From Yekepa to Ganta: Stop #2

The (rough) City of Ganta With the familiarity of Yekepa behind us, we traveled over two hours to the admittedly rough town of Ganta. Ganta seems to be one of those sorts of places where you feel slightly uncomfortable during the day, and once night falls, you should probably just stay indoors. We arrived at our hotel, the Alvino, and were met by Rachel, who informed us that "this was her palace." We shall use that term loosely from here on out. The 'palace' was supposed to have 20 rooms reserved for us, all with working a/c, but due to "construction" (or so Rachel says) they only had 14 available, and only about half those had working a/c. The rooms themselves weren't too bad, although some in our party did take issue with having to take a "bucket" shower (a bucket shower is when there is a large bucket, filled with water, sitting in the shower basin, and you take a smaller bucket, scoop the water out, and pour on to yourself... voila! a shower!). Most rooms even had one or two fans, which was great when they actually had the power turned on.

Because we had more people then they had rooms, we had to send several of the dirt-bike squad guys back to Yekepa to stay at ABC. (sidenote: this team of 27 people was an incredible mix of very gracious individuals. The dirt bike guys, even though they’d miss the outreach event later that night, were more than willing to go back to Yekepa. We saw this same spirit of grace displayed by everyone for the whole trip! Praise God!). Ultimately it wasn’t too bad, because the plan was already to split up after Ganta. The leadership team, the basketball team, and the band would leave Ganta and travel to Buchanan for a few days while the medical team and dirt bike squad remained in Yekepa. Then we would all meet up and conclude in Monrovia.

While we were checking in to our hotel, the District Representative of Ganta stopped by to meet us. Palmer said she was akin to one of our State Senators. When asked if she would be coming by the basketball game later that day, she confirmed her appearance while also talking a little trash, "we are like the elephant, and you will be like the ant. We will crush you as an elephant crushes the ant!" A positive outlook is always good, I suppose... ;)

Lunch was at a place called Juanita's where they served us Joelof Rice, a VERY spicy (almost like Mexican) rice with a few slabs of very tough cow-meat (also known as "beef"). For those who liked spicy, it was amazing. Right after lunch, several of our ball players jumped on the back of a pickup truck and drove through town while one of the ABC students shouted out on his bullhorn inviting people to come to the afternoon game. Marketing, old-school style!

The game and the concert were in the same location this time, the gymnasium on the campus of a United Methodist Mission. The court was a significant step up in quality from the run down, hole-laden, outdoor court in Yekepa, but most agreed that the venue for the concert in Yekepa was far cooler than the gym at Ganta.

The leadership team spent all morning doing their seminars for the pastors in the area while everyone else got settled in the hotel and the band setup the gear for the concert. We were able to solve all our transportation needs when we found a man, Isaac, who owns a giant military looking truck with enormous space in the back, more than enough room for all our sound gear and luggage. We were also able to procure TWO step down converters to plug our 110 equipment into the 220 outlets. And although we didn’t have power all the time (the whole country is run off of generators), we got it when we needed it. And a huge thanks to ABC student Morris who traveled with us and helped us with all our power/electrical needs. Without him, we would have been toast!

The game against Ganta was pretty lopsided. It turns out the “ant” in this case brought a bazooka with him in his fight against the “elephant.” They had several good individual players, but they didn’t play as a team. Whereas we, thanks to Coach McCalahan, play very well together as a team, and the majority of the time an “average” team will beat a group of “great” players. We ended up winning by more than 20, and Pastor Palmer Chinchen will go down as probably our best referee in Liberia (no offense to Michael Effinger.. ;)

The turnout to the Ganta basketball game was really good. Unfortunately, we required too much time to go back to the hotel, shower, and eat dinner before our outreach event, so we lost quite a bit of the crowd when our outreach event started. Next time we will be more strategic about how to capitalize on the bball crowd to maximize our retention rate.

In a stroke of genius, Ginger Tabot suggested we look for fans in the nearby market. You see, air conditioning doesn’t really exist in much of Liberia, and when you pack in hundreds of people in a building and play music for 2 hours, it gets hot… fast… and sweaty. So, Dustin Nelson Justin Long (two dirt bike guys who were willing to help) took a van to the nearby market and bought two floor fans for us. Wow, what a difference it made! Good thinkin’, Ginger…

The outreach event that night was fantastic. The first event in Yekepa we had Eleazar share a brief message, but after debriefing we felt it would be better if he interviewed Shane Jones, so that we didn’t have two messages (counting Palmer’s later on). I think that was a good move. Shane talked about sports and ministry. About finding common ground with people and sharing the love of Christ with them. I think those who came to the bball game, and saw the big-fella play, really enjoyed hearing from him at the outreach event.

The highlight of the night, however, may have come when the “Ganta Choir” shared a few songs with us. They were amazing! I was able to capture some of it on video, but it just doesn’t do it justice. They way they sing, and blend, is just incredible. I think “In Between” was ready to just put down our instruments and let the choir keep singing!

Scott Erickson came up with a brilliant image to paint for the Ganta event, one which he repeated (with a slight variation) a few days later in Buchanan.

Ganta was a rough city, buy many standards. But once again the people were absolutely beautiful, and just thrilled that we were there. Our presence, for them, seemed to allow them to step outside of the normal grind of life and, if only for a moment, be loved and encouraged. The mere fact that we would show up, play them in basketball and perform a concert for them, seemed to speak love in a way I haven’t previously understood. This is one of the things God has been teaching me about my time in Africa, the “Power of Presence.” The beauty of just “being” there with those who hurt, with those who are downcast.