TWINSBURG – A priest who was jaded by his missionary work in El Salvador — a dangerous country with a violent history — says he became inspired once again during a recent mission trip to Ghana, Africa.
Father Michael Stalla, pastor since 2015 at Ss. Cosmas and Damian Catholic Church, 10419 Ravenna Road, traveled to Ghana with his brother-in-law, Tommy Novak, Jan. 11-18.
Stalla said the word “Ghana” kept coming up in conversations, and he prayed about going there.
“Why are you calling me here, Lord?” he asked.
With the calling, he agreed to shadow another person for one week from the brothers of the Holy Cross retreat center, located in Ghana.
Stalla says he found Ghana as different from El Salvador as night from day.
“El Salvador was a dangerous place,” Stalla said. “I was jaded about missions. If you told me Ghana was safe, I would have to see it with my own eyes.”
There was no military or travel restrictions in Ghana, he said.
“I went to the village of Moirie at lunch,” Stalla said. “I wasn't used to being allowed to go out on my own, but it was as safe as Twinsburg.”
Stalla recalled that in Moirie, a fishing village along the gulf of Guinea where homes are made of cinder blocks with sheet metal roofs and dirt floors, men sang as they pulled up the boats with their daily catch. So Stalla and Novak decided to join them.
“We helped pull in a ship and cleaned the nets,” Stalla said.”It was very interesting. They were so gracious and beautiful.”
Stalla explained that Ghana is home to 57 tribes and 100 languages — so the universal language tends to be English, he said. The country has many different religions, and each tribe has its own ritualistic dancing, which can make services long.
“They live intermingled in neighborhoods,” Stalla said. “People are not separated by tribes or religion, but there's no tension.”
The chiefs must approve any laws passed by parliament, he said. Some tribes are ruled by a patriarch system and others have a matriarch system.
Ghana is home to several “slave castles,” or large commercial forts originally built for trade in timber and gold — but which were later used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, he said.
“The chiefs sold their own people for weapons,” Stalla said. “They used the weapons to invade other tribes and sold them for more weapons.”
From the castles, slaves would pass through the castles’ “doors of no return,” Stalla explained, never to return to the continent.
But because the British kept detailed records, bones of Ghanaian slaves were discovered in the Americas and returned through the renamed “doors of return.” The “doors” also welcome descendants of slaves who want to learn their history.
Stalla says those doors symbolize his new outlook on missions.
“The Lord opened my eyes to the option of missions,” Stalla said. “There are more options to consider. In what way do we have relationships with others in the world, and should we form them?”
The people of Ghana, he says, show no resentment of the slave trade history. It was an ugly history, but they have moved past it.
“They have no burden of the past,” Stalla said. “That age is done, and the people focus on this age.”
Stalla said he hopes to plant a few seeds for options of mission trips so people at Ss. Cosmas and Damian can interact with others, learn their culture and find ways to serve them.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434or firstname.lastname@example.org