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!

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.

Waiting Moments: Be a Warrior not a Worrier

One of the most difficult moments in life is the waiting moment. It is a time when everything seems still, a stillness that feels like stagnation. Waiting moments could range from little things to major landmarks in our lives. It could be waiting for a job, marriage, a child, visa, admission, scholarship, breakthrough in ministry and many more.

There is usually a feeling of uncertainty, stress, sometimes fret, frustration and impatience. Waiting moments are not sweet moments. During these times, our character and faith are tested and, unfortunately, many of us fail the test. Some of us run ahead of God, usually in the wrong direction.

We seek shortcuts, the consequences which we face later. Some also resort to complaint and murmuring which sometimes result in blasphemy. My personal attitude has usually been of anxiety and worry which leads to frustration. These are normal human reactions but the word of God teaches us a different approach altogether, that which is contrary to our normal reactions.

The key scripture is Philippians 4:6:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.”

We see in this scripture the right attitude in moments of waiting. The sum of it is that we are not to be WORRIERS but WARRIORS. So, prayer is very crucial in waiting moments. We are to re-channel the energy used to complain, cry, curse, murmur, and blaspheme into prayer. Instead of counting our loss, we are to count our blessings (they are a lot, trust me) and give God praise.

Anytime worry knocks at your door, pray. Anytime anxiety shows up, begin to thank God, blessing Him for being in control of your future. Your assurance is that Jesus has got your back covered:

“Casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

It is a great privilege to pull all your burden and worries on Christ and go to rest. Jesus truly cares. Roll it, roll it all on Him! He cares!

Photo: FreeImages.com/Joshua Parent

The Sweetness of Your Word

Oh Lord how sweet are thy words to me

How comforting! How lovely.

They soothe my anxious heart

They heal my weary soul

They are strength to my bones

They are life to my failing flesh

Oh how sweet!

Thy words are directions to my wandering feet

Instructions to my wayward heart

O Lord how I love thy words!

They melt my fears

They embolden me

I face my foes

I win life’s battle because of thy words

Oh how sweet! How lovely.

I have hope, hope of eternity

I have peace, eternal peace

I have joy, joy unceasing

All because of thy words

Oh how sweet! How lovely.

Oh grace grant thou me

That daily I may feast on thy words

That I may reflect daily on the wisdom therein

Grace grant thou me

That I may follow steadily every detail of thy words

When all is said and done,

May thy words lead me to thy feet

Oh how sweet are thy words oh Lord!

(c) P. G. Okyere Asante, November, 2016

When I shared this poem with my husband, he asked, “Since when did you start writing poems?” I responded that poetry is part of the mine of gifts that have not been unearthed.

I can’t completely explain how I felt when I wrote the poem, but I know I was unwell; I had been to the hospital a number of times. The symptoms I saw scared me badly. Fear crippled me. I wasn’t only physically unwell but was emotionally and spiritually disturbed. I felt light and empty. I woke up in the morning and instead of feeling renewed, I rather felt tired. I struggled to step out of the house. No energy, no drive, no zeal even when I had things to attend to out there.

I had said few prayers both quietly and aloud: “Oh Lord have mercy on me!” “I am strong in Jesus’ name.” I blurted these out a couple of times yet nothing changed.

So I picked my Bible and began to feed on it. It was my major task. I read and read. I took break to eat, then came back to it. I did that for three days. On the fourth day I had renewed energy. I went out to do some weeding on our compound, something I hadn’t really done before. It was while clearing the weeds that the words poured out of my heart. I wrote them down while going to bed.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

The word had entered my soul and spirit, it had entered my joints and marrow to give strength to my body. It entered my heart and thought to drive away fear of the non-existent. The word had healed my anxious heart.

As we commit ourselves to studying God’s word every single day and completing the entire Bible in a year, make the most of it. It may seem like a waste of time but it’s not; in fact it is a great time saver. Be encouraged. Fight on!

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Nikolaj Bourguignon

Professor Folake Onayemi: An Angel in A Life

Today I celebrate not just a university professor, but a wonderful woman of God, philanthropist, mother, mentor and inspirer, Professor Folake Onayemi, of the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan.

I first met her in 2009 when I was assigned to pick her up at the airport. She was visiting our Department of Classics at the University of Ghana as a scholar for the academic year. Her stay was going to open new opportunities in my life as well as influence my crossroad stage.

In the second semester of 2008/2009 academic year, I had failed two Latin papers and performed poorly in my remaining papers (the details will be a subject for another time). Due to this I could not graduate. I had to wait until the following academic year to write the papers. I was a young man with so many challenges. I had lost my mum the same year of 2009 (she was 47); my dad had had a stroke since 1998 and wasn’t in a position to work; and I was the first of four children.

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With Prof Onayemi during my MPhil graduation, November 2013

You can imagine the burden of responsibility I now had to manage. Even when my mum was alive, and in spite of being on financial aid, I had to take a SSNIT loan and send it home for their upkeep. Now, I was out of school, a national service person, with no aid or loan but with three siblings and a father to support. It was a challenging period.

 

Professor Onayemi had already taken me as her son, but when she learned of my situation, she made it her responsibility to provide me with a monthly stipend out of her salary. It turned out I wasn’t the only one on her budget. There were several such people both in and outside Ghana. But one other thing she used to push me was her words. She never ceased encouraging me to clear the Latin papers; she never ceased encouraging my faith in God; and she never ceased monitoring my progress.

In 2010 my financial situation had worsened. I had worked for six months without pay. It was a trying moment. In my quest to get something into my pocket, I enrolled for a malaria vaccine trial, but on one of my visits to the lab, I collapsed. I was starving, depressed, and overburdened. I cried often in my room. I wept bitterly at the thought of my late mum. I sacrificed to make ends meet for my dad and siblings.

But Professor Onayemi always had a word of encouragement to lift me up. God used her to make me see light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many things I can say about her. By all means they will feature in the book I have been working on for the future.

Let me end by saying that her influence has contributed to my spiritual and professional growth and my current position. She continues to monitor my progress and still calls me “Angel”. In future, when I am delivering my inaugural address, she will surely be acknowledged, and I pray that she will live to see that day. Congratulations mum on your inaugural.

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Prof Folake Onayemi during her inaugural, June 2016

A Moment of Testing. It’s Only for A Moment

I begin with a quote from John Piper:

We will have everything we need in this life, including painful things necessary to bring us to glory.

This week has been a moment of testing. A test of my patience, a test of my faith, a test of my resolve, and a test of my joy. I got betrayed by a very good friend, and it cost me some good amount of money and time. I also lost my step-sister on Thursday.

But yesterday morning, in just a moment, in just some seconds, under the razor of the tonsor, God spoke to me in a way that I never imagined. He spoke through the barber as he shaved my hair. The message was clear. God spoke from His word, and as I sat listening to the prophecy that was coming through this young man, my eyes filled with tears.

He spoke about my soon-to-be launched book and how it was going to impact greatly on the lives of people. He spoke of the challenges I had faced that week and how He was going to turn all of them around for my good. He spoke to me. He spoke to me…through a barber.

It was in a barbering shop…with Christian music playing at the background. It was a barbering shop with printed sheets of scriptural verses pasted all around (cf. Deut. 6:6-9; 11:18-20). There was no way anyone who came to the shop could avoid reading them.

He spoke to me. He spoke to me. And by the time he was done cutting my hair, I had received healing, I had received encouragement, I felt a heavy burden lifted off me (cf. 1 Cor. 14:3). That wasn’t all. In the afternoon of the same day God spoke again, this time through my wife: “When challenges raise their heads, you count your past miracles and believe that this one too will be a miracle.”

God speaks to us in so many ways. He has prophets in both the mundane and spiritual moments of life. He doesn’t speak only through those with titles such as ‘prophet’, ‘pastor’, ‘reverend’, ‘bishop’. He speaks through His children, in whatever profession they are. And the great thing is, whenever He speaks, He speaks from His word, so you know He is the One speaking.

Let your profession and workplace be a tool for helping someone find joy, encouragement, comfort, and salvation in the Lord.

God is faithful. No matter what you are going through, if you hold on to Him, He will crown you with victory. You won’t drown.  

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer. 29:11)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isa. 43:2)