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!

Taken for Granted

The hospital environment has a humbling aura. It has a way of opening one’s mind to the realities of life and how we have taken important things for granted. How we take ‘the granted for granted’ is amazing. It also reveals how awesome God is and how ungrateful man can be.

As I shared my observation with my sister, I mentioned how we take the air we breathe for granted. We jump out of our beds and often forget to say thank you to God. Then the next moment we are murmuring about the money we don’t have or something God has not done for us. Lord have mercy!

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With Nyamedea, just before he was discharged.

We are able to drink, eat, move our bodies, walk and even run. But at the hospital wards, especially at the emergency ward, one’s ability to lift a finger is a miracle. To be able to take a sip of water is a miracle. And to be able to eat, pass urine and talk are all miracles. Wow! And we always take these for granted?

I was humbled when in church someone shared the testimony of how God enabled her free her bowels. She had struggled to pass stool for a while, a condition which had serious medical implications. So her joy knew no bounds when God healed her.

One may say, “But passing urine and stool are normal everyday occurrences?” No they are not. It is same with the ability to breathe. You should have seen this little boy struggling for breath at the hospital. He had to be aided with oxygen.

Let’s learn to worry and complain less and abound more in thanksgiving. God’s mercies and goodness are without limit and deserve appreciation. My four-day stay at the hospital with my son opened my eyes to things we ordinarily take for granted.

Lord I pray that anytime I find myself in seemingly dark situations, help me to count what you have granted and not take them for granted.

PS: My thanks to all who visited, prayed and supported us in diverse ways.

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

Not Only About the Money: Sacrifice, Sacrifice and Sacrifice again

As I held the cheque of GHS7,000 in my hand, I felt like jumping, screaming and dancing. I lifted my hands towards heaven and exclaimed, “Jesus you are too good!”

I was holding the cheque I had not really bargained for or expected. It was such a good feeling because this cheque also came with the renewal of my appointment as a Graduate Assistant at University of Ghana.

Having completed my master’s degree, I expected to work as a Teaching Assistant at the Institute of African Studies. But there came the embargo placed on employment by government. I made arrangements with my colleagues for internal recruitment to no avail.

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On my way to class on a very hot afternoon

I felt devastated. I had started a new family and prepared a family budget with the anticipated salary in mind, because it was almost automatic for students who had interest in working with the Institute to be taken on after they had submitted their thesis. With this in mind, I had worked tirelessly on my thesis, spending sleepless nights.

It was therefore a big disappointment not to be able to work because of the embargo. And I couldn’t look for employment in the private sector because of my pregnancy.

My parents felt sorry. They called from time to time to find out if there had been any positive response regarding my appointment. All the time the answer was a NO.

Hmmm, what will I do? I kept praying, “Lord do something about my job”, but nothing happened. I had to depend on my husband for my every single need. Having younger siblings to sponsor in school made the family budget even tighter.

Nevertheless, I followed my love for the job. I loved the discussions we had during lectures. They were always insightful so I kept attending lectures. Apart from the love I had, there was also a need, one that I filled in. Two of our lecturers who handled the gender courses had traveled overseas, one for sabbatical leave and the other on a fellowship at Harvard. So I willingly stepped in to help.

“But who pays for your transportation?” my dad asked when I told him I was volunteering.

Well I took care of it on my own, for the love of the gender class and also to keep my mind active.

It is not as if it was easy for me. I was actually in my first trimester of pregnancy, battlingIMG-20160819-WA0003.jpg with morning sickness and weakness, and the hunger punks.

I remember carrying snacks to class to help manage the hunger. You should have seen me with my ‘big belly’ sneaking to lectures. I wanted to avoid too many eyes because I was shy.

School had vacated. I was resting at home when I received a call. “Patience, would you like to work for the Institute as a graduate assistant instead of teaching assistant?” I gladly said yes. I was called to pick up my appointment letter weeks later.

Guess what.

My appointment was with retrospective effect from 2015, during which I thought I was volunteering. Hallelujah! I was so excited. God had answered my prayers beyond my expectation. I was going to be paid for the full year I had been volunteering.

Oh my God! This world is something else. Sacrifice and selflessness always pay off. These are my core values. That is why I have worked so hard all my life and will continue to do so. Young people must cultivate these attitudes. Do not let money be your motivation for doing things. Of course money is good but there are other things that are most essential.

Think first about the impact you can make, the lives you can affect, the change and transformation that will occur because of your sacrifice. You will be amazed at the dividend you will reap later on.  I am glad to know that sacrifice and selflessness will be your hallmark henceforth.

P/S: Don’t ask for your share of the money. It’s all been spent.

Counting My Blessings: Pregnancy, Fear and God

The month of July, 2016 was a very reflective month for me. My eyes had been wet with tears in appreciation of God’s goodness. You know the feeling when you have been walking with God and trusting Him, then you encounter a situation where you thought your end has come and yet God comes through for you? That was exactly how I felt.

I have always known God for His faithfulness, but He has demonstrated it towards me and my family in ways that are dumbfounding.

WP_20160315_10_18_17_ProWhen I picked seed in my first month of marriage, I had not adjusted to my new role as a wife yet.

Coupled with my first pregnancy, the experience was quite overwhelming for me. I asked God for grace daily. You could hear me say aloud ‘Lord help me!’

Then came the nightmares. I had dreams where I had miscarriage. There was one dream where someone told me that no matter how long I carried the pregnancy, they would abort it. All I could do was pray and keep trusting God. I read a lot about pregnancy from babycenter.com and the more I read the more I became afraid of what awaited me in labour.

I had to go through a Cesarean Section because I developed preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension). But God outsmarted the enemy and helped me through a safe delivery of a bouncing baby boy on the 21st of April.

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About the same period of delivery my dad got seriously sick and remained so for a long time. The enemy bargained with me to choose between my dad and my son but I rebuked him. I chose both my son and my Dad. The devil wanted to cut short the joy that the new child had brought into the family but Jesus said NO. God saved us from sorrow; He did not permit that I wore black instead of the white I was supposed to wear as a new mother. Glory to His name.

There were petty issues of unforgiveness in my family that created a doorway for the enemy but the blood of Jesus spoke on our behalf. At instances where we did not know how to pray and were weak in prayer, the Holy Spirit interceded on our behalf. He revealed whatever was hidden and helped us handle them through prayer.

When we chatted as a family, laughed together with my dad and played with my son, all I could do was to raise my eyes to heaven and say ‘Lord indeed your faithfulness abounds’.

In the month of July, I graduated with an MPhil in African Studies from the University of Ghana—a journey purely made on divine provision.

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We had the naming ceremony of our precious angel, Nyamedea (he truly belongs to the Lord) which coincided with our first marriage anniversary—what I call the triple blessings!

We owe it all to Jesus. His praise will continually be on our lips. If there is something I will never stop doing, it is trusting God with my whole being and relying on His will and directions for my life. The journey has just began; we rely solely on His abundant grace to keep us going and winning, all to His glory and purpose. I urge you to also count your blessings and give Him the praise He deserves.

Misplaced Priorities

My husband sent me pictures taken in 2010 in which I was saying an opening prayer at the inaugural ceremony of the Classics Students’ Association (CLASSA). I was the electoral commissioner for the association then. When I saw the pictures and showed them to my siblings, they laughed at me. I could not help laughing too because I was very skinny then.

As I observed the pictures, I was full of gratitude and praise to God. I could not stop pondering on God’s FAITHFULNESS. Even when we are unfaithful, He is faithful. You know, friends and family members disappoint us sometimes in various circumstances. But as for God, He never fails. He has sworn by His name that ‘I will never leave nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5b). 

IMG_0297Now, do you know why I never put on weight? Sacrifices, fastings, waiting, studies, sleepless nights. And why am I writing this? It is for you who say I am your role model. In life, there is nothing as important as the period of sowing because what we sow is what we reap. It is like putting up a building; the foundation is very important.

Whether you will build a story building or not depends on the foundation. The challenge is that a lot of young people are unable to decipher between the sowing season and the ordinary season. The sowing season does not last forever. It is usually for a short time. It takes the prudent soul to identify that season and take advantage of it to sow valuable seeds that bear great fruits during the time of harvest. And so the wise King Solomon says, ‘there is a season for everything under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 11:10).

One has to stay committed to whatever he or she does, be it studies, trade or work. For it is deadly for one’s youth to be wasted. Same applies to our spiritual lives. At a tender age I sought to know God for who He is and to have a relationship with Him.

As I grew up, I climbed Atwea Mountain several times alone and sometimes with friends just to seek God’s face and His will for my life. The important thing to note is that I did not go there because I wanted a husband or a child or visa or anything. All I wanted was fellowship with God. I cherished the solitude I enjoyed anytime I went there.

There, I received new strength, new directions, and I came back refreshed. And you know my favourite prayer topic? ‘God help me to know your perfect will for my life and grant me the grace to walk in it’. Will you learn to pray such prayers daily? During prayer sessions in church when the leader says, ‘Ask God for your heart’s desire’, I always said, ‘Lord help me to always stay close to you’.

The amazing thing is that the more I waited on God, the more His power was released into my life and made impossible situations possible. To be brief, it is His power that broke every family covenant and set me free from bondage; it is His power that gave me distinction in my first and second degrees, an amazing husband and a lovely son in miraculous ways. His power has done the unimaginable for me. Indeed, in ‘the presence of God there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures ever more’ (Ps. 16:11).

IMG_0298But why am I sharing this as I do not like to write about myself? It is for myself, so that I do not forget my foundation and my source of sustenance. It is also for you to know how to set your priorities right regarding your relationship with God. God loves fellowship and not bargains. He wants your love and commitment. He does not want to be treated like a prostitute, but like a cherished wife. Do not come to Him with the long list of things you need—money, car, husband, child, visa, scholarship, among others—and behave as if He is a mean God when your responses are delayed.

What God really wants is a true relationship with Him, that of true friendship and love. No wonder the first commandment goes like ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind…’ (Luke 10:27). When this portion is fulfilled, then follows untold blessings promised in Deut 30:9-10:

‘The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground; for the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers… if you turn to the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul.’

When you seek to know God and love Him for who He is through his son Jesus Christ, His power will make things fall in place in your life. When members of the Great Commission Army (a missionary group I belong to) meet, we do not pray about individual needs; rather, our concern is to raise intercession for the universal church of Christ and for souls. Yet, you see God’s hand in the lives of our members. In 2015, we were blessed with three weddings of members and an outdooring.

There are some people I support with prayer, but I cannot invite to GCA prayer meetings because it will be boring for them; when they want a visa or a spouse, you are talking about making intercession for lost souls and the body of Christ! The day you learn to love God and place His business and matters of His kingdom first, the imaginable will happen to you. The Lord bless you.

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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