INTERVIEW WITH BROTHER FRANCIS APPIAH
Hello and Welcome. This is “In the Hope Seat” interacting with one of our brothers from the Young Peoples’ Guild (YPG) and a member of the Singing band. Before I introduce him or before he introduces himself, we want to switch the dialect. We want to do some local version and of course, I am not here alone. I am here with my co-presenter Natasha Quayson and I am Laura Lawson.
**NB: Interview was transcribed in English even though the interview was done in twi**
Q. How should we call you?
A. I am Francis Appiah but my house name is Kofi Mensah
Q. Who exactly is Francis Kofi Mensah?
A. Francis is from Asante Bekwai but currently live at Sakumono Estates.
Q. How did you end up in Sakumono Estates?
A. As for the path I took to end up here I think… I lost my father by the time I had finished with school (Edjenese LA, JSS) and when I finished school… I funded my own schooling. I lived with my Stepmother in those days. At that time I was living with her, my father had travelled, school fees and living standards were a bit harsh; my mother was not doing any profitable job too, so I had no option than to fight for myself by weeding for people and so many things to take care of myself from class five till I completed JSS 3.
So I took care of my own self through school all this while till I finished and when I finished school and by then, my father had returned to Ghana with sickness which caused his death.
The remaining family did not help me and I had to keep struggling through till one of my uncles advised me that I would not earn a good living if I continued to stay in that town hence I should go out to live with one of my other uncle. He was a farmer and a palm wine tapper so I had to offer my strength to help him so we tapped palm trees for wine, we cut down palm nuts and weed farms and burn them. So for me, when it comes to cutting palm nuts, I am an expert (Presenters giggles)
Yes, I was very good with the palm nuts. So we cut them, tap wines, weed and so many other things to the point where sometimes, I do not even bath before going to bed in the night.
It went on like that for a while and then, I realized it was as if my father’s relatives were taking advantage of me. They promised to take me to school (the very reason I had to leave the town to the village), he said he knew the influential townsfolk and could get them to continue my education but when I assessed the situation, he had not even educated his own children much less myself; a nephew. We were all doing the farm work together, we cut palm nuts and weed and all those things with no plans of educating them nor putting them into a trade, so then I conceived a strategy and made my mind to look elsewhere for help. I planned to come to Accra and all I knew about Accra was Circle so I asked permission from my uncle to go and visit my mother Unfortunately or fortunately, when I called her, she told me she was in Kumasi so I had to change my plans and look towards Accra for my future. I then went to pack my belongings which was a polythene bag containing three of my best clothes and then aboard a car for Accra.
Q. Which part of Accra?
A. The only place I had ever heard of was Circle which seemed to be the only hope I had. It was a very popular place in Accra. As I board the car, due to my ignorance, I kept insisting for the mate not to forget Circle till I finally alighted.
Q. So when you came to circle, what or whom did you know in Accra?
A. I didn’t know anyone so I approached a young man selling coconut. Before then I approached a guy selling fan milk and I told my problem to him and then he cautioned me saying that life in Accra was not that easy and that I could not just get up without knowing anyone. He mentioned to me, he was “perching” with someone so when I later met the guys selling the coconut, they promised to help me by introducing me to where they sleep in front of a drugstore,
Q. So at circle, where exactly were you sleeping?
A. There was a kiosk, where we slept. It was in front of a drug store so we had to wait till the drug store closes and then we fix some nets to sleep inside. We slept there for three years continuous. There were a lot of people sleeping in the kiosk so we use to fix a net outside to sleep there, bath and do all that we wish to do.
So it was then that I made my mind to learn driving. I knew how to drive already because my father had cars. Before that, I had also being selling coconut too. I have also sold chewing gum, dog chains, even fan milk, even fried yam, when it was fried, I went for some of it and sold it around
Q. Telling us about the driving
A. Hmm, it was through selling the coconut that I realized I was not doing very well then I asked about people selling and then…
Q. What was your motivation for these times?
A. What pushed me is that I have a vision which is to be somebody great in future. I want the opportunity to prove to my family that God can make me great. So I put it in mind that any job at all to get me to where I desire to be, I would do
Q. At that time of making this declaration, did you know God then?
A. No I didn’t
Q. So how did you know that God could guide you to where you wanted to be?
A. Those times I used to go to Church and we were taught in Church that without God, nothing was possible. So when I stopped, I still had it in mind that God was the ultimate for all that I wanted to be so I allowed God to guide me even though I had stopped going to church.
Q. So having moved from Asante Bekwai you said you lived at circle for 2years
A. Yes for 2 years, in an uncovered structures, so when it rains, we pick our mats and stand and wait till the rain subsides and then we sweep and mop the water off the floor before we can lay back our mats and sleep.
Q. So from Circle, how did you end up at Sakumono Estates?
A. I was walking one day when I met one of my family members living at Sakumono Estates, so we exchanged contacts. I paid them a visit and realized that where they were was far better than the conditions I was facing, so I had to move to where they were and that’s how I ended up at Sakumono Estates. Meanwhile knowing I wanted to move, I started putting money together to learn my driving. I even learnt how to be a mate to observe etiquettes of driving through which one of the drivers asked me to bring some money for him to teach me to drive.
Q. So what year exactly did you learn how to drive?
A. Let’s take it that I knew how to drive from my father’s home because he had lots of cars not just a car
Q. If your father had cars, then it means that there is something at home, why then do you give the impression that there is no money to take care of you or your education
A. Yes, those cars were commercial and there was good money at home. My mother’s side was rich. My mother had nine siblings and they all had money…
Q. So why didn’t they take care of you to school?
A. That is a lesson I have learnt in life. You having and giving are two different things. Even in this Church (HOPE Congregation), I once sent some people to Central Region for a funeral. I took them to my family house and they were surprised I had turned out the way I am. Most of my family members are outside the country. Almost all of them are out of the country building their families. Both father and mother sides were rich but my father’s sides were misers. I was not so close to my mother’s side.
Q. How did you become born again?
A. It was through selling these things and weeding and petty jobs that I met with Auntie Emma (Eunice Asante’s mother). She met me while I was still selling and doing these petty jobs and then she started preaching God to me
At that time, I was living in the very house where Agya Koo used to live when he was herein Sakumono. At that time, the area behind the estates was all bush. There were no buildings whatsoever. Hon. Irene Naa Toshie’s area was all bush with only uncompleted building so it was in those very times, when I was selling these petty things, fetching water for people, selling these dog chains and all that that Aunt Emma discovered me and when she did, she explained that she wanted to take me as her son and was worried of why a young small boy such as myself was not enrolled in school. I answered to her and said that I was still interested in school but for the lack of help. She asked if I had no relatives then I explained to her that I have a very rich family but are very wicked and don’t help people and because I knew that and made my conclusions, I moved on towards where I could help myself. She also enquired about where I fellowshipped and I said I didn’t go to church even though initially, I used to attend Methodist but had stopped when I was very young. She requested to take me to her church so that she could add me to her children and send me to school. Unfortunately, because I had come to experience money, I had lost interest in the school.
When she asked to take me to Church, I asked her where her Church was, and then she explained that it was the adjoining Church to the Roman Catholic Church. Then I shouted with surprise and thought myself not worthy enough to belong to a Church with a building like this. The Church didn’t seem like one for children and when you see them all dressed on Sundays coming to church, indeed you realize that the church is not meant for people like me so I became discouraged and started making excuses that I did not have a dress for church. She still encourage me and told me she would send her children to buy me a dress from Accra for church so she made them go to buy clothing from Accra for me, a very nice shirt.
I further told her that I didn’t have an iron to iron my dress for Church on Sunday. This was all because I wanted an excuse because looking at the size of the building and looking at myself, a nobody who only slept out in the cold, there was no way I could fit in there
Q. You referred to the church as big, was it the size of the building or the caliber of members?
A. The church is very big and apart from that, when you see the caliber of people who were coming in with their dressings, while for me all I had was my 2×4 dress I had on to compete with all these kinds of people. Honestly, I was embarrassed about the thought. I realized it was not worthy of me to compete with such people.
As a hustler of my kind, I was amiss and wondering how I was going to be noticed in a huge building and people such as this but the Aunte Emma told me to refocus on God as the ultimate instead of man. She added that I should forget what man would say and concentrate on what God would say and that God’s approval supersedes all others. When she said this to me, I accepted and became confident but even that, I did not go. I kept tossing her for over a month meanwhile, I had already taken the dress she had bought for my church attendance. Then one of her daughters Eunice, (the one married to Samba) insisted on my attending church no matter what.
It was very difficult for me. You know, Sunday was a day of the week when people were home and I would usually get good request of people asking me to help with their water issues due to the low pressures of the pipes to flow to the higher floors of the flats. Honestly, I made my mind that I couldn’t sacrifice such a good marketing day nevertheless, I was struck by a deep desire to go to church so one day, I told her I was going to be in church and she was excited.
Q. So when you came, how did they receive you?
A. The relationship was ok. When I came in, she (Aunte Emma) told me her daughter Eunice was with the choir, Church Choir and some of her other children were in Royals of HOPE so she advised me to join Royals of HOPE but I told her I was not interested in Royals.
Eunice wanted to pamper me to stay because she was sure if I didn’t like or fit in, I would leave. She further brought me to the Church Choir and they received me warmly since it was my first time of joining them. A also went through confirmation classes and then I was confirmed and baptized
Q. Having come to know God, can you tell us how different your life was then and now?
A. Oh, for that, I have a seen great difference. The difference is massive. First, I have become very popular in the church right from JY even with the Children Service. I play with a whole lot of them so whenever I am around you hear the children hailing me “Uncle Francis, Uncle Francis” Yes, a whole uncle, and when that happens, it makes me very happy.
When I remember form where I am coming from to attain such heights in that the children in the church, the elders and even the ministers in the church all identify with me so well, then I feel very happy for making me very popular in the church. This makes me very happy.
Another instance is where I realize that before knowing God, my life was different being a hustler and having to know God. Coming to know God, I have been able to achieve a whole lot. I have taken care of my female siblings to study nursing and she is now in the United States. She was living with me, and for someone who was sleeping outside in the open, I have been able to accommodate a sibling to live with me for years to educate her.
Q. What exactly contributed to such transformed success?
A. When I came in to the church, Aunt Emma and Bro. Samba taught me and advised me to be very active with the work in the house of God. They further advised that, I should involve in church programs at all times and dedicate to the work ongoing whether it be sweeping or any cleaning of a kind so that God would favour me and indeed I was doing that. I was working and sweeping diligently in the church and that even led to me receiving an award in the church (during Rev. Puplampu’s time, he gave me an award for Chapel cleaning)
Q. So would you agree that it is upon that that you receive your kinds of blessings that are coming to you?
A. Oh yes. I can confidently say that it is the sweeping of the church that has opened doors for me greatly. You see, cleaning the chairs, sweeping the compounds and doing menial jobs for others to come in and enjoy in God’s name is a great blessing.
What makes it a blessing is that, I never once thought from the situation I was in, I could one day rent a house in Sakumono. I never fathomed it especially a rental in this Tema-Sakumono kind of vicinity. So having moved from Samba’s place and then now living in a rented place of my own, I feel very happy. Interestingly, many of the people I came to meet are still sleeping outside there in the open. Another interesting thing I acknowledge is the fact that the young man I met at Circle selling coconut is now in the United States and is building his own house. He also gave his lie to Christ and attached himself with Kaneshie Presby that paved way for him.
Q. Hmm, then there is something you want to say. What does it mean?
A. It means that there is a great operating force in the Presbyterian Church.
Q. Hallelujah. I think you should say that again.
A. There is a great supernatural force in Presby. The Holy Spirit is real in this church and when you attach yourself to it, that God makes you big.
Yes. It’s true. My friend who attached himself to the Kaneshie Presby also joined the Church Choir and loved to sing diligently and so it was through his dedication and love for things of the Lord in his church that opened a great door for him to travel.
Q. This is God saying He uses the foolish things of this world to conform the wise
A. Oh yea. The manner in which God does His things is a great mystery. How far God has brought me, I feel delighted because I have been able to take care of my siblings. I have two more in Secondary School. I feel blessed for someone who slept under open weather can now fund the education of people and cause even my relatives to offer some respect to me.
Q. Alright so for now, what do you do for living?
A. Oh ok, for now, I am a Taxi driver. I do that to feed and survive.
Q. So do you have your own car?
A. No please. Initially, I was driving people’s cars but now, with the great assistance of the Hope Micro Finance, I took a loan from then and have partnered to obtain a car. After all debts are paid, it would become mine.
Q. So how long would it take for the car to become your own?
A. Let’s say by two years’ time. But I believe I owe much gratitude to Hope Micro Finance for what they have done. It is not every Church you find yourself in that grants you such an opportunity.
Q. Before becoming a taxi driver, did you have any dreams, plan or visions you wanted to achieve in the future?
A. Yes, before becoming a Taxi driver, I had it in mind that I wanted to travel abroad. Because of the fuss that goes around the travelling abroad experience, I also desired for it and as I speak, I will achieve it
And even before being a taxi driver, I desired to also learn to drive these big cars such as escalator so while selling the petty goods, I desired to drive these kinds of cars. The intent was that through that I would find my way to the US to get a job with these construction jobs which I am told pays very well and to the glory of God, I’ve been able to attend their schooling for such training at Tema John Bosco. So before being a taxi driver, the dream to learn and use these machine to pave way for me to travel and the desire to be a soldier were on my mind
Q. Concerning the travel, is it stemming from financial desires or for a standard in life so that assuming your being in this church still, God grants you the opportunity to grow financially and in wealth, would you still desire to travel abroad?
A. Being in the church and working, I am content but you see, life continues and one must keep experiencing and I cannot drive taxi till my old age. I must move forward and endeavor for the best and because I didn’t have anyone to help me in life, I vow not to cause such experience for my wife and children, so I plan ahead so that if it is two or three children I can educate even though I did not have a high education, that should not limit me from educating my children to the heights of their potentials
Q. So as a taxi driver, what was some of your exciting experiences?
A. Ok. Let me talk about the happy one first. What excites me about the taxi work is the fact that during events such as national footballs and so forth, we hang our national flags on our cars and blow horns to each other in the spirit of excitement and call out names doing all sorts of exciting things. It’s like celebrating in your own office. Another one is that when it rains and people are running helter skelter finding a place for solace or searching for cars to board, I am so warm and dry sailing in my car and feeling good. Another one that when I take someone on a long journey and I return having seen that I have really “ripped” good gain, I feel really great and makes the driving of the taxi very fun
Q. So how much of this sales do you give to God?
A. As for my tithe, I never joke with it. I always pay my tithe. Because since I started driving, I have never had an accident. Not even a scratch. And in this Accra, if you can drive for a whole year without having your car as much as scratched, then it is God’s doing.
Q. What about bitterest experiences?
A. There are two instances that breaks my heart deeply and if you can observe it has changed my whole demeanor.
There was one instance when someone took me on a drop service and took me all over Accra form Circle MTN Office, well dressed, and looking really polished. He finally took me to the Accra worker’s college and asked me to wait for him. I also planned to charge him heavily. I relaxed and slept off. After a while, after I had awoke, it had kept too long so I asked a woman selling food nearby if she had seen the brother I was moving with and she warned me of how people duped people in the very areas especially with taxi drivers so I should be careful. I was gripped with fear because I gave him the best services. I turned on the air-condition in all the trips and my fuel had run low so I was planning to ask him for money to buy fuel when he duped me
(How much were you going to charge him?) I planned to charge him about GHC350. We had made lots of rounds and he picked me in the very early in the morning and he left me around 4PM. I will never forget that in my life. It was a painful experience.
(So what was the second bitter experience?) That was when I had an encounter with the armed robbers at EMEF estates. They pulled a gun on me and attacked me. A lady and some guys. That was about 7: 30 to 8PM. They cut me up. If you look at me here… these are some wounds. Why they did that is that I think there was no bullet but if there was, then it was God because as they fired, it wasn’t working so the lady among them stuck me up with the knife. I have learnt a bit of tae-kwan-do for self-defense as a hustler so with that faith I tried to defend myself, but I was defeated because they were three against one. Fortunately the police were that place and came around and that’s what helped me.
You know something I’m picking from this story? I’m happy he mentioned the fact that when he was coming to this church, he was feeling very challenged because of the magnitude of the building and all that but you know, having come, look at all the blessing this guy is enjoying and you know if he doesn’t tell his story, nobody would ever know.
Francis, honestly, I would like you to advice… there are some people out there. People who used to be like you. I’m using “used to be” because you are not like that anymore and these people would also see this church and exclaim just like you did and hope to get some money before they can fit it but indeed, the church is for people like that so what can you really tell them?
What you are saying is true and the reason for that is that when I was going through life struggling with the menial jobs, anytime I tell someone around me, they are amazed and don’t believe me. Even when you see the area where I have hired my house around Jotaifa, it is not a mere place and for someone to be able to afford something of that nature places me in a good light so what I would tell my colleagues who were in my shoes before to know that life is not only about formal education but when God comes into your life He will direct your path even if you are a hustler and if you commit all your ways to him, He will guide you right and bless you.
Q. So even now, when people see you and tease you and call you names as a taxi driver looking down upon you, does it affect you?
A. No it doesn’t affect me.
Q. When people talk badly about the profession of the taxi driver how do you feel?
A. To me in particular, it doesn’t affect me because I do not look down on myself for someone to look down on me. In this life, the end result is the grave so no matter who you think you are, at the end of it all, we would all go down the grave.
But, I do not blame people for looking down on taxi drivers anyway because some of these drivers are to be blamed. They look very shabby and very messed up and dress and smell so badly when all you can do is just buy a body spray which does not cost anything. The way you treat your office determines how you would be treated. Some of them are not neat. Most are illiterates and so this ignorance makes them throw caution to the wind. But to me, no one can look down on me. It doesn’t affect me. And, with where I am now, I may not necessarily be compared with some University graduate because some graduates cannot even achieve a half of what I have achieved so far.
Q. Who do you see or consider as a role model?
A. Oh for me, a role model, through the whole Ghana, I would say it’s Former President of Ghana, J.J Rawlings
Q. Anything significant of specific about your choice
A. I feel I have a connection with him. When you look at his history, it seems similar to mine. He was very young and a nobody but when you listen to his story, he struggled in life (even though he took wrong means to become a president, that was good for Ghana because at that time, the heads of the country were abusing the country). Other than that, he is straight forward and very honest.
Q. So you think you identify with him in your life history?
A. Yes very much so. Not that I would also go into the army and organize a coup. No.
Q. So you are saying that because of the kinds of heights he attained by going into the military and then become president, you will also go into military and become president.
A. Oh definitely. Once I go into the army, I will become president
Q. But there are many people already in the army, so what makes you think that you can just rise and be president.
A. Everyone is different. In the same way I came to find people already there before me who haven’t achieve a bit of what I have achieved, the same way I know that if I go into the army and if I have faith in my God and I desire to be president, I can be president.
Q. What groups are you in in the church?
A. I am in YPG and Singing Band
Q. What do love about these groups and would love to see changed?
A. The Youth in the church are active. I joined the group and they know how to check on people so when I am absent the YPG, members call me and that boost my moral. A change I would love to see in the YPG is with the language barrier. I would love for the local to be mixed with the English a bit to help some hustlers like myself who are challenged with the English language to feel comfortable enough to participate.
With Singing Band, what I like is that, they leaders of the group are very dedicated and are mindful of the concerns of the people. This makes people feel very good.
Q. It is your own confession that you wouldn’t have gotten to such heights without God and you confess that the God of HOPE is a great and magnifying God so what exactly do wish to achieve for this church?
A. I desire to buy a bus for the church
Q. But now with the little that you have, what exactly do you use your blessings to do to help the church. We know you sweep and clean the church and even though our hope Microfinance has helped you attain a taxi, what do you achieve with you blessing?
A. I evangelize to people in the car and then when I come to church, I offer help to people who wish for lift along the way from church or if it is not far, I drop them off at their premise. I never leave with an empty car.
Presenter: Francis, you have been a great blessing. You know you have right?
Francis: O yes I have been a great blessing
There are a lot of people who do not have good grounding. They’ve had unfortunate beginnings and because of that, they limit themselves to the fact that, that is how it should be for them but I think Francis has made a significant difference…
Yes, I think he has been a great testimony to the youth and anyone who listens or reads this would be motivated and encouraged. We don’t have to belittle those small humble beginnings because God certainly has a great plan for everybody. He has a good plan for each and every single person on this earth and He will surely take you to that perfect end and that is what we are seeing in Francis today….
He is a testimony today and I particularly thank God for Aunte Emma and Joseph Samba. I believe the need for evangelism is very necessary because if Aunte Emma did not evangelize to this young man, we may not see this transformation and he may probably be wondering somewhere and doubting God. So it means that we all have the responsibility of taking evangelism as a major task. As the body of Christ, step out there and win a soul at anytime
Q. What do you do in you spare time?
A. The way you spoke the English, I thought you meant my spare tyre (all burst into laughter) Ok, I go to the beach or relax to watch Agya Koo’s movies. Even because of that, I have gone to buy a multi TV decoder.
Presenter: Do you have a girlfriend?
A. No, Francis does not have a girlfriend
Q. Why is that?
A. I had a girlfriend earlier but broke up with her
Francis finally sings his favourite song.
aaw, Francis that is awesome and very good. We have enjoyed every bit of you so thank you so much for spending time with “In the Hope seat” today and we hope that people will learn a lot from your life and from this interview it would also make an impact in generational groups in the church. God richly bless you. Amen thank you so much
Francis: Thank you too.