WAUKEGAN — The Ghana Airways fiasco that almost stranded a group of Waukegan Wesley Free Methodist Church workers in Africa was a blessing in disguise, said the Rev. Carl Brannon, pastor.
Brannon arrived back home Wednesday afternoon after a 24-hour flight from Ghana via Amsterdam with a group of church members.
The mission had expected to work on a church school for women in Accra but didn't because the necessary permits hadn't been issued.
"We didn't do what we thought we were going to do but our presence, an American presence, gave the project credibility and gave the church credibility with city officials," Brannon said.
Mission workers thought they might be stranded in the country for a month or more because their carrier, Ghana Airways, was banned in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration last week.
"I think this (crisis) made it possible to let more people know about the mission in Ghana," Brannon said. "Even within our own denomination people will be more aware of it ... It was an excellent experience and exactly what God wanted us to do."
The pastor of the five-year Trinity Free Methodist Church in Accra "had a vision to create a vocational school so women could be trained for professional work," Brannon said. "There's little or no training for women there. I feel the vision of this pastor is important, and this helped get the word out."
Accra, on the coast, and a center of the slave trade in the 19th century, "is a weird combination of beauty and potential, poverty and tragedy. There's this great pride people have ... then you people see open sewers, people living in slum-like conditions."
Ghanaians "are wonderful people," Brannon said. "Most speak English. They're gracious ... They probably spent money they didn't have to make us feel welcome. We made friends with vendors, even though we didn't buy anything."
Wesley church members have participated in missions to Peru, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Japan, Brannon said. "This was our first to Ghana, to Africa, and we'd love the opportunity to go back," he said.
The Free Methodist Church paid the cost of the return trip — more than $20,000 — "but we're going to have to find a way to repay them," Brannon said.
Ghana Airways has offered a $680 per ticket refund to church members, but they haven't been able to collect the money.
In Accra, Brannon said he was sent to an office to collect the money, in cash, but the clerk on duty "looked at me and said, 'I don't have that much money.' It's a totally cash society."