pair of personalities I have ever met. From our very first meeting in 2009 at a career development seminar (Angela’s case) and at Jubilee Hall (Theo’s case) at the University of Ghana, they have consistently proved to be excellent friends—people with whom I can confidently share my failures, aspirations, and successes.

But there is just one more thing—implementing our plans to build business partnerships. I know they would smile at this.

On this day, I honour them.

And finally,

Patience Okyere Asante

Filled with a warm personality and a smile that turns darkness to light, Patience became the burning sunset in my life. The circumstances surrounding our first meeting in 2008 and our marriage some seven years later can only be told fully in a book.

On this day, I honour the most precious woman in my life.

What I Did While I Waited Three Years to Obtain Two PhD Fellowships

This is the second of a three-part article on why it took three years to obtain two PhD fellowships, and how God used the waiting period to turn things around in our favour. You can read the first part here. In today’s post, I share the things I did as I waited for this day to come.

The waiting period was somehow frustrating. I was on a 3-year non-renewable contract with the university, and this meant that I had to obtain a funded place on a PhD programme by the year 2017, otherwise I would have to look elsewhere for employment.

The policy itself—that MPhil holders seeking academic appointment at my university could only be employed for a non-renewable contract period of 3 years—was frustrating, especially given the staffing situation in some departments.

What made the situation more frightening was that in addition to my immediate family, I was taking care of my dad, and two siblings who were in tertiary school. If I wanted a more sustainable employment in academia and especially in my university, I needed to obtain a PhD as soon as I could. So, what did I do when this was not forthcoming?

I took care of, and bonded with, our son

I mentioned earlier that my going to Cambridge would have coincided with the birth of my son, Nyamedea, and I couldn’t imagine the trouble both my wife and son would have gone through after the Caesarean Section. Even with support from family members and friends, it would have been hell for them without me. And this is why.

Patience went through the surgery in April and she needed to heal. While we had her mother come stay with us for some weeks, often Nyamedea will sleep only when I carried him in my chest and paced back and forth. I would do this for hours until about 2am when the boy would put to sleep.

Then in August of the same year, Patience started attending to her duties as Graduate Assistant at the Institute of African Studies. Nyamedea was just four months old and we couldn’t afford to put him in a crèche.  School was in session for Patience’s mother who teaches at Sefwi.

What this meant was that I had to bring him every morning to my office. My office became a crèche and ‘collection site’ for food particles. For those who have seen my video updates on how I bond with my son, you will understand where it started from—it’s mostly a result of the time I spent with him in those formative months as a baby.

I was very privileged to have my own office, and to have very supportive staff who would offer a helping hand during times when I had to go teach a class, attend a faculty meeting, or when Nyamedea’s cries for attention were just unbearable. Even staff from other offices were willing and ready to help. But there were those days when no matter what I did, Nyamedea would cling to me. During those days, I wished there were paternal leaves for fathers.

The whole experience affected my research output and health. That year the Dean wrote on my appraisal form that I should be encouraged to publish, and I developed severe chest pains for a long time from carrying Nyamedea to and fro my office.

I engaged in research activities and networked with other scholars

Before Nyamedea’s birth, I had been engaged in some research projects. I went back to them, presented a seminar paper, and participated in two international conferences, one in Chicago, USA and the other in Edinburgh, Scotland. My return to research resulted in the publication of a paper by the third quarter of 2017, and by the middle of the fourth quarter, had resulted in the acceptance of my paper abstract for a conference in Leicester, UK.

I continued focusing on improving myself by seeking advice from my mentors and by networking with other scholars from Africa and beyond. It was through such engagement that I got hint of the Lisa Maskell Fellowship and applied. Without the networks I built during this period, I doubt I would have been telling this story, and without my position as faculty member, I wouldn’t have received funding to attend these conferences.

I improved my language and teaching skills

If you recall, in my last post I wrote about the demands a PhD in Classics required. I began going through my previous lessons in Greek and Latin and reading more to improve my proficiency. Then I engaged a private tutor to teach me French.

Although I couldn’t make it through the number of months I set for myself due to work and family demands, the three months I spent learning some French was worth it. I can’t say I have met the requirements I desired, but when I go back to it, I know it won’t be as difficult as when I began.

I also continued to give myself to teaching in my department, and was privileged to attend two workshops that shaped my teaching methodology and philosophy. My three-year teaching period also enriched academic life in the department and helped improve staff-student ratio.

We mounted a PhD programme and successfully applied for a full fee-waiver for the first four years of the programme

There was no PhD programme in Classics in Ghana but by 2016 my department had a programme approved on paper which had not been advertised. Together with my former head of department, I pushed for the advertisement and commencement of the first ever Classics PhD programme in Ghana and successfully applied for a full-fee waiver for admitted students in both the Classics and Philosophy PhD programmes.

So, I used the waiting period to help create opportunities here in Ghana not just for myself, but also for my colleagues and those who would come after us. I remember being asked by a well-known professor what I wanted, and I said I wanted PhD funding for myself and my colleagues. Then she said, “let’s talk about you”.

But I didn’t want to be successful alone—I wanted to carry my colleagues along. And so, I became a constant reminder to follow up on our proposals. A month after obtaining approval to our proposal for fee waivers, I received the two PhD fellowships—the very news that has generated these series of articles. I declined one, which then passed on to one of my colleagues. And while I am not a beneficiary of the fee-waivers due to my acceptance of the other fellowship, I am excited that the rest of my colleagues can complete their PhDs within the next four years.

I audited a postgraduate course in gender at the Institute of African Studies

My initial PhD proposal was on class and equality with a departure from gender equality. But on further reading and discussion with my mentors, I made substantial revisions to the proposal by focusing on gender equality in Platonic and African philosophical thought. It was this proposal I submitted for the PhD fellowships.

In order to enrich my understanding of gender in African cultures, I audited a postgraduate course in gender at the Institute of African Studies. The professors who led the seminar were very helpful. I discussed my proposed study with them and they were excited to have me audit their seminar.

I contributed to discussions, critiqued papers and made presentations on them. I am sad to say, however, that due to work demands, I could not sit through the whole semester, but the few weeks I spent there enriched my understanding of gender and helped to refine my PhD proposal.

I continued putting my gifts to use

I didn’t let the frustration from the delays prevent me from serving people. I provided mentoring, counselling and career guidance to numerous young people from within and outside the university.

I set up a mentoring class in my department to help students navigate aspects of life that were not discussed in lecture rooms—something to get them prepared for work after school and life in general. We met every Tuesday in my office from 10am to 11am. In addition, we hosted a bible study in my office every Tuesday at lunch time for our mentees.

I gave myself to speaking and counselling sessions with individuals and groups. Together with my wife, I helped newly married couples to understand the challenges of the first year of marriage and how to manage them.

At church, my wife and I continued to serve as Junior Youth teachers, and I helped my congregation to develop a mentoring programme for young people, while I continued to write for our blogs and organise Christian conferences—including the Mimesis Christou Bible Conference and Missions and Family Life Conference.

I published a book and took a course in ministry

By March 2016, I had published my second book on Christian spirituality—Are You Waxing Cold?—and spent some time talking about the subject of my book in congregations. As someone who has been involved in Christian ministry since age 17, I took the opportunity to get some training at the seminary, both to refine my own theological views and to make me effective in reaching out.

The training helped bring to fore the errors in my theology and provided me the skills for doing proper biblical study and interpretation. It also helped to enrich my speaking and writing ministry.

And, finally, I prayed!

Though not in chronological order, these activities happened within the three-year period I was feverishly seeking opportunity for a fully-funded PhD programme. By now, I guess you have learnt some lessons, but in the final part I will bring out these lessons more clearly for your own encouragement and purposeful waiting.

I Caused It but God Did It: Why It Took Three Years to Obtain Two PhD Fellowships

Last week my wife Patience shared a testimony of how she secured a fully funded PhD scholarship, and she used that to communicate a very important lesson on acting on our beliefs and prayers.

Two months after she commenced her PhD, I received two PhD fellowships—a Lisa Maskell Fellowship to study Ancient Cultures in the Department of Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship to study Classics at the University of Ghana.

I was among about 18 students from Africa and 10 from Ghana respectively who were selected for these prestigious fellowships. But not many know that it’s taken me three years to finally secure a place on a fully-funded PhD programme.

In this three-part article, I want to share with you why securing a funded place delayed, what I did myself to cause the delay, how I made use of my waiting period, how God used the delay to work out His plans for my life, and the lessons I have taken from the three years of waiting.

Some background

Immediately I submitted my MPhil dissertation, I began making plans to enrol on a fully funded PhD programme. Considering the academic path I had chosen and the investments I had made in acquiring an MPhil degree without financial support, it was crucial that I secured a place on a funded PhD programme if I ever wanted to start a PhD by the end of the first year of my marriage.

Yes, I wanted to get married first but I had no fiancée (the story of how I got married two years after this will be for another day). And to get married as planned, I needed to be financially stable.

Once my work was submitted, I put in an application for Teaching Assistantship, then in August 2014 I was appointed Assistant Lecturer. It was a month prior to this—July 9, 2014—that I proposed marriage to my platonic friend of six years. By the following year, on July 25, 2015, Pat and I were married.

So, it seemed my plans had gone through smoothly, and I was ready to commence the process of obtaining a funded place on a PhD programme. Since no university in Ghana had a PhD programme in Classics at the time, my options were limited to schools abroad. However, it will take me two more years before my plan will materialise, and these are the reasons why.

I limited my options

One of my goals was to complete a PhD in a maximum time of four years, so US schools were out of the question—it takes 5 to 6 years to complete a PhD in Classics in the US.

Besides, to read a PhD in Classics, I needed to have done three to four years each of Greek and Latin at advanced level, read some primary sources in their original languages, and while on the programme, acquired proficiency in two additional foreign languages (including German, and French or Italian).

I couldn’t have met these requirements immediately and I was not ready for the long journey. I also told myself that if I was going to study outside Ghana, it would be better to do it beyond my continent. I therefore limited my options to the UK, Canada and Australia in the first few years.

But all my applications to these schools were rejected, except those for Cambridge in the UK, Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and University of Sydney in Australia. However, the admissions came without funding.

I deferred my admission to Cambridge hoping to secure a Commonwealth Scholarship, but I failed to make it to the final round. By now I had spent so much time and money on preparing and submitting applications. I was both frustrated and tired. All advice to consider other options had fell on deaf ears.

I was obsessed with the top-notch schools

I don’t mean to say one should settle for schools that are sub-standard, no! And in no way am I demoting Stellenbosch University or the University of Ghana. Both universities have reputations to boast of, especially in Africa. But during this period, no university in Ghana had a PhD programme in my field of study and there was no access to funding to even consider these places.

But I should have created a balance and not applied only to first-rate schools. There are schools which may not match the likes of Cambridge and Yale, but they may be very good in their own right. I failed to apply this principle. All the schools I applied to were leading schools in their respective countries.

What this meant was that I was competing with foreigners who might have spent their secondary school period studying Greek and Latin and other foreign languages at advanced levels—and here was I, with limited preparation in these languages, applying for a position on the same programme as them. The least I could have done—an advice I failed to take—was apply to their one-year masters programme and then move on to do my PhD afterwards. 

I did not take my time to prepare

Looking back at the whole process, I did not take my time to prepare. I was so much in a hurry. It was like I had to do this now and now! My MPhil period was a very hectic and troubling one—I was self-financing my education, studying and working full-time, and taking care of two siblings and a father.

I slept on average three to four hours a day. I went through a lot of depression. One night, I boarded a mini-bus to Madina, alighted and walked from one end of the road to the other, returned to my hostel and slept. A month after submitting my work, I started working, then a year later I got married and started thinking about PhD. After going through all that, I should have taken my time to prepare.

We failed to plan well

My wife and I may have failed to plan well. I say ‘may’ because we both wanted a child in our first year of marriage, and I wanted to commence a PhD by the end of that first year of marriage. We were very unreal about the cost of carrying forward such a plan. Even if I had secured funding for the Cambridge PhD, I doubt I would have been able to take it up, for in the very month I was scheduled to leave, Patience delivered our son through Caesarean Section.

But, we did not want to hold back the possibility of having a child while we looked for a PhD at the same time. Our plan was for me to start and finish a PhD first, by which time we would have two kids, then my wife could commence hers while I took care of the kids. So, the failure in our plan was not in asking for a child and a PhD, but in failing to calculate the real cost and failing to design realistic timelines.

God may have been trying to save me from a wrong timing

While I acknowledge the part I played in causing my own delay, I believe, to some extent, that God was saving me from a wrong timing, and He was using my own mistakes to do this since I was not ready to listen to His voice.

Truth is, while my wife and I prayed about our plans for PhD, in our hearts we were not ready for anything that would cut short our plans. I believe if God had said, “Michael, your time to leave will be in January 2018,” I would have shouted back, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Our hearts were closed to any voice that would not agree with us.

This is what desperation and lack of trust can do. I had just three years on a non-renewable contract with my employer. So, at all cost, I needed to get a PhD to stay in full-time academic appointment. Otherwise, we were in for the hard times I experienced during my MPhil. However, my timing of applications may have been wrong. In our desperation, we couldn’t trust that God will bring everything into perfect timing before the end of 2017.

Updated: 09/02/2018

Continue to Part II of the article.