Ex-minister pulls strings for Ghanan's U.S. degree
GREENSBORO -- George Carpenter put his four children through college -- UNCG, Guilford College, Meredith and Texas Christian. So when the retired Presbyterian minister got the idea of putting a fifth -- somebody else's child --through college, at upward of $26,000 a year, he knew it had to be the voice of God in his ear.
"It had to be God telling me this guy is the one guy you need to work with," Carpenter says. It was on a mission trip to Ghana that he met Frank Twum-Barimah, who had completed his high school work but had little hope of getting into the University of Ghana, which had 20,000 to 30,000 students already on its waiting list.
If God said it, the 73-year-old reasoned, then it has to be done.
Seven years later, with the help of prayers, good fortune and an abundance of goodwill, Twum-Barimah has gotten his degree from a college here in the United States.
"When I look at Papa George (while walking across the stage), I felt like weeping," says Twum-Barimah, seated in Carpenter's Greensboro home this weekend, where he and his family traveled after the graduation. "How could I have ever done this if the Lord never did this in my life? How could I have ever done this if the Lord had never spoken to him?"
Carpenter is one of thousands of Americans who travel to other countries each year to help the poor and downtrodden. The work often consists of building houses, schools or teaching the people there how to grow food. But the Carpenter-Twum-Barimah story moved beyond that, perhaps the perfect by-product of hope and prayer, and of dreams come true.
Carpenter had come to know Twum-Barimah and his father, Kwaku Twum-Barimah, while working in Ghana, West Africa, on behalf of the Greensboro-area Salem Presbytery on a hunger partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Twum-Barimah's father was a minister with the Kwahu Presbytery in Ghana and manager of the church-sponsored Tease Agriculture Development Project.
The younger Ghanaian had been involved in numerous ministries at the church, including working with very young children.
"I believe a divine voice spoke to me and told me he needed more education," Carpenter says. He believed the young man could provide the leadership to help improve the lot of his people in Ghana. "I told his family that I thought Frank deserved a college education. His daddy's eyes lit up, and he asked, 'Can you help us?'
"His father and mother and I prayed together, and I promised I would do my best. They said he would never embarrass me. I knew that."
But in a poor country, where Twum-Barimah's parents are both teachers by training, the idea also seemed lofty.
"It's not easy for such a thing to be done," says the father. "(Carpenter) never gave up."
Getting Frank into the United States with a student visa was no easy task. He would first have to get him into school and prove that the money for study was secure. Carpenter began by calling UNCG, but was told they would not be able to help with his tuition because he would be considered an out-of-state student.
The counselor recommended that Carpenter contact someone at a small, Presbyterian college in Tennessee that was known to provide assistance to students like Frank, "a nice place ... where the people were very friendly," Carpenter recalls.
Carpenter asked for the name of this college and was told that he probably had never heard of it. "Have you ever heard of Maryville College?" Carpenter said the man asked.
"It's only my alma mater!" Carpenter replied. "I told him I just happened to be a 1953 alumnus of Maryville College."
The school provided the Dean's Scholarship, awarded to students with academic promise, covering half his college expenses.
"I said, 'God, now you've got him this far, you've got me this involved, tell me what phone calls to make, who to call,' " Carpenter says.
He found them: Greensboro-area people who said yes, and wanted none of the credit, who would give him the last few dollars he needed. Carpenter's church, Jamestown Presbyterian, agreed to sign on as the young man's official sponsor, providing him with some of the necessities of college living.
By this point it had taken three years for Frank to actually get his student visa and board a plane for the United States.
He came with one small suitcase in his hand and excitement in his heart.
Twum-Barimah quickly made friends and got involved in the local community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, even meeting former President Jimmy Carter on a Georgia building project. He also regularly volunteered with the Boys Club and Blount Memorial Hospital's Good Samaritan Clinic, a facility that provides health and dental care to underserved and uninsured populations.
On campus, he was involved in the International Club, the Black Student Association and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. At the end of 2001, he was named Outstanding Freshman and International Student of the Year. His classmates elected him the sophomore senator for the Student Government Association.
"When you call his room, his voice mail says, 'Remember every day is a new blessing from God,' and that's just the way he goes through life -- every day is a gift," says John Gallagher, who was the college student's academic adviser. "People who meet him for the first time are instantly impressed. He just has this personality that reaches out and touches people on an individual level."
In later years, the college would cobble together other financial aid, including grants, work study and a scholarship that the school's foundation tailored around Twum-Barimah. The young man also worked on campus to offset expenses.
"I was not ready to ask him for money after he got me here," Twum-Barimah says, looking over at Carpenter. "But he would call me and ask if there was anything I needed."
There were times when the young man's pockets were especially thin, and Carpenter knew those times would come.
"I wanted to be sure Frank had what he needed and would not be embarrassed," says the elder man, who regularly kept in touch with the college student. "So, I asked him."
Four years later and Twum-Barimah, now 28, has earned a bachelor's degree in organization management, with a specialty in nonprofit organization, which he hopes he can use to help improve the life of his people back home. Twum-Barimah has secured a graduate assistant position at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, which will enable him, financially, to earn a master's degree in public administration.
After that, he intends to return to Ghana to work in the nonprofit sector.
But right now, his thoughts are in making sure that "Papa George" and the others know what this opportunity has meant to him.
The college community paid for Twum-Barimah's parents and a sibling, Kofi, to fly to the graduation ceremony, where Carpenter gave the invocation.
"We sort of passed the hat, and the college certainly contributed the most, but a lot of the faculty, staff, students, all chipped in, and that says a lot," Gallagher says.
They raised $5,000 to bring the family here and allow them to also visit Washington, D.C., and New York before their return home.
The college has also strengthened its ties with Ghana, with a student and professor heading there this summer.
"I am very thankful," Twum-Barimah says. "I just pray that it doesn't end with me. I know it is my responsibility to do for someone else."
Carpenter smiles, for he realizes he was right about the voice in his ear.
"With God, all things are possible," Carpenter says. "Sometime we don't understand the whys and hows, but it's all possible."