Stick Your Neck Out

“Behold the tortoise; he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”~James B. Conant

Life does not wait for idle hands. If you want to progress, move. Move, shift your butts, stand on your toes, climb the ladder. Like the tortoise, stick your neck out.

In 2003, after my Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSSCE), my step uncle asked what career I wanted to pursue. I told him I wanted to be a teacher so I was going to the training college. I had topped my school (a less-endowed school at the time) with an aggregate of 10, and written the private candidates exams (Nov-Dec), clocking a combined aggregate of 8.

Then he asked, “Where do you want to teach?”

“I want to teach in a secondary school,” I replied.

“No!” he protested.” Enrol in a university and become a lecturer and professor. You have the capacity to become a lecturer. So go straight to the university.”

I am very sure my step-uncle did not mean it was useless to attend a training college, nor impossible to become a lecturer if one went to the training college.

In fact, he himself was a retired teacher and had gone to training college. And at the time, I knew a former teacher who had trained as a teacher before becoming a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast (UCC).

My step-uncle rather meant that I look beyond my circumstances (financial set back, lack of motivation) to work towards a bigger vision.

It wouldn’t come easy

My dad had lost his livelihood as a result of stroke. My mum relied on petty trading to take care of the four of us. I recall vacations when I hawked used clothing and plastic bowls.

So it was going to be difficult. And yes it was. I spent an additional year after school teaching to save some money. After a year of teaching, I lent the money to a very good friend of mine who had gained admission to a training college. Because I had one more year before school, I thought it was proper to lend help. He promised to pay back but never did.

Let’s make this simple.

In spite of the challenges I went through, I stuck my neck out. I did not stop walking, moving, running.

Tomorrow marks exactly three years since I started lecturing at the University of Ghana, and when I look back I thank my step-uncle for telling me to “stick my neck out” and “stretch my imagination”. But I am most thankful to God who helped me every step of the way.

Below is what I posted on Facebook at 3.55pm on 31st July 2014, a day before I began lecturing:

“A new chapter of my life begins tomorrow; I assume a new appointment at the University of Ghana. My eyes are filled with tears of gladness as I write this. I look back and all I can say is God is faithful. No matter where you are at the moment, if your plan is to get to that next spot, I can assure you that as long as it is in God’s will and as long as you really want to get there and you work at it, you will surely get there. It could be your spiritual growth, career, marriage, education, project. Just don’t give up. Don’t stop here. Where you are going is far better than where you are now. At every major step of the way in my life, getting to the next spot seemed very impossible, but I held on to God’s word for my life, got up every time I fell, encouraged myself in the face of odds and discouragement from some friends and relatives, listened to good counsel, pressed on, and gave myself to hard work. And this is how far He has brought me. Help me in thanking God.”

Stick your neck out; don’t stop moving!

Merge Father and Mother’s Days: In Favour of Parent’s Day

In Ghana (and elsewhere), many fathers complain that they are not given as much recognition on Father’s Day as is given to mothers on Mother’s Day; Father’s Days are not as hyped as Mother’s Days. In trying to resolve this imbalance, on Mother’s Day this year I posted a Facebook status that said, “Happy Parent’s Day” instead of “Happy Mother’s Day”. Immediately two females commented. One reminded me it was Mother’s Day; the other asked what my status meant and that I should allow mothers to be celebrated.

There have been arguments justifying why, generally, mothers are cherished more than fathers. And there are several stories of some fathers deserting their families. I wasn’t surprised to see a comment from a man who said that he considered his mother as his father because he had nothing to do with his biological father. But we also know of several examples where many fathers have been indispensable in the lives of their children; and where, on the contrary, some mothers have abandoned their children.

I do understand that for many years, mothers generally have been at a disadvantage, so it makes sense that they be cherished beyond measure. However, things have changed now. My wife goes through a lot as a mother, but I also go through a lot as a father. My mother went through a lot to bring us up, but my dad also went through a lot. The difference is that because we were often with our mum, it was easy for us to see what she went through to take care of us, but it was difficult to see that of our father. Things only made sense to us when we grew up.

The point is, despite the limelight increased contact with their children places mothers in, the role fathers play cannot be regarded as second fiddle. And I strongly believe that the two distinct celebrations, rather than acknowledging the equal role played by both mothers and fathers, puts mothers on a pedestal and relegates fathers to the background. But what kind of future do we want to see if the current generation of fathers-to-be feel their role will not be as much appreciated? Evans Adu Gyamfi, author of A Toast to Fatherhood: Sons and Daughters Appreciating the Fatherly Role, has argued that appreciating the institution of fatherhood cannot be ignored if the current fatherhood crisis is going to see an end. Thus, it is important that we acknowledge equally what mothers and fathers do to bring up their children, and not transfer our experiences of the past onto the institution of fatherhood.

But that’s not the only point. I think the current distinction between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, with the recognition of the former as more important than the latter, creates friction—friction in homes and in society at large. It creates some sort of competition, envy, jealousy between father and mother, and it strains our efforts at redefining gender roles and advocating gender equality. I also think that it does not foster forgiveness in situations where fathers or mothers might have hurt their children. 

Instead of having two separate days—one for mothers and the other for fathers—I propose a single day to celebrate parents (including single parents). To make the proposal effective, I suggest that neither the day assigned currently to mothers nor fathers should be used; instead a different day should be designated as Parent’s Day. This way, parents can receive equal recognition. I believe this will be a step towards valuing equally the roles mothers and fathers play, and it will encourage fathers (and uncaring mothers) to be more interested in the affairs of their children. 

What is more beautiful than reaching out to both parents, if there are, and wishing them a Happy Parent’s Day, and using that day as an opportunity to reconcile differences between mother and father and between parent(s) and child? The need to reunite our families is long overdue and it must start now!

So, on this day I wish all parents a happy Parent’s Day. As long as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day exist, I will celebrate a double Parent’s Day—one in May for both my mum and dad, and the other in June for both my mum and dad. You can also join the cause.

Disclaimer: My wife Patience G. Okyere Asante, with whom I author this blog, does not agree to the merger of Mother’s and Father’s Days into a Parent’s Day, but she does recognize the need to cherish fathers and mothers equally.

Photo Credit: Siir Koby Photography

Turning the Hearts of Children to their Fathers: ‘A Toast to Fatherhood’

Book Review: Evans A. Adu-Gyamfi. A Toast to Fatherhood: Sons & Daughters Appreciating the Fatherly Role. Accra: Scopen Minds, 2016. 117pp. Paperback, ISBN 978-9988-2-2272-7. Review by Michael K. Okyere Asante.

I wish A Toast to Fatherhood had come at the time when I held offenses against my father; amongst other things, I had blamed him for my mum’s premature departure to her Maker. It will take me three years after my mother’s death, at a men’s conference, to forgive my father and to appreciate his role in my life.

Truth is he was not even aware I had this feeling of resentment against him. But when I understood the need to focus on the good, forgive and let go, and I saw in my own life that I was as imperfect and needed forgiveness, I wept and said to myself, “Dad, I forgive you.” That grudge nearly marred the 23-year beautiful relationship I had with my father.

This is what Evans Adu-Gyamfi’s book A Toast to Fatherhood seeks to do: to turn the hearts of children to their fathers. The book provides a solution to the fatherhood crisis we have in our nation and around the world. Many are bitter towards their fathers and have decided to focus on the negatives instead of the good. They might have been abused, neglected, rejected, provoked by their fathers, but Adu-Gymafi helps us to see a new possibility where this fatherhood crisis can be a thing of the past: focus on valuing the good of fatherhood.

While the agendum has been to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, Adu-Gyamfi embarks on a reorientation that seeks to turn the hearts of children towards their fathers. It doesn’t always have to be fathers making the move. As Adu-Gyamfi notes, we can make the first step by being appreciative; by respecting and honouring our fathers; by learning not to berate but value the institution of fatherhood; and by choosing to be good fathers (and mothers) ourselves (Chapter 1).

In this book, the author’s definition of ‘father’ is not limited to a biological concept, but extends to anyone who plays a fatherly role in a person’s life; it can be a step-father, a father-in-law, a mentor, a foster father or even extend to religious leaders, teachers, and other people who contribute to our personal development. The author points out the importance of verbally acknowledging the role of fathers in our lives; that it takes personal initiative to do this.

The author advocates a direct, impartial and articulated appreciation, not one hidden in gifts but expressed in genuine words (Chapter 5). Fathers need to hear from their children and protégéswhile they are alivehow beneficial their roles in the lives of these ones have been.

Even for those who have had bitter experiences, the author encourages: ‘I remain grateful, knowing that my “past experiences, no matter how bad, are never a total waste!”’ (p. 18), and adds, “as we look back on life we must understand that whatever relationship we had with our fathers (whether they are alive or dead) was but to teach us a lesson or two about this life” (p. 21). The author shares several examples in that respect in Chapter 4 titled “Life Lessons from My Fathers”.

The book encourages children (both young and grown) not to transfer their experiences of the past onto the institution of fatherhood, for in many respects, even though they may have been neglected by their biological fathers, disappointed by a father-figure, or heart-broken by the actions of a potential father, they should make “a toast to fatherhood” and see fatherhood as an institution and not as individuals (Chapter 2).

What kind of future will this produce? Adu-Gyamfi writes, “…the fathers of the generations to come shall be better versions of what we have currently” (p. 5). Isn’t that great news? But this means that sons and daughters will have to beat the premature desire for freedom from their fathers’ supervision, what the author has presented in Chapter 3 as the Maturity-Freedom Matrix.

The book is of high quality, the design and layout and the weaving of stories into the writing makes it a delight to read. Adu-Gyamfi, an advocate of fatherhood and care for the aged, coupled with his experiences over the years, is indubitably qualified to bring this subject to the fore. The emphasis of his call is this: “let us turn the hearts of children to their fathers”.

I recommend A Toast to Fatherhood to anyone who has a reason or is struggling to be thankful to a father-figure (biological or non-biological) in their lives.

Copies are available at Challenge Bookshops, or click here to purchase online.

The review was first published in the Daily Heritage newspaper, April 13, 2017, p. 6.

2027: The Results of Your Decisions Today

Yesterday, I read Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard Commencement Speech.

He made very important points about purpose … about having a sense of purpose.

The question that came to my mind was, “What decisions did he take ten years ago that had resulted in his success today?”

And then I asked myself, “Of the decisions I make today, what will be the results in 2027?”

I think I can ask you the same question: “What will be the results of the decisions you make today in 2027?”

Your decisions about technology will play a crucial role on your success story in ten years.

I am not talking about making any novel discovery. I am talking about the little things, the simple things.

If Facebook were a country, it would have a population of 1.9 billion, surpassing China’s. But Zuckerberg and his friends didn’t just get up and have a bang!

They started from their college dorm, from that nucleus, planting a seed that will grow into a baobab tree. From helping Harvard students network, they moved on to Ivy League schools and then this is what we have today as Facebook. As Zuckerberg describes,

[t]he thing is, it never even occurred to me that someone might be us. We were just college kids. We didn’t know anything about that. There were all these big technology companies with resources. I just assumed one of them would do it. But this idea was so clear to us — that all people want to connect. So we just kept moving forward, day by day. I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you’re sure someone else will do it. But they won’t. You will.

Indeed, technology is shaping the world. It is shaping how we think. It is taking away jobs from the technologically unskilled. If it is not too obvious yet, then I want to make a prediction. My prediction is that in the next ten years the things that will SHARPLY set people apart in the job place will not be language or communication skills but technological skills.

So ask yourself: “What will set me apart in the next ten years from that person who also has a first class?”

Is it the fact that you can type 60 WPM? Oh come on. You must be joking. Children are coding and you are here talking about 60WPM?

In 2007 I started writing my first book. And I started my first blog. The following year when I completed the manuscript, the hard disk crashed and I lost everything. I had to rewrite the book.

That experience taught me a lesson about tech that I will never forget: never trust the level of technological skills you have. You must learn something new about technology everyday. You must start developing the necessary technological skills now! Otherwise, in the next 10 years, you will feel sorry for yourself.

What skills will set you apart from the rest in the next ten years? It all boils down to the decisions you are taking today. And it’s not just technology but every other aspect of your life.

Mark Zuckerberg made very important points:

…finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. …. Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. …. But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.

What sense of purpose are your decisions today creating for others? What sense of purpose will your decisions today create for others in 2027?

It is that sense of purpose that made me major in Classics at the University of Ghana when, since the mid-1980s, no one had.

It is that sense of purpose that makes me convene, every semester, an undergraduate mentoring class free of charge.

It is that sense of purpose that makes my wife and I mentor young people from all over, both here and abroad.

So I leave you with this question: When you enter 2027, what results will you see about the decisions you took today?

Wherever I will be in 2027, I will be glad to read your answer to my question.

A Letter to A New Husband

In this letter to a new husband, Uncle Ebo Whyte touches on three key points that can make marriage work for a husband: (1) identifying your wife’s love language; (2) understanding how women are wired; and (3) maintaining emotional maturity.

Roverman Productions

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Dear Mr. New Husband,

First of all, congratulations on your wedding. You made a good choice. Solace is a great girl and I am sure that if you prove to be the right partner, she will make you very happy.

My dear Mr. New Husband, you asked me to give you some tit bits on how to make a success of your marriage. You said you wanted nothing less than a fantastic marriage. And you asked if I could give you any ideas for becoming the best husband alive.

Well, first of all, you cannot become the best husband alive. That is not possible. To pick the best husband alive, we will have to make the contestants marry the same girl at the same time and live under the same circumstances because only then can we judge which of them is the best. But as you can see, it is…

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Journaling Through Life

One of our secrets to churning out insightful articles is that we journal.

But that’s not the only thing journaling does. From writing down your lows and highs and your thoughts about them, to documenting your goals and dreams, journaling helps you to rethink, reorganise yourself and rebound.

Life is a great teacher. But you have to pay attention and take notes if you want to be a great student.  Michael Hyatt

By the way, if you ever want to write a self-help book, a devotional, a memoir, or a blog, journaling is inevitable. Michael Hyatt, a leadership and productivity expert, has provided a short descriptive text that can serve as a guide.

If you haven’t yet, hit the bookshop and find yourself a spacious diary, a writing pad or a journal and begin to write your story.

If you are digitally inclined there are a lot of apps such as Evernote that support journaling. But be sure to always back up so you don’t lose vital information.

All the best in your journaling.

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/J. Henning Buchholz

The First Year of Marriage: Being Spiritual is Not in Tongues-Speaking

In our last post we saw that the ‘spiritual’ fervor portrayed by potential spouses can turn out to be deceptive when their true objective or character is revealed in marriage. We called this the ‘spirituality shock’.

In today’s post, we will consider the reasons why many Christians fall into this pit and show you how you can avoid endangering your marriage as a result of marrying an ‘unspiritual’ person.

Marriage is foremost spiritual, because it is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church (cf. Eph. 5:32), and since Christian marriages are tools of warfare against the Enemy’s plans, the devil will do everything he can to destroy them (cf. Eccl. 4:9-12).

A marriage built on Christ as foundation and in which the couples relate with God is, therefore, inevitable if that marriage’s anchor will hold against the storms of life and attacks of the Enemy. This is why for any Christian, a potential spouse’s relationship with God is paramount in making the final decision of who to marry. But why do we get it wrong when it comes to making the decision?

Getting the ‘spiritual’ right

For many Christians, their idea of who a ‘spiritual’ person is finds expression in the prideful statement of the Pharisee in Luke 18: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (v. 12).

These activities are no doubt performed by spiritual persons, but not everyone who performs these actions is spiritual. Consider Jesus’ testimony of this Pharisee; He said the Pharisee was unjustified because of his pride: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).

The measure of the Pharisee’s spirituality was not in his fasting or paying of tithes, but in his attitude towards God and man (cf. vv. 11-13). His attitude was one of pride. So in considering who a spiritual person is, we need to look at their attitude towards God and man, not their outward performance or show of religiosity.

While every spiritual person will commit to religious activities like praying, reading the Bible, paying tithes, fasting, going to church or operating in a spiritual gift, carnal Christians can also perform these activities (cf. 1 Cor. 1:4-7, 3:1-4). But what sets the spiritual man apart from the carnal Christian is that the spiritual person has an attitude towards God and man that bears witness to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and its result of fruit-bearing (John 15:1-17; Gal. 5:22-26; Titus 2).

Being spiritual is not in tongues-speaking, charisma or ‘anointing’

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23a). It is not tongues-speaking, prayer and fasting, wearing the crucifix, ministering in the sweetest voice, casting out demons. There is a difference between gifts and fruit. A person can possess the gift of healing, yet be leading the young women in his church into sexual sin.

Consider Paul’s description of the Corinthian believers in different verses. In fact the Corinthian Church can be called the ‘spiritual gifts’ church—according to Paul, they lacked no gift (1 Cor.1:7). Regrettably, they were divided (1:10, 3:3, 11:18-19), contentious (1:11, 3:3, 6:5-6), sexually immoral (5:1), and puffed up in knowledge (5:2, 8:1-2). They defrauded their fellow Christians (6:8), abused their freedom in Christ (8:1-10:33), and looked down on those with gifts regarded as ‘irrelevant’ (1 Cor. 12).

What was Paul’s conclusion:

And, I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3a).

Were these not the same people Paul described as lacking no spiritual gifts? But Paul says they are carnal. Their attitude towards God and their fellow humans was nowhere near spirituality. Their attitude was in tandem with the works of darkness: envy, strife, divisions, pride, adultery, fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, thieving, fraud.

“Oh, but he is an anointed man of God.”

Was Saul anointed? Was David anointed? In what way can you differentiate David’s spirituality from the carnality of Saul? The difference was in their attitude towards God and man. One thing that is common to the spiritual and carnal Christian is that none of them is perfect, but the spiritual Christian possesses an attitude of humble submission towards God and of loving endurance towards man. 

Haven’t you heard of Christians who sing under the anointing and yet are at loggerheads with their next door neighbours? Or a Christian leader fighting with another over a position in church? Or a boyfriend who just returned from church demanding sex from his girlfriend?

So who is the ‘spiritual person’?

The spiritual person is one who has surrendered to the Lord and makes God His delight by obeying His word, his life being evidence of God’s transforming power.

We will continue to explore this topic in our subsequent posts.

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Alfonso Romero

You can also share your experiences with us by clicking this link. Your confidentiality is assured.

If you are a young person, between JHS to tertiary level, and would like to join our mentoring and discipleship group in order to grow your walk with God, WhatsApp or call our Programmes Assistant on 0207567560.

This is part of a series of lessons for the first year of marriage as part of our discipleship ministry, Mimesis Christou (find out more about this ministry here and here). The vision of Mimesis Christou is to intentionally disciple young people to be effective, faithful followers of Jesus Christ. We believe that marriage has a bearing on how faithfully Christians walk with the Lord, hence the introduction of these lessons.