The simplest experiences in life can be like prisms. When light hits them at a certain angle, they cast a rainbow of color. You see the same light, but you see it much differently.
One of those moments for me was with Daniel, one of the kids at the Eugemot Orphanage in eastern Ghana. After a couple of days on the ground, our mission team from Arab spent some time with the children down by the creek. We watched a few of the older ones doing their chores, washing clothes on the rocks by the stream. Some were there to fetch water to carry on their heads, in characteristic African fashion. But Daniel, among others, was one of the younger ones there to play.
Two times he started to jump into my arms and twice I refused. After all, I still had my phone in my pocket. But the third time, I gave in and opened my arms, and here he came. Whoosh!
I turned him over my shoulder head first, threatening to drop him in the water behind me, just as I had always done with my own kids. He squealed with delight. I turned him back over, and that's when they snapped the picture.
For just a moment, all the children of the world shined with the same light in many different colors, whether they were my own children or one of God's many children. As Thomas Merton famously said of others he saw in one of those prism-like moments on a street corner in Louisville, how could I possibly tell them they were all shining like the sun?
What an experience it was to go to Ghana. During the New Year holidays, twelve other adults from Arab First United Methodist Church went with me to Hohoe, a village in eastern Ghana. We went to visit Mama Eugenia and the Christian orphanage that we have supported for a number of years there. We visited during the New Year's holiday, a major time of thanksgiving for Ghanian people. We went to church late New Year's Eve after enjoying hours of African drumming, singing a mixture of folk and gospel songs, and dancing by the bonfire. In addition to the over 30 orphans in residence, many of the older ones had come back to the orphanage from their stay at high school or the university to celebrate at home.
After the big feast, I remembered how to use a saw and a shovel, for in the hot African sun, we helped lay the foundation for a barn we had raised the money to build near their new dormitories. As a result, they will be able to store crops and be more self-sustaining, as any orphanage in a third-world country should be. We made concrete bricks with shovels, dirt, cement, water, and molding. We helped bag a crop of corn. We visited three churches, one of which was a house-church, and offered food relief to families in poverty. We walked through the village to see goats and chickens crossing the road at every turn. We met the local chief and paid our respects. Each night, we had dinner together and reflected on the miracles of the day.
I have been on mission trips before and knew the experience would bless me in more ways than I could possibly bless others, but I had no idea how much I'd be touched by their faith. Ghana is a very Christian country. It is third-world, yet their faith is so simple, so beautiful. They pray to God every time they get in the car, and they believe God provides the food they have to feed their family ... tonight.
It seems there is "God language" and symbolism everywhere. I walked down the dusty street near our hotel to see little shops called "The Lord is My Shepherd" and "His Mighty Hand." I saw "God's Grace Beauty Salon" and "Blessed Assurance Fashion." The bumper stickers on taxis had phrases like "Nothing without grace" on them.
On the Sunday we were there, we had some Sabbath time. After going to worship in an outdoor chapel hut, we headed through the jungle to the waterfalls. In good Methodist fashion, we held a baptismal remembrance service in the cold fresh water and brought home stones to remember it by.
As far as shopping, well, that's not what we were there for but we did stop by the marketplace. Several in our group made it home with djembes (west African hand-made drums) or cutlasses (that's what they call machetes).
I am grateful for the twelve friends I will always cherish for they shared this experience with me: Robert Burton, Brian O'Dell, and Lois O'Dell (the three who coordinated the trip), Tammy Bass, Carl Ivey, Ben Richey, Marc Scarbrough, Lexi Scarbrough, Hannah Shirley, Tarah Sloan, Lianna Smith, and Peyton Tanner. They poked fun at me for being the only one on the whole team that liked Spam and for how short my old shorts were (I had planned on leaving them there!). Half of them were young adults on their first overseas trip, some on their first plane flight ever. What a joy to share this with them.
From the four-hour swinging van rides navigating all the potholes, to the strange way everyone said "you're welcome" when they first saw us on the street, to the daily dose of rice and red sauce, going to Ghana was an intense, fun, deep, and powerful experience. By our standards, they didn't have much ... but on the other hand, they had much more. There was joy always on their faces, and so much about everyday life to love.
But my favorite part? That's easy. It was playing with the children.
Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," is found at www.stevewestsmusings.