66TH ANNUAL SPEECH & PRIZE-GIVING DAY, RIDGE CHURCH SCHOOL
SPEECH BY DR. YAW PERBI, Global CEO of The HuD Group
26th August, 2023
Chairperson, Guest of Honour, School Board and Management, Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff, Parents and Learners, Invited Guests, (all protocols observed), good afternoon. It is an honour to return to Ridge Church School to address you today after leaving here 31 years ago. And it is a double honour as this is the second time I’ve been invited to do so over the last two decades.
The theme chosen for this year is BE A GOOD EXAMPLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES and we shall consider it in three simple ways:
- WHAT IS?
- WHO SHOULD?
- WHY MUST?
1. BE A GOOD EXAMPLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES: WHAT IS?
You must’ve heard from my introduction that my wife and I are blessed with seven biological children. Well, on Monday morning, our delightful six-year-old daughter, our fifth child called Nana Ahomka, came to tell me, “Daddy, I should be a leader at AWANA,” a children’s Bible training program. When I asked who a leader is she said, “Someone who sets an example for everyone else to follow.” I replied, “You got that right girl,” and that gave me the essence of my message today.
Today, the word “leader” is overused and abused. But for a moment, forget about all the 360 plus official definitions (yes) and consider this: a leader is someone who sets an example for others to follow. A good leader sets a good example; a bad leader does the opposite. Seeing it that way, a lot of so-called ‘leaders’ are really not good ones, even if they are in powerful political positions, are sensational speakers or even have top professions and enviable riches. Recently, we have seen our parliamentarians insulting and throwing physical blows in parliament. That is bad leadership. And it needs to be called out for what it is.
So WHAT IS being a good example in all circumstances? Good leadership or Godly leadership.
2. BE A GOOD EXAMPLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES: WHO SHOULD?
Everyone of us, especially you, young ones—YOU ARE NOT TOO YOUNG TO BE AN EXAMPLE.
The Little boy Samuel was only 12 years old and could hear God’s voice at a time when “the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”  He heard God’s voice and told the ‘Papas’ of the land what to do. Ghana could use some Samuels right now—YOU!
That is what Paul the mentor meant when he said to his teenage mentee Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  In fact, sometimes it’s the adults that actually encourage us to do the wrong thing: I shall never forget my BECE experience in 1992 when a female invigilator who noticed I had completed my work, suggested to me to write the answers on an eraser so she could give it to another person who was struggling! Imagine that. An invigilator! I said, “No Madam. That is not right.” She was shocked.
Sometimes people don’t like us for not following their bad example or for calling out their bad example. But in a good society, good examples are reward. For example when I went to Achimota School, my good example was observed by the staff and I was selected to represent Achimota in exchange programme in America. It is also good examples who are selected to be prefects here, right?
Even at the university, I had to resist cheating in exams and started an organization called The HuD Group (The Human Development Group)  to help young people to become good leaders. When I got a national award for this, handed to me by then then Vice President of Ghana, Hon. Aliu Mahama, as the Newmont Ghana Highest Achievement Award winner at the Millennium Excellence Youth Awards in 2006, our Minister of Health then, Major (Rtd.) Courage Quashigah, wrote me a congratulatory letter, part of which read:
“We in the health sector are very proud of you and urge you to continue to be an Outstanding Achiever… It is my hope that you will bring your charisma and devotion to bear on every youth you encounter and they in turn will emulate your leadership example. On behalf of the entire health sector and on my own behalf, please accept my congratulations.” 
So WHO SHOULD be a good example in all circumstances? Everyone, especially you young ones!
3. BE A GOOD EXAMPLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES: WHY MUST?
In 1792 King Louis XVI (16th) was taken from his throne by some rebels and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him. They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip.
For over six months he had this treatment but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king.” 
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all born to be kings and queens, princes and princesses, in the kingdom of God. WHY MUST you be a good example in all circumstances? You were born to be royalty.
In conclusion, be a good example in all circumstances. “The time is always right to do what’s right,” as Martin Luther King told some (Oberlin) students. Be an example, be a leader. As young as you are, even if everyone is doing the wrong thing and adults are pushing you to, be a prince/princess because:
1. that’s who you are—you were born to be a leader, to be king/queen
2. that’s what God’s word says and God expects
3. it’s for your own good (there’s no law against being a good example or punishment for it)
4. society needs it today and will remember you in history
5. Almighty God will reward you. Say, “Heaven backs me when I do the right thing!”
Be a good example—whether you are 6 or 60! Be the king and queen you were born to be. Be a good example in all circumstances, BE A GODLY LEADER!
 1 Samuel 3:1, NIV
 1 Timothy 4:12, NIV
 See www.thehudgroupglobal.org
 Portion of letter by Hon. Minister of Health in 2006, emphasis mine
 Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (and other sources)
The following was shared as a TED-like talk to open the Made in Africa Leadership Conference by BCA Leadership on June 14 at the Marriot Hotel, Accra, Ghana.
My uncle died. My mom’s youngest brother. He came over to Ghana from the United States, where he had lived for decades, and fell ill. He died in the very hospital I worked in at the time. In fact, he died on my ward. But I can swear it wasn’t his disease that killed him. It was leadership, or rather the lack thereof. Leadership is too important for doctors not to have it.
Some of the most important things in life are not taught in school, like leadership. When some of my friends from university got into government I did exhort them: “Nobody taught us Jack about leadership. LEARN LEADERSHIP! CONTRACT COACHES! Leadership is not just caught; it is taught.” Did they listen? Ha!
Ironically, communal, national, continental or even global leadership, is a deeply person-al thing. It takes deeply transformed leaders to deeply transform society. Authentic leadership begins with aligning what goes on in a leader’s head and heart with True North. Leadership principles or True North are no respector of persons—red or yellow, black or white.
Two days from now, we will be officially launching the 20th anniversary celebration of The HuD Group, a holistic leadership organization started by nine young Africans in Accra. From one country in West Africa, it now has presence in 24 countries, on all six continents. Out of Africa to the Rest. From a former Rwandan refugee now in executive leadership in Uganda to a former child soldier in Sierra Leone now a high-ranking bank official in his homeland, to a Chinese-Canadian who we trained via Skype when she was an international medical student in Australia, a lot of transformation and impact has been achieved but in Ghana in particular I feel much of our gains have been eroded by not giving adequate attention to political leadership.
So today is the first of two important occasions this week where I will be drumming home this point with all my heart, liver, spleen and intestines: “Leadership is too important to leave it to politicians alone.” AND with 90% of African businesses being SMEs, creating 60-80% of our jobs and accounting for 40% of our GDP, what we do here at MLC this week for African leaders and African leadership is wildly important.
When two 14-year old stowaways from Guinea, Yaguine and Foday, froze to death in the landing gear of an Airbus 330 from Conakry to Brussels, they had on them a hand-written letter labelled: IN CASE WE DIE… to the Messrs. members and officials of Europe.
They said, among other things, “We have the honor and pleasure and great confidence in you to write this letter … we appeal to your solidarity and kindness for help in Africa. …we, African children and youth, ask you to create a great, efficient organization for Africa to allow us to progress. …we want to study and we ask you to help us in Africa to study to be like you.”
You should find and read the whole letter here—it will thaw and tear your heart. And that was 24 years ago. Has anything changed?
It’s time for Leadership Made in Africa that makes Africa work for Africans. BEFORE WE DIE. Yes we can, partnering and collaborating to reimagine and reform the Africa that we want! Twende! Let’s go! Let’s do this!
Most people who are abreast enough with current affairs and know that “It’s the family, stupid” is a play on the famous slogan for the 1992 Bill Clinton election campaign (“It’s the economy, stupid”) will not know that today, and every May 15, is the International Day of Families. In my world it has never gained the popularity of, say, International Women’s Day. If it was so-scheduled to leverage Mother’s Day then it’s had the reverse, untoward effect of drowning it instead.
The Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly exactly three decades ago, in 1993, with resolution A/RES/47/237. According to the U.N., it’s supposed to reflect the importance the international community attaches to families, provide an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.
At Perbi Executive Leadership Education (PELÉ), we celebrate everything LIFE–Leadership, Integrity, Family, Entrepreneurship–and even currently have an ongoing Flourishing Families Masterclass running for the entire month of May. Whether it’s the more intensive Family Foundations Mastermind or the shorter and lighter Flourishing Families Masterclass, the following six perspectives are offered as a foundation for why family is ultra important (these are extracts from an e-booklet I’ve put together for the mastermind and masterclass):
1. CREATOR PERSPECTIVE | God is Family
God is family. Father-Son-Spirit. Note the familiar family terms, father and son. Having created humankind in His image and likeness to reflect on Earth what it is in Heaven, human family is huge deal. At the core of cosmos is a love relationship—Lover, Loved and Love itself. Everything rises and falls on love, everything rises and falls on God, everything rises and falls on family.
Of course, we could go into how God created the first family after declaring “it is not good for man to be alone,” how throughout scripture and history God chooses a person and their family to work through, the many scriptures that seek to protect, preserve and promote family etc. Even when God decided to wrap Himself in human flesh and move into our human neighbourhood in the person of Jesus Christ, he chose to implant himself in a family—Mary and Joseph’s. Everything rises and falls on family.
2. Centres of Influence | Every sphere is filled, fuelled and influenced by home
What do all of society’s centres of influence–Arts & Entertainment, Business, Science & Technology, Education, Government, Media, Religion–have in common: human beings! Without family there will be no human beings at all to fill, fuel and influence all these other centres. The only sphere that produces human beings is family. Most schools of thought include family itself as one of the centres of influence in society but I wonder whether family should even be included in the centres at all or just made to underlie all of them.
Family is literally the pivot of centres, symbolizing how everything truly revolves around it. Every centre rises and falls on family.
3. CRADLE PERSPECTIVE | Parents Shape World Shakers
Have you ever heard the proverb, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”? That is 1865 wisdom unleashed on the world through the refrain of a William Ross Wallace poem that praises parenthood as the preeminent force for change in the world. Of course, at the time it was written, nearly two centuries ago, the work of raising children was mainly seen as the role of the mother but we know all too well it takes two to tango. Both father and mother have a role in rocking the cradle.
Parents, and the wider family, shape the people who would shake and move the world, for good or ill. These two PhDs, Barbara Riggs and Cynthia Tweedell, don’t mince words in their Marriage and Family textbook: “The strongest influence in your life will stem from family.” Period. Everything rises and falls on family.
4. CELLULAR PERSPECTIVE | Family is the basic unit of humanity
So yes, “it is the hand the rocks the cradle that is the hand that rules the world” but alas! today, everyone wants to change the world; no one wants to start at home. The irony! Not only does everything rise and fall on family because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, but also the family is the basic unit of society and humanity just as the cell is the basic unit of biological life or the atom is for all matter.
Yet somehow, we think we can flourish in the corporate world, government and such without adequately addressing the lowest common denominator! If you think one cell gone bonkers is no big deal, think again about cancer. That’s all it is. Individual cells gone bonkers, multiplying unhealthily—and eventually fatally spreading that craziness to other parts of the body (metastasis). Sooner or later a whole monarch or president or parent dies, all because of a cell gone awry. Everything rises and falls on family, that one cell.
5. CALCULATION PERSPECTIVE | Hindsight is 20/20
Today’s C-level executive claims, “It’s not the quantity of time but quality that I spend with my family that matters.” This is a fallacy. Family costs what it costs, and it doesn’t go on sale! The question is if we are willing to pay the price.
Even for the richest and most popular of leaders, when they assess their lives, doing a calculation of all they’ve spent their talents and energies, time and finances on, the truth remains that, “There’s no one who on their deathbed has been heard to say, “I wish I had spent more time at work.”
6. COVID-19 PERSPECTIVE | The only place to be/go has been home
When our all-important selves on our all-important endeavours were brought to a screeching halt by the recent Coronavirus pandemic, where did we all head? Home! When literally every economy and society locked down, where did we stay put and be safe: with family! I’ve never seen so many advertisements on primetime television asking people to stay home in my life! Heroes, according to the World Health Organization, stay home! Ha! Who would’ve thought that day would ever come?!
Even high-flying pilots have been grounded, literally, at home. At the time of first writing this down for the initial Family Foundations Mastermind we run during the pandemic, I hadn’t flown in a year—and that was incredible, considering that there were times in the last few years when I did as many as 70 flights in the year!
My VIP airport lounge passes and platinum airline and hotel statuses have been rendered useless. The only thing that mattered most was the people many of us paid the least attention to prior to COVID-19: family.
Crucibles reveal what’s most important. Now that this pandemic is over, we would need insignia to remind us, lest we forget, that everything rises and falls on family.
These are my compelling six cases for why family is absolutely a big deal, in every nation and generation. I long for the day when marketplace leaders will recognize the prime place of family and ensure their work(place) empowers families rather than diminishes them. “It’s the family, stupid.” Everything rises and falls on family. Happy International Day (Month is better) of Families.
At Easter, I threw a challenge to the leaders in my network: lay down yourself for someone else’s uplifting. This challenge was triggered by inspiration I received when I had just returned from a college graduation the week before Holy Week. Although it had been a season of graduation ceremonies in Ghana across many tertiary institutions, this was a special one, a very special one.
About six years ago, our family travelled to Ghana from Canada on furlough. We had planned to stay the entire period at my parents-in-love’s residence in Accra. Being a reasonably big-sized big family (the children weren’t even seven yet!) we obviously needed some domestic assistance. We were glad to welcome a promising young lady, Benedicta, as our new house help after a couple of failed trials.
As we lived with her and observed her initiative, diligence, smartness, humility, kindness and care we took an extra interest in what her ultimate dream was. She had the potential to be like any one of us high income, high impact professionals and not necessarily having to be confined to a vocation of domestic assistance her entire life. We found out about her high school final grades and thought they could be improved. And so we (my wife and I, parents-in-love and other family members) decided to invest in her, everything from extra classes through re-sit examinations. Even when she was finally given a shot at college my mother-in-law would get her books and do mock interviews with her to prepare for the entrance interviews. Long story short, she made it into nursing college.Now, that is the graduation we went for that day.
Today, Benedicta is a nurse. She graduated from the Nurses & Midwives Training College in Teshie, Accra, Ghana. From house help to nurse; and that is what brought me to the Easter challenge because at Easter, we see the ultimate leader Himself laying down His life for the people He saw value in. At the risk of sounding holier-than-though, the previous family she left to serve ours was just about to invest in her to be a fried pork seller by the street.
Everybody knows John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But what a lot of people who are not schooled in Trinitarian theology don’t realize is that this scripture is basically saying that God so loved the world—God so saw value in you and me—that he gave Himself for us, because God is Father-Son-Spirit. The ultimate leader laid down Himself for our uplifting.
This giving of Himself or laying down His life for us is spoken of by St. Paul’s to the Church in Philippi in such humble and humbling terms. He begins in Philippians 2:5 by exhorting that “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Let’s take Eugene Peterson’s contemporary version:
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” 
Wow! God becoming a man was not just humbling, it was humiliating. Yet even when formed and found in appearance of a human, he could’ve been a very proud man but no! He was down-to-earth and mingled with tax collectors and ‘sinners’. In fact, it was on the night he was betrayed–during Holy Week–that He washed his own disciples’ dirty and stinky feet and wiped them with a towel around his waist.
The way up is down, for because of this humble attitude and action, “God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”  Even those who are not voluntarily honoring Jesus now will bow one day, compelled. All shall bow to the one who first bowed the lowest and is now raised the highest.
As a leader, I want to challenge you to choose one person, choose one thing to do this month (we’re still in the month of Easter) that involves laying down your preference, time, or money, sacrificing something, dying a little so that someone can live, graduate, have a better life etc. I challenge you to do that because that is the essence of ultimate leadership. Leadership is not about us, it is about those who take inspiration, follow, and learn from us who we get to empower and guide; those around us.
It’s sad to see so many places in the world, especially in Africa, where government official think it is all about them. Unfortunately, even in the church there are a myriad instances where pastors are doing extremely well socioeconomically and there are congregants who are not faring well, at all. Sometimes these leaders are literally fleecing the people, milking them dry till they bleed. That’s not leadership at all, and certainly not servant leadership. Leadership is laying down our lives, laying down our gifts so that others will be blessed. It is going down to pick the downtrodden and lifting them up.
Cecelia Chan poignantly put it this way: “Instead of laying a red carpet for yourself to walk on, lay a bridge and let the young people walk over to you.” This is my challenge to you, at Easter and beyond: lay down yourself for someone else’s uplifting. God bless and honour you too as you learn to lead like Jesus.
 Philippians 2:5-8, The Message
 Philippians 2:9-11, The Message
Photo credit: Jethro and Moses, watercolor circa 1900 by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836–1902), courtesy of Wikimedia.
While a lot of #leadership thinking is that leadership comprises #competence AND #character, for others like Jethro of Midian, competence IS character. Discuss.
For the Eager Beaver:
“Listen now to me,” Jethro advised Moses his son-in-law regarding leadership delegation, “Select capable men from all the people–men who fear [revere] God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18). Jethro, also known as Reuel, was a Kenite shepherd and priest of Midian.
Just before one of my recent trips out of Ghana, I asked the driver who usually takes me to the Accra airport if he would like to go with me for the experience (he’s never been airborne). His response wasn’t what I expected. I admired him for his brutal honesty and was deeply saddened at the same time. He said, “Dr. P, I won’t lie to you. If I go with you, I’m not coming back.” And he is not alone.
As I’ve been interacting with young people in Accra mainly, but in Ghana generally, it seems the Ghanaian dream is: to get out! i.e. to get out of the country to seek greener pastures. The Ghanaian dream is to exit the nation and l find that so sad on many levels. At the same time that excites me. Let me explain.
THE BAD, SAD & MAD
l find it sad in the sense that whatever the push factors are, they are potent enough to drive a collectivist society that is really keen on kith and kin, in other words one in which friends and family mean so much, to want to leave spouse and children, or parents, to go and struggle in another land just to keep body and soul together. What would make many of our people expire in the wilderness, literally die in the deserts of the Sahara en route to Libya and such, or be buried alive in the Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe in desperate attempts to get a better life?
Shame on the fathers and mothers who are making life impossible for our young people. I can totally understand why five hundred (500) years, or even two hundred (200) years ago, we would be forced to get into ships to sail to the Americas but today if anybody brought that same ship people will voluntarily fill it en mass and say, “Take me to the Americas, take me to the Caribbean, take me to Europe, take me to wherever. l want to work for whoever, for whatever; just to get out of here.”
I remember being in a conference last year at Cape Town, South Africa when someone did an incredible presentation on what Ghanaians and other Sub-Saharans go through in wanting to reach Europe by all means, literally. It was revealing how a revived craze is trying to go around the Senegambia coast to the Canary Islands, an Atlantic maritime route largely considered “the most dangerous sea passage for Africans trying to reach Europe.” Regarding the Sahara route, one of the funny but sad question was: “How many Africans can fit into the bucket of a Toyota Hilux pickup truck?” They say, “One more!” One more!! They keep filling and filling and filling these truck buckets with human beings and carry very little fuel and food supplies so they can travel light and transport more people. Whenever there is a breakdown or some delay, people die like flies. The dream becomes a nightmare. O WHY?
On the other hand, what good can there be in all of this, legitimate and illegitimate attempts at migration alike? Why is there some excitement in my heart? There is titillation because God is a global God and he calls people whenever He wants wherever He wants them to accomplish His eternal purposes. Yes!
One day Paul of Tarsus, the lawyer-turned-preacher, was in Athens, Greece and delivered a ‘TED Talk’ at the Areopagus. Luke the doctor-turned-investigative writer records in parenthesis how “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). “Ideas worth spreading,” TED would say. But I digress.
One of the things Paul shared was that God who made us all from one original man, Adam, is the one who determines our boundaries, where we live, and in what period or era in history (Acts 17:26-27). People movements are actually God movements. You see that throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. A personal attestation to this scriptural reality is how I never wanted to leave the land of my birth, Ghana, to be domiciled in another land, especially outside of Africa. I had no such plans. And I married a woman with a similar mindset. We were doubly resolved. Ironically, my wife, Anyele, was born in Canada and moved to Ghana when she was barely two years old but had no desire to return to the land of her birth. In fact, she had never used that Canadian passport to get back to Canada. Two dozen years later.
One evening in August 2006, God spoke to me so clearly. This was barely three weeks after we were married. I was in a Lausanne Younger Leaders conference near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia when I heard this in my spirit: ‘It’s my world and l send you where I want you.” Huh! Then in January 2008, the LORD spoke very clearly to us both from Genesis 12. It was just our ‘usual’ morning devotion on an ‘ordinary day’ when these words literally jumped off the pages of scripture: “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household. And go to a land I will show you.” With no such prior plans of ever leaving Ghana to school or work, in a dramatic fashion our lives were turned upside down. By June I was serving with the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (peacekeeping soldier) as a military captain and medical doctor to the U.N. staff and troops mainly, and some local Ivorians. By July, Anyele had been ‘kicked out’ of Ghana too to Montreal, Canada, going to pursue her master’s in economics at McGill University. The first time she was back in two-and-a-half decades.
So that’s the exciting part, that God may be calling people to fulfill His grand purposes in the Arab States, Europe, in another Africa country, the Americas, Australasia… wherever. But l pray that we would be able to help those who are going to go well. And also let our contacts in their destinations receive them well. It behoves on the Church in Ghana, in particular (which accounts for over 70% of the population), to find a way to prepare people well, including blessing them with a healthy diaspora missiology, so they may go well and thrive. It cannot be overemphasized that merely getting to America, Europe or China, is no guarantee one will be successful. We give money to poor people in Canada. There are homeless beggars who have come to squat on our property in America. And the poor in the West are not of only one colour of skin.
Having said that, surely we can do more, much more, to help whoever longs to, or is called to, stay in the land of their birth and make it in Ghana, Nigeria or anywhere in Africa, to be able to make it well also, and very well for that matter.
WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU
Find out what God’s great purpose and plan, position and place (including geographical location) is for your life, for the One who made and redeemed you is a global God. It might not be what you thought. Bottomline: You are only going to prosper where God has purposed and planned you to be planted. Make sure you are planted by God in that place–whether it is in Africa or elsewhere–and in that particular period, where and when you will prosper. Think on these things.
Call me weird but the smoothest airplane touchdown of my life, today, is my most precious birthday gift. This was Melbourne to Sydney on Jetstar JQ502. I couldn’t help but literally clap my hands in my wing seat (I have said my autobiography just might be titled “Wingman;” I’m almost always flying on the wing!). A few others applauded too. Then as we deplaned and I approached the cockpit I noticed the captain who had performed the magic had his door open and was standing right in front of it, interacting with some passengers. Again, I couldn’t pass by without verbalizing my appreciation of his masterly act. “That was a great landing, sir,” I blurted out. The captain half-smiled, almost embarrassingly, and managed to mutter under his breath his appreciation of my applause.
On the jet bridge a sense of regret began to creep over me. Ah! I should’ve asked to take a photo with him! A little weighed down by that remorseful thought I still, slowly but surely, made my way into the terminal and headed for the place people empty their bladder. Guess who I spotted when I returned to a cafe in the terminal to grab some breakfast: the first officer of the flight, looking to make a purchase. And the captain! Yipeee!
I was happy to repeat my admiration and appreciation and ask for his name and a selfie this time. He graciously obliged. So I gave him some context: over the last eight days I had taken 10 flights–Accra to Amsterdam, to Detroit, to Montreal, to Toronto, to Houston, to Auckland, to Gold Coast, to Adelaide, to Melbourne and now to Sydney–and no landing could compare. I could’ve had a hot cup of tea sitting on my lap during that landing and it wouldn’t have spilled!
WHAT DO YOU DO?
By the time I had shared my itinerary above with Captain Phil Peatfield, he had to ask: “What do you do?” To which I immediately responded, “I am a preacher.” Usually in the marketplace context I would mention something more relatable like leadership consultant or executive coach but it felt so good to say “I am a preacher,” even if it meant I would be canceled (as in today’s ‘cancel culture’). “I used to fly preachers around,” Captain Peatfield responded, to my surprise. Apparently he served with Flying Doctors Australia, a non-profit organisation that “provides emergency and primary health care services for those living in rural, remote and regional areas of Australia who cannot access a hospital or general practice due to the vast distances of the Outback.” I didn’t tell him I’m a doctor too. And well, that I was once a captain as well, a military one.
The irony is that as a little boy I had really wanted to be a pilot. I was fascinated by planes and impressed with pilots’ uniforms. I was starry-eyed when I saw my professor-grandfather’s itinerary as he jet set around the globe lecturing on African ethnomusicology. In a moment of annoyance at a friend in junior high who wanted to be a pilot too (he was too enthusiastic about it for my liking) I snapped out of it and decided becoming a medical doctor would be the way to go.
“PEARL OF GREAT PRICE”
As I celebrate my forty-fifth birthday today, as a preacher I am thankful for this unexpected pilot gift from God. Educationists like Parker Palmer encourage parents to take seriously what early manifestations and proclamations their children make about what they want to do when they grow up. Palmer says in, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling the who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live–but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”*
As I think of that thing that was triggered in me whenever I heard about or saw my grandpa flying the world, I think of Parker Palmer as a grandfather today.
Watching my granddaughter from her earliest days on earth, I was able, in my early fifties. to see something that had eluded me as a twenty-something parent: my granddaughter arrived in the world as this kind of person rather than that, or that, or that. She did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with her shape of her own sacred soul. Biblical faith calls it the image of God in which we are all created. Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or ‘that of God’ in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price.*
Now that I know what I know, I’m eagerly looking out for what my children, nephews and nieces and young mentees were born to be. God creates no one for nothing. We need to find the clues and lead people in the way they should go–they way they are bent.
BORN FOR THIS
I now know that traveling the world was my calling, even from childhood, although I didn’t get my first plane ride till my late teens. But when it rained it began to pour so much that by age 18/19 I had been to every continent in the world except Australasia/Oceania. What a birthday present to have finally made it ‘down under’ to New Zealand and Australia, a quarter of a century later. And it wasn’t being a pilot or physician that brought me here. It’s the preacher I was born to be. Even the pilot was impressed by the preacher’s itinerary. “Wow, what do you do?” The clue all along was that I was born to travel the world preaching the gospel and raising leader-labourers for the Kingdom of God. I know now that I wasn’t meant to be in the cockpit per se but to enjoy the ride and views–the planes’ and the Lord’s.
Whether a pilot like Peatfield or Perbi the preacher or physician, Palmer’s point is one worth profoundly pondering: “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent… Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?”* Good food for thought on my birthday.
*Palmer, Parker J. 2015. Let Your Life Speak : Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
In the interest of full disclosure, first of all I am a Bible-believing, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled African Christian. Secondly, at the time of writing, I have no membership of any political party—just a citizen who passionately loves his motherland and has served both major political parties when called upon. Finally, I comment on the National Cathedral of Ghana matter primarily as a missiologist and leadership scholar. These thoughts were largely shared on the Cit FM/TV current affairs programme The Big Issue on 21st January, 2022. The crux of my submission, that the project be halted and audited, was also carried on Citi News Room here.
THE THING THAT I FEARED HAS HAPPENED
My first article on the proposed National Cathedral of Ghana in August 2018 was entitled in a manner that exposed the battle that raged within me upon hearing the president of the Republic of Ghana announce his vision to put up a national cathedral. It was an inquiring heading: “National Cathedral: Vulgar or Virtuous Venture?
In it, I confessed “my unwholly holy initial thoughts, honest-to-God,” sharing my initial skepticism about the project, mainly concerned about it being a mere political scheme to siphon monies, only with a nice religious façade. Secondly, I questioned the prudence of it amidst the poverty and sheer lack of basic infrastructure and public services in a developing country (NB. This was before Covid would hit and make everything that was bad, worse). Thirdly, I was wary of the perilous path of Europe where centuries old grand cathedrals now only stand as emblems of a once-upon-a-time vibrant Christendom while the faith itself is dying today, precipitously. Even then, one need not cross the oceans to note the dangers of religious opulence over pragmatic faith. Just look next door, right across the Ghana border to the near-white elephant of the Notre Dame de La Paix in Yamoussoukro, whose proposed community-impacting hospital as an attachment to assuage the papacy’s guilty conscience is till yet to see the light of day, thirty-two years later.
As I studied the cathedral proposal further, especially as an African missiologist, its merits rose above my cynicism and mounting hopes tamed my fears to the extent that I was willing to give the project a chance, even my support. In fact, not only was I present at the foundation stone-laying, I wrote a cogent trilogy about how even the president might not be fully aware of the extent to which Almighty God may be using him to accomplish His glorious purposes in and through Africa, especially considering this unique moment in history where the once derided “dark continent” now has more Christians than any other continent and will double that lead by 2050, with more Christ followers than the next two continents (Latin America and Europe) combined! In fact, a summary of the trilogy even made its way into the Cathedral’s published magazine.
Over the last couple of years since then, I have found my faith in the project on a slippery slope back to where it first began, with supposed scandal after seeming scandal and allegation upon allegation that rival the corporate sins of the Arthur Andersons and Enrons at the turn of this century (if not making them pale in comparison), that do not befit an edifice for the King of kings. The opacity in the project’s financial dealings, including estimated project costs, eye brow-raising fund transfers and amorphous government seed money, make nonsense of the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. The purpose of this rejoinder is not to dive into each of the smudges and spots on the project but to put on record that while I have enumerated prior at least a dozen reasons this could be a virtuous project, like ‘the greatest man in the East’, for me too, “the thing I greatly feared has come upon me” (see Job 3:25-26). I seek to document for posterity my revised position on the National Cathedral of Ghana for not only are my values being violated, the very faith in whose name this edifice is being erected is endangered.
NOODLED & NUANCED
This cathedral matter is a very nuanced one and thus requires the highest levels of leadership competence, care and character to navigate it. What do I mean? Four things. First of all, the president is not a king; he cannot just pronounce edicts, fiats and decrees at an enlightened citizenship. Secondly, we don’t live in a theocracy, but in a fairly vibrant democracy (although admittedly we are a pseudo secular state with our national anthem and pledge referring to ‘God’). Thirdly, private-public partnerships can be a tricky dance. And finally let’s face it, things are hard socioeconomically right now!
As if all of this is not enough, the president in particular hasn’t shown the kind of great leadership in casting vision (constantly, compellingly, creatively) and galvanizing the people from the grassroots. To make matters worse, the government itself has lost the trust of the Ghanaian people with its economic mismanagement, real and imagined, poor emotional intelligence in matters like this and poor consultation culture–from this cathedral issue through the recent e-levy saga and even current Domestic Debt Exchange debacle.
Then the process itself has been fraught with paucity of information and poor communication, poor governance (really governance 101), low accountability and too much opacity. In fact, in my frustration the other day while preaching on an Ephesians chapter five text about leading and living in the light I bellowed, “Stop the Cathedral in the name of the Lord!”
Don’t get me wrong. There are pluses about this project. Many. Between my initial article and the subsequent trilogy you will easily find a dozen cogent reasons why this could be a virtuous venture, including how the cathedral is more than a building (although the Africanization of it, its tourist attractions and income generation nature per se are all something to write about). The fact that the cathedral has a mandate to be a convenor of national conversation and debate warms my heart.
If the government had kept to its initial promise of providing “just the land” and only “seed capital,” I’ll be at peace. It is for the body of Christ to build this cathedral to the glory of the LORD, but considering the nature of Christianity in our Ghanaian public sphere and the prime place of faith for the African this is a nuanced matter. Any good government would have a keen interest in this matter, hence the sense in situating the NCG in the country’s capital city’s ceremonial core to provide “the missing link” (words of the architect) as a final piece of a national puzzle. Apparently, the other national pieces are all already in place: the people’s place (international conference centre, national sports stadium), the people’s representatives’ place (parliament building and State House), the peoples’ heroes’ place honouring the dead (Osu cemetery and adjoining military cemetery).
Granted, it isn’t everyone who is able to appreciate that we are a building a nation here; not just an eclectic collection of utilitarian infrastructure. That’s how come although we still have children learning under trees we still have national stadia and presidential edifices like Jubilee House and Peduase Lodge. To build or not to build this cathedral is really a nuanced and noodled matter that requires a certain high level leadership that I, honestly, haven’t seen on the horizon.
THIS ISN’T A ZERO SUM GAME
As a missiolgist, I believe that even the president does not fully know or understand the magnitude and implications of his vision. His initial vision may have been personal but vision is often progressive and it is possible He is being used by the Sovereign God in ways the man himself cannot fully comprehend, let alone the masses crying out against this vis-à-vis the impoverished state of the state. In order not to repeat the dozen or so cogent reasons why this project can be worthwhile, I will strongly encourage you to take a look at trilogy 1, the second part and the final installation, all from March 2020.
GOING FORWARD: SEVEN STEPS
1. STOP! STOP! STOP!
This may very much sound and look like the ‘STOP WORK’ in red paint on uncompleted building projects by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) yet, I see red flags all over this project that require concomitant red paint markings all over it too. This is not from the AMA this time. Just “we the [Ghanaian] people” saying, “STOP WORK!”
Secondly, let us get any of the so-called ‘Big Four’ global auditing firms in the country to do a thorough audit of the NCG secretariat, board of trustees and other associated names like JNS Talent etc.
Sometimes those AMA signs not only read, “Stop Work” but continue with “Produce Permit.” I would say for this cathedral project, in conjunction with step one, let us also “Stop Work and Produce Audit.” The result of the audit will help clarify our next steps—if even this project should continue at all, and if it should, how.
3. CALL FOR CONVERSATIONS AND DEBATE
Let us on purpose have a broader conversation and debate of the best minds and hearts for the way forward. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” said the wisest man that ever lived. And this is a sagacious king who could’ve easily ignored the counsel of others. Interestingly, he put up the most magnificent temple in the whole world in his day, for YHWH. Even Africans like the Queen of Sheba travelled long distances to come and see. If we want to see the reverse today, others come from elsewhere to behold the magnificence of the NCG, then we had better consider wise, broad-based consultation.
In my humble opinion, this government has been unbelievably militaristic; so non-consultative! Yet the thing is that even if people do not agree, they will support the project, or at least not be as antagonistic, because they have been seen (recognized) and heard. Conversations and debate will cause the significant groundswell needed for such a massive national venture with international ramifications.
4. GIVE OURSELVES TIME
If from the pause, audit, conversations and debates it becomes apparent that this project should continue, then we must give ourselves time. This cathedral doesn’t have to be built by 2024 and ready for a January 2025 swearing-in. That is precisely part of the problem with this project: the fact that the president is in a hurry to put this up while he is in office.
While a sense of urgency is good, undue pressure because of time crunches leads to many mistakes and often unethical behaviour, no matter how hitherto virtuous one’s cause. For example, this strange exchange of over two million Ghana Cedis between a whole national project and a private individual’s company obviously happened because apparently the project couldn’t wait for government funds to clear (this issue is under investigation, and rightly so). Besides, things are über hot in the economy right now, Ghana’s caught up in a socioeconomic inferno. It is wisdom to let both the times and tempers cool off.
If this is truly a national cathedral and not H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo’s pet project, then it should stand the test of time by traversing other administrations—perhaps two or even three terms down the line, including opposition parties—and be owned by all and sundry. If is by the good people of Ghana it for the glory of Almighty God, then we are not in a hurry. When we are not in a hurry we can think properly, do things appropriately, follow due process… Time is money and time will save us a lot of money—and a multitude mistakes.
5. TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Even some corporations have more transparency and better governance than the current supposedly religious project. Anathema! If this is truly an edifice to the Most High God then there cannot be even a hint of inappropriateness and misappropriation. As it stands now, not only has there been too much darkness and opacity surrounding a building that is to be a Lighthouse for the nations; too many allegations and suspected scandals that even some ordinary government projects cannot rival.
My mind goes to another cathedral project’ in ancient times where it was said, “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). I’m afraid we cannot say this of the NCG people or process so far.
6. LET GOD’S PEOPLE BUILD GOD’S BUILDING
The government of Ghana has done more than enough, giving the land. And way more seed than was my impression at the start of the project. If this sanctuary is really for the LORD then let’s let the Body of Christ in the country build it. And yes, we can! Christians have literally put up thousands of edifices strewn across the length and breadth of the country, ‘from Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta.’ Let the Church do this for the glory of Almighty God. We thank the generous government of Ghana for the head start but no more government/tax-payers’ funds, please.
Let God’s people be able to say, like in Nehemiah’s day, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Whenever God gives a vision, He also makes the provision. But if this venture isn’t of God, then we are on our own; it will be hard.
For a number of great cathedrals that have been built, people have felt so privileged to be a part of the history-making that they have voluntarily given, not just of their substance but of their very selves. Carpenters, masons and other artisans and professionals have offered their services for free, and not the case of exorbitant amounts being paid to the current architect and others. In my opinion, the celebrated architect should feel so privileged to do this for God and country that he does this gratis! You tell me how much we paid the designers of our national flag and presidential stool; or composers of our national anthem and pledge.
7. WORK AS PASSIONATELY ABOUT OUR ‘SOFTWARE’ AS WE ARE ABOUT THIS ‘HARDWARE’
By software I mean our values, our paradigms and attitudes etc. The nation is so full of poor work ethic, corruption, filth (environmental and figurative), incompetence, dishonesty, lack of integrity etc. yet we want to build a magnificent cathedral for God. There is so much grievous poverty in the lives of the majority yet we want to put up this ceremonial and celebratory infrastructure at a cost of $400 million in the heart of Accra. The scriptures are replete with what God requires of us, first and foremost, and it is not so much physical buildings as that our spiritual, social, mental and emotional states reflect His glory; also, that our physical bodies will be hallowed as His temple. So as we are excited about the hardware (physical building of a cathedral), o how I pray that we are equally excited to work on our values, attitudes, morality, ethics, true selves, true faith and integrity. We also ought to disciple our sectors and systems of Ghanaian society so that these reflect a people that believe in a righteous and excellent God, the Most High.
Despite the bold vision of the NCG, we haven’t as a people or leadership displayed the kind of competence (eg. vision casting, convincing communication, broad consultation), character (eg. transparency, accountability) and compassion (eg. sensitivity to the present economic plight of the Ghanaian people) that a project of this magnitude demands.
I believe if we took the above seven steps, that should put us in good stead and hopefully lessen the painful memories and bitter aftertaste that this project would otherwise bring us. I do not believe the NCG is an entirely vile venture; but neither will it be entirely virtuous without great leadership in its purpose and process. Repentance and restitution must take place where the audit finds wrong and the best way forward forged as a body politic. The virtues in the idea of a national cathedral can be redeemed and the dead and near-buried hope and glory resurrected. This project can still bring God glory and bestow blessing on not just Ghana but the nations of the world if we would be quick to vanquish the evils that crouch at the foundation and front steps of this edifice. But for now, both my hopes and fears of these past six or so years have come to a head in this embattled National Cathedral of Ghana project.
It was heart-warming to find that a couple of the National Cathedral’s Board of Trustees members, namely Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Rev. Eastwood Anaba, reiterated my January 21 call above to ‘stop work and produce audit’ barely two days later, January 23, 2023. It was soon followed by a formal press release by the chair of the Board, Rev. Prof. Opoku Onyinah the next day, following a January 23, 2023 Board of Trustees meeting at which they agreed to engage Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, to carry out an audit.
The hope expressed in the final paragraph of the said press release is mine too: “It is the hope and trust of the Board of the National Cathedral of Ghana that once these nagging issues are satisfactorily dealt with, the public interest and confidence in the project would be restored and rekindled to enable the citizenry to contribute generously to complete the Cathedral to the glory of God.”
Wow! Thank God for 2023! It’s still a relatively new year and I have been hearing a lot of people say, “I do not make new year resolutions anymore.” Similarly others confess, “I have stopped goal-setting.” Do not make that mistake. Let me tell you why.
First of all, this may sound cliché, but it is true: “if you aim at nothing you will hit it.” Goal setting is a timeless, universal law. It’s a principle. I am of the Covey school of thought that principles and values are not the same because you can choose to value principles or not. That’s your business; but you won’t be spared the consequences of breaking an eternal law.
To illustrate this for those in Ghana presently, because the government is inundated with debt and is at the brink of defaulting in paying coupons and principals of domestic bonds they have instituted a Domestic Debt Exchange programme that is making nonsense of people’s savings and investments. Don’t forget that usually government bonds are so low in risk that investment advisors are often tempted to call them “risk free.” Consequently, I’ve come across people arguing—and you can’t blame them—vehemently inquiring, “What is the point of saving? We should have just spent our monies and enjoyed ourselves.”
But be wary: you cannot determine right laws to rule your life by just based on a one-off, unusual, unfortunate incident. What is going on in Ghana is rare (perhaps only Argentines, Zimbabweans and Jamaicans would understand); totally abnormal. So, one cannot refute the importance of savings and investments, which is a timeless, universal law (principle) just because one bad government has gone broke. In the same way, the fact that you have set goals in the past and it hasn’t worked out for you (or others) does not mean goal-setting doesn’t work.
Let me give you five things (a point per finger) to think about:
(1) GOALS MUST BE SET RIGHT
In the first place, are you setting the goals right? And are you setting the right goals? Are your goals specific? If not, they are not going to work. You can’t seize what you can see. Your goal cannot be fuzzy. Then, is it a stretch goal? Many of us will only get up and run after what really challenges us. Is your goal measurable, qualitatively or quantitatively? If not, one cannot keep score and one sees no point in running around in circles. Is it attainable, realistic? If it isn’t, you won’t even start when you know there is no winning, there’s no point venturing.
How about relevant? If it doesn’t really matter immensely to you, you are not going to live by it, let alone die for it. The goal must be right. If it isn’t important to your life purpose, that you won’t thrive without it or survive without it, you aren’t really going to pursue it. Are your goals time-bound? Whether it is a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual goal, it not only defines clear parameters but also creates a sense of urgency knowing that one doesn’t have ‘forever’ to accomplish it.
And oh! an essential part of what would be considered setting goals right and setting right goals would be to write/type them down. Many people underestimate the power of converting a metaphysical thought or idea into a physical one on paper or a device, grounding it on firma terra.
(2) NOTHING WORKS, REALLY
People set goals, even if they are done right and they are the right goals, go to sleep and then turn round to blame goal setting for not working. Remember, nothing works unless you work it. Even a car won’t work unless you work it, let alone things like marriage. Nothing works unless you work it, buddy. Of course goals don’t work; only people do! Are you working your goals, working on your goals, working out your goals?
(3) HOW ABOUT YOU YOURSELF?
But the third thing, apart from these first absolutely important duo above, is working on yourself! I keep repeating myself like a broken record and how key it is that the person at the centre of the goal-setting process grows in order to goal. So with every goal one sets, it is helpful to ask oneself: how/where do I need to grow in order to achieve this goal? There’s no successful working out goals if one doesn’t work on the person(s) whose goals they are.
(4) KEEPING TABS
If you’re like me, you may do all the above but just don’t make the time to periodically review how things are going with your goals. I tend to ‘go go go’ and not make the time to sit down on my blessed assurance to evaluate. Many times, it is in evaluating weekly, monthly or quarterly that one realizes things that need to be urgently adjusted or attended to in order for the goal to be hit. Imagine a pilot that doesn’t often do any course correction, they wouldn’t end up where they intended when they set out. These days there are instruments that automatically do the constant monitoring and course correction hence the plane can be left on autopilot. Until such autopilot instruments are invented for life itself, remember there is no way round the management cycle: planning (goal-setting right), implementation (working on yourself and working out your goals) and evaluation.
(5) GOT ACCOUNTABILITY?
A lot of us have no accountability. What are the structures you are putting in place to ensure you live by these goals? Don’t forget, as one professor says, human beings have an incredible capacity to deceive ourselves and that’s why l highly recommend that every one of you gets a coach. I have a coach, I have more than one coach. Get a coach, even if it means paying them. They would help you keep inspired and accountable; helping you keep your integrity to yourself and your goals until they are achieved.
You may also join a Mastermind this year, to find a group of goal-setters-go-getters who can keep each other motivated and mutually accountable. At YAW PERBI we will have Personal Growth, Family Foundations and Financial Whizzdom masterminds this year.
NO OBITUARIES IN 2023, PLEASE
So with just these five points, might you now have an idea why new year resolutions and goal setting in the past haven’t worked for you? Are you sincerely able to check all these boxes: (1) setting goals right and setting right goals, (2) working out your goals, (3) working on yourself, (4) keeping track by periodically evaluating and (5) getting accountability?
Neither goals nor goal setting is dead; rather you are, without them. Align your life and leadership with the timeless, universal laws of the universe. Don’t hurt yourself by kicking against the pricks. Goals and goal setting are not ancient landmarks you can remove and succeed. You will achieve nothing in 2023 without goals and you will have no one but yourself to blame—because you aimed at nothing, and hit it.
Congratulations to Lionel Messi and the illustrious Argentine team for clinching the FIFA World Cup 2022 trophy, literally snatching it from the jaws of defending champions and tormentors-in-chief in the final, France. In all my years, that grand finale at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar (on their National Day in front of 90,000 warm bodies), was the best ever.
Although the Qatari robe in the feature picture of this blog has raised all sorts of conversations, it’s the gold for me. I love gold. Perhaps because I’m from the Gold Coast (Ghana’s colonial name) or because my father’s father was a goldsmith and something of that runs in my blood. In the executive leadership education company I run, YAW PERBI, our brand colours in tandem with our core mandates are green for growth, blue for success and gold for significance.
To receive a golden ball award and to lift the golden World Cup trophy clad in a gold-laced robe with a gold medal for a neck accessory is no mean feat. It is a personal and professional pinnacle only few mortals shall ever reach, even if translated into the equivalent zeniths in their respective fields like the Grammys for music, the Oscars for movies and the Nobel prizes for various noble works.
As I compose this, my oldest son is lounging on the family room carpet engrossed in a soccer video game on his phone. I won’t be surprised if his seismic shift from basketball madness to soccer obsession has something to do with our final move last year across the Atlantic from Canada to Ghana but boy does he remind me of myself, three decades back—my golden days.
As the first of four siblings in the same primary school, I would proudly take up the front seat beside my chauffeur-dad each weekday morning en route to Ridge Church School (RCS). My favourite was Monday mornings, as I ‘invested’ my pocket money (and sometimes parental financial aid) in sports newspapers. My preferred teams then were Asante Kotoko locally and John Barnes’ Liverpool globally. I would get myself tired and dirty and late to the car pack to be picked up after school–soccermania! I even played for the RCS school team at the Accra Sports Stadium once. In high school, I only managed to play for Aggrey House at Achimota–I had neither the amount of time nor talent to make the school team.
I grew up in the golden days of one who was the greatest footballer then, to me: Diego Maradona. Dribbles. Goals. Antics (like bouncing the ball on his shoulder before kick-off ). Even the (in)famous ‘hand of God’. My dad was delighted like me, for sure, yet still gleefully tell me of his growing up days—albeit with not even a family black-and-white TV let alone today’s array of personal electronic devices. But of course owning a TV or not, everyone knew about the indomitable Pelé. Some of the legendary tales were incredulous, to say the least. And there was no Google to fact check back then! Pele was the greatest, banging in goals like clockwork and lifting three golden World Cup trophies. O what golden days!
Last Sunday, it was such a joy to watch the thrilling World Cup finale, with all my seven children. In their era, they are spoilt for choice in many things. They too will tell their children two or three decades hence, that Messi was the greatest. Have you seen all his medals and metals?! Or well, it just might be killer-Kylian Mbappe, soon enough.
GROWING INTO GOLD
The debate rages on (some wish it was over) about whether Messi is the GOAT—Greatest of All Time. I’m not as vested in football as I was in primary school to be all emotional and fight over this. As I posted in jest on my Facebook status the morning after the final, “#Messi is GOTT; not GOAT. Greatest Of This Time (GOTT) for sure, but certainly not Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). It’s my wall, I write what I like!🤪”
Messi’s grabbed his gold and gone. Now to you and me: to get to success (blue) requires tremendous growth (green), personally and professionally. And growth and pain are siamese twins. While success, when it comes, is largely personal, it takes intentionality of mind and a big heart to translate it into societal significance. Not all who succeed are significant.
While many of us, the world over, in our emotional high applaud Messi and the Argentines, in our more sober moments we each need to reflect, introspectively asking ourselves if we are playing our ‘A’ game. Let’s all question: “Messi and Me: am I playing for gold too?” Especially as 2023 beckons, will we intentionally grow like crazy so we authentically succeed in leaps and bounds and greatly bless the world too, in this time or for all time (who cares?), with our own version of gold? Gold is significance.