Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's not only about orphans....

I just recently returned from my 4th mission trip in 5 months with Visiting Orphans. All of the trips have been amazing and yet very different from each other. And I've discovered that our trips are yes about ministering to orphans but they are also about meeting needs and being Jesus to kids, adults and whoever God puts in your path and at the same time - allowing God to change you. Yes, you're ministering to others. But watch how God also ministers to you. Prepare to be changed!!! 

Costa Rica was in March and was a 10 person team all pretty much from the Nashville area. It was my first time as team leader and we had an amazing team! And our in-country guide, driver and translator were so fantastic - they truly made my job as leader sooo easy. They are top-notch!!! The kids were so amazing. We visited 2 different orphanages near Limon. We danced and sang and did arts & crafts and just had so much fun with the kids. We even got to take both sets of kids to the beach all at the same time. They had a blast and so did we!!! I fell in love with a little boy named Ariel who was 2 years old and very withdrawn. He didn't fall in love or bond with me - he kind of kept his distance. He would sort of let you play with him but he did not want to be picked up, held or touched. And you could tell he was very skeptical of all of us. He did better with the men - especially when they would pick him up, turn him upside down and tickle him. And Brian, our guide, helped him ride a skateboard which he really loved. But with me and the other girls - he wasn't really too interested in connecting with us. And I could really sense that this kid had already been through alot. He had 4 older siblings who were also in the orphanage and they were all precious. They weren't orphans. Not in the sense of the definition we tend to think of when we think of an orphan. They still had a parent alive (possibly both but we know for sure their mom is still alive) and yet, here they were in this orphanage in Limon, Costa Rica. We found out later from our translator who asked some questions for us, that most of the kids in Costa Rica who are in these 2 orphanages we visit still have one or both parent living. And yet, there they are - not being cared for by their parents. We learned that a lot of them are taking away from their parent(s) due to abuse, neglect, drug addiction, etc. The sibling group I mentioned above was taken away from their mom for neglect - neighbors apparently called the police because the children had been left home alone. Can you even imagine leaving a 2 year old home alone? I can't. I hate to even think about what could have happened. Those kids had been taken from the mom that time but in other instances, she had just dropped them off there. So they've been in and out a lot. No wonder they didn't want to attach to any of us and were skeptical. We found out later that their mom is pregnant again and that she hadn't been by to check on her 5 kids in months. By the time our next team went in July, those 5 kids had gone to live with their grandmother. And my prayer is that they are in a loving home with her and being well provided for and loved. I have some photos from that trip printed out and hanging in my room - it reminds me to stop and pray for them. I may never hear about them or see them again - but they are in my heart and I will continue to pray. That trip was my first VO trip but even if it hadn't been - it was really hard for me to leave knowing that a lot of these kids don't have stability and are in and out and we may not see those same kids again. And we wouldn't get to know if they were ok or not. That was hard. I cried like a baby when I left those kids. I pray their families would get healing and help and be able to care for them the way they deserve. 

China was in April and we were a 7 person team led by Frank Pass. I had just been hired on full-time as Mission Trip Coordinator in March and needed to go to China to see how one of our trips went so that I could coordinate all the China trips. It was a beneficial trip for sure. I learned so much that has already served me well in planning other trips. And I also fell in love with the kids there. We visited one orphanage in Chifeng, China for many days in a row while we were there and a majority of the kids were considered children with "special needs" according to China. I just saw children - beautiful precious children! And I fell in love with a little girl who was withdrawn and skeptical and was very difficult to get to smile and didn't want me to hold her at all for the first few days. Chinese names are hard to say so I named her Jordan, which happens to be my favorite girl name and she looked like a Jordan. Her name was actually Jun Tien Luen - no idea how that should be spelled but that's my best guess:) By the 3rd day, she would let me hold her. Jordan had a condition that I've heard called "Teddy Bear Syndrome" where she can't really bend her elbows and her hands are turned outwards so when she was trying to pick something up - she had a difficult time but would scoop it up with both arms at the wrist. And she could hold on to small items like a crayon but not a bigger item like a ball. She would just bat at it on the table but if she wanted to hold it - had to scoop it up between her arms. One of the days we had a game where she just played with crayons - picking them up and dropping them, then I would pick it up and hand it back to her and we'd do that again and again - when I handed it back to her, she would smile and her smile was beautiful. What a precious little girl. So many physical limitations with the kids there and yet, their resilience was amazing and they adapted and were able to come up with new ways to do things. Frank, our team leader, fell in love with a little boy with no arms and that little guy would just cry and cry but when Frank would pick him up - he would stop crying and be perfectly content. And if you could see how he could pick things up with his feet - it was amazing. He picked up Frank's cell phone and passed it back and forth from foot to foot. He was so cute. And he stole Frank's heart. I don't know how many of the kids there are true orphans - my guess would be that a lot of them were simply cast aside due to so-called "special needs". And that is heart-breaking cause every one of those kids were precious. And every one of them deserves love! So for that time in Chifeng, we went in and we loved them and held them and played with them and gave them one-on-one attention. And next year, a lot of that same team is going back to the same orphanage again to do exactly that again. We also took the orphanage shopping with donation money and got them several washers and dryers and 4 microwaves for the orphanage. Even though these kids don't have moms and dads to care for them - the Chifeng orphanage was wonderful. They clearly love those kids and those kids love each other. We have since found out that Chifeng is not even on the adoption registry list so unless that changes, these kids will not be leaving there. And I hope that does change and those kids get forever families. But I do know that the orphanage felt like a big family and I am sure it's not like that everywhere so in seeing that and how well those kids are being cared for - it made it slightly less difficult to leave them because we knew they were in good hands. Though I did cry when I said goodbye to Jordan and walked out the door to leave. That was hard. And I think of and pray for her often. 

Haiti was in June and I didn't know I was going until really last minute. I was co-leading with Bethany Haley and Barbara Crossman and we made a great team! And we needed 3 leaders cause it was a hard trip. I've not quite experienced chaos like Haiti before nor since. There's a desperation that's very real and very obvious. And there's SOOO much need. It became very clear that there was no lack of places to go that need help. We visited orphanages, tent camps, helped out in a medical clinic, went to a school, gave medical attention to kids on the street and tried to intervene for an unborn child to the mother who was thinking of having an abortion. I didn't personally do all these things - but our team did. Each person had unique giftings and they put them to use in Haiti. I'm not a medical person and I'm not trained in trauma therapy or counseling - it was amazing for me to watch our amazing women at work in these areas. They were a huge blessing to me and to all the people we met there. They helped so many children and adults. And they were incredibly flexible. Haiti was the trip that all came together day by day, flexibility was #1 because plans fell through, things changed and nothing really happened quite the way we planned. It was often stressful for us as leaders and it was very hot there. And yet, this group of ladies handled it with the utmost grace and flexibility. The team truly blessed us leaders by having such servant hearts and positive attitudes. Yes, we loved on orphans in Haiti - but we also loved on each other, we loved on orphanage staff, and lots of adults and kids at the tent camps and other places we went to. And our team loved on our translator Sylvestre by deciding to help with college. They saw great potential in that young man and wanted to invest in him. And since returning, they have gone to great lengths to make that happen. It's been so neat to watch how God works during and after these trips. It never ceases to amaze me. He is such an amazing God! 

Ghana, Africa was my most recent trip in July/August. I absolutely love Africa - the culture, the people, the joy, the sense of community and the simplicity of life there. I saw poverty but I rarely saw anyone who seemed to even notice they were in the midst of it. We were welcomed with smiles and greetings everywhere we went. A lot of that was because of Cheryl Read who was gracious enough to let our team come join her International Hope & Heritage team. They had already been there 30+ days when we arrived. And VO had never been to Ghana so it was really helpful to go and learn from Cheryl. I learned first and foremost that in Ghana - relationships are everything. I saw the importance of returning to the same places year after year and building those relationships. I saw how important being formal is there. It all goes back to relationship. I will never cease to be amazed at how much people can carry on top of their heads. And at how little kids can carry babies and other small kids on their backs. They take care of each other in Ghana. And I loved it there! I loved sitting across from a little girl who loved mimicking everything I did as a game. I loved singing a song I made up on the spot with a group of local kids from huts along the beach in Aflao. I loved helping a medical missions team by counting pills under a tree in a remote village outside of Tamale. I loved doing the hokey pokey with 30 kids, holding babies in the Anfaani orphanage and helping the kids at Hands of Mercy Children's home with their homework. I loved watching Cheryl's team tell the Panorama bible story to widows in mud hut villages and getting to join them for an entire day of hut to hut evangelism. We did so much more than minister to orphans on that trip. 

And that's what I love about what I do. I get to watch as the Lord moves on the hearts of each team member, I get to see what passion he stirs up and I get to hear about how team members come home and can't just go back to life as normal. They come home changed. And they aren't content to just go on with life as usual. They start new ministries, they sign up for more trips, they start the process of adoption, they sponsor kids, they start raising money to support an orphanage, and so much more. And I get to be a witness to it all! There is nothing better than that. After all, it is out of a similar experience that I'm here today doing what I do at Visiting Orphans. I went on a mission trip in 2007 with Compassion. Honestly, I never had a desire to ever go on a mission trip prior to that. But I wanted to meet my sponsored child and I had just read the part of Purpose Driven Life that talks about asking God to send you. And I had prayed that prayer and the next day got an email about a sponsor tour to the Philippines. God's timing is perfect. I have no doubt of that!!! That sponsor tour changed my life and I couldn't go back to life as usual. I had to do more. So I sponsored several more kids, became a volunteer and later an area coordinator over 18 volunteers in Nashville. And my passion for missions was born too!!! I wanted to go, go, go wherever I could, as often as I could. And 3 years later - I lose my ad agency job only to start helping out with admin work part-time with Visiting Orphans at exactly the same time that it grows from 12-15 trips a year to 25 trips and suddenly has an immediate need for a full-time person to plan trips. I didn't even go looking for it. I was just there and I was open and willing to do whatever was needed. And because I was already helping with anything and everything - there I was in the position to be considered for that role. And here I am - Mission Trip Coordinator of a missions sending agency. Only God! Only God!!! 

 Franklin (my sponsored child) & I - 2007

I challenge you to ask God "will you send me?"! He'll send you. He'll show you. And He'll radically transform your life. It won't look exactly like mine. He has a way of custom fitting each of our paths to our specific giftings. He is a God of details. And He has a plan for your life and He has a plan for the lives of all the people you will touch on the mission field. It's orphans, it's widows, it's village chiefs and translators and your in-country guide. It's everyone God puts in your path. Go where the Lord is calling you and see if He doesn't change your life as a result. If you step out in faith and let God guide you - you'll be amazed at what He'll do. I know I am. I'm amazed everyday that He's put me in this place, that He would choose me for such a time as this, and yet - I'm willing and although I don't feel qualified, I'm also not afraid. I am confident that He will equip me for that which He has laid before me. And thank God - He does!! Cause I can't do it on my own, that's for sure.  It's my job to take the things He's put before me very seriously and try to be as diligent and faithful with it as I can with the most integrity. But He's doing the rest! I'm just letting Him use me and feeling humbled and honored that He would choose to. If He can use me, He can use you! We're all broken, sinful humans. But we have an almighty God who can do infinitely more than we can ever ask or imagine. And I hope I get to hear about what He does in your life!!! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heavenly voices in Ghana

The local kids didn't know English but the word Hallelujah translates and they understood that. So I made up a song for us to sing and they wanted to sing it over and over. I think we sat there and sang it for about an hour. I added a "Praise the Lord" little extra part and it was so precious to hear all their little voices singing it. It was probably my favorite moment ever!!! I had one kid sitting on my left leg, another laying down on my right and a cute little boy in front of me on the bench facing me and just fascinated with touching my hand. And a bunch of kids all around me. Beautiful Ghanaian children singing with me - it was like heaven to me!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My favorite day in Ghana

Our last day with children in Ghana was my favorite day in Ghana and is right up there on the list of all-time favorite days in general. We got dropped off at Pastor Christian's church on the beach in Aflao and our van went and picked up the kids at the orphanage to bring them there. We had told them we could shuttle them in several trips but they showed up and all 40 of the kids piled out of our little 12 seater van - it was quite impressive. They were sooooo excited and it was so awesome to see the joy on their faces! Tons of kids from the area who live near the church, many of whom go there, came down to play. I think there were at least 100 kids on the beach with us all day. I got some great pictures. I took so many photos on this trip that I filled up both my memory cards. So many great things and beautiful children! On the beach, some of the team played soccer with the kids, some just held hands and sat with kids on our laps (me included), some went in the water and played in the waves with the kids. It was such a fun day. I sat on the beach with a group of about 7 kids around me and taught a tiny little 4 year old boy how to do the hand clapping game where you do hand to hand across and then clap in between. It was so cute. Another little girl played with me too. And then other kids just wanted to hold my hand or sit next to me. Most of the kids who were around me where actually the neighborhood kids, not the kids from the orphanage. Although sometimes it was a mix. It was very evident that the kids in the area are desperate for love and affection. I spent most of the day with kids holding my hands, sitting on my lap or just standing all around me. But my all-time favorite part of the day was at the very end. The kids from the orphanage loaded up into the van and I was sad to see them go but while we sat and waiting at the church for the van to come back for us - we kept playing with the kids who lived nearby. I was inside the church and Caleb had been playing drums in there so me and some of the kids started dancing. We did that for awhile and then I started doing the hokey pokey to the music and though they didn't understand me - they mimicked everything I did and did it with me. It was so fun. Then I taught them head and shoulders, knees and toes and they followed right along on that too. Then I asked them to sing for me and one kid who kind of spoke english said the word hallelujah which told me that they probably all knew that word. So I spontaneously started singing it over and over and made up a melody. And the coolest thing ever - they totally started singing with me. We sang it quite a few times and then I led them outside to sit in the shade on a bench behind the church. There were 2 benches and I sat in the middle and all around me and the entire other bench in front of me filled up with beautiful African children, all looking at me to see what I had planned next. I hadn't planned any of this and yet it was just flowing and I was loving my time connecting with them and bridging the language barrier. One of them started singing the Hallelujah song I made up and I joined in and then all these cute kids joined in and we must have sat there and sang that for about an hour. So I added a bridge to it - Praise the Lord 4 times and then it would go back to Hallelujah. Jess came over and took a video of it. It was a truly wonderful blessing to just sit with these precious children singing to the Lord with them. It was the most beautiful sound in all the world! This one little girl who was smaller than the other kids and sometimes would almost get plowed over when they were swarming one of us - I picked her up and put her on my lap. Another kid was laying on my other leg and a sweet tiny boy sat in front of me facing me and he touched my hand the whole time - he seemed quite fascinated with my white hand. He was so adorable! All I can say is sitting there on that bench with them singing was one of my favorite things ever!!! I will upload the video when I get home for sure.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

God is moving in Ghana

This week has been amazing. I can't believe it's already Wednesday and we leave the Tamale area tomorrow morning to fly to Accra. I wish we could stay longer. Our time here has been wonderful.

Monday was a new and fantastic experience for me - we joined a medical mission team and helped them for the day in a remote mud hut village outside of Tamale. It was a well oiled machine the way that the team set up - they had an area for children's ministry, a tent for triage, an area for doctors to see patients, a pharmacy tent and an area where every patient who came through got prayed for and the gospel shared with them using the nifty tool called "the evangicube". Hundreds of people said they wanted to pray to accept Christ. There was also a prayer area where prayer was going on all day long nonstop by about 8 or 9 individuals and many people went there for more intense prayer also and they reported later that 2 blind people were prayed over and gained sight and one deaf and mute person could then hear and talk and a person walking with a cain no longer needed it. I sooo wish I had been in that tent to witness it but how awesome to even be a part of it. Our team was asked to help count pills - a tedious task but one that we knew was incredibly important. We did that most of the day and we took turns taking breaks to walk around and check out the rest of the work and play with the kids. Later on, we played more with the kids. We had so much fun giving them stickers and we even got to paint some of there nails. There was this one little boy with the most precious smile and he was my buddy for the afternoon. I even got him to repeat words I would say. Of course, he had no idea what I was saying but it was so cute how he would repeat me. I took a ton of pictures of him - I will upload those when I get home. It was hot and some of us got sunburned (back of my neck included) even though we were under a shaded tree, somehow the sun got through. A small price to pay for important work. It was a great thing to witness and hundreds of people were helped.

Tuesday, the VO team split off from Cheryl's team and went to an orphanage called Hands of Mercy run by a man and his wife who have pretty much brought 16 kids into their family. It's an orphanage in some ways but moreso - it's a big family. He and his wife live there and the kids are being cared for by them - he calls them his children which I love. They were so much fun and kept us busy all day long! We played soccer, pushed them on the tire swing, helped them with school stuff like giving the math problems for them to solve and grading them, giving them words to spell, etc. I personally spent most of the morning drawing Disney Princesses for them. They had a notebook with all the Disney princesses and after I drew one - they then gave me one after another to please draw for them so they could color them in. I basically created a coloring book for them on the spot:) It was fun. We brought some school supplies and gave them to them so we had plenty of stuff to use. We also gave them these little glow in the dark bracelets - the ones you crack and the glow stuff activates. I got an 18 pack at Michael's for only $1 - a great small and fun thing to pack. They loved those. We played with bubbles with them and jump rope - although they actually had to show us how it's done here cause they are serious jump ropers:) They can jump high and fast. They laughed at us when we tried to do stuff and then they'd show us how to do it. It was nice becasue all of the kids there speak English so that was so much easier to communicate all day. At one point - they had us come inside and watch Beauty and the Beast with them. How funny - halfway across the globe watching a Disney movie! It was a nice chance to sit down though cause they had so much energy:) They told us they wanted to feed us lunch - we told them we brought lunch - our standard loaf of bread that we break chunks off of and slap some peanut butter on and eat on the go. But they insisted that we eat lunch there. They brought a little plastic table out and put 4 bowls on it and gave us fried chicken, yams (which we didn't know they were yams until later - tasted like a potato and are white) and it had a sauce called red red. It was really good. Cheryl was leary about us or any of the team eating any local food - I think mostly because so many of her team members had been sick when they first got here. But I left it up to the team on this one cause I usually do eat the local food in countries I visit and I didn't want to offend them after they so kindly made us lunch. I did say a prayer for covering and that none of us would get sick and God would bless the food. Me, Grant and Jess all ate some of it. Amanda opted not to which was totally fine. She ate the bread and peanut butter. I had her put some of hers on my plate so it looked like we each ate some. Didn't want to offend. When we took them our plates and said we were full - she just laughed and then handed the kids our leftovers and they scarfed it down. We had a great day there and none of us did get sick - praise God!

Wednesday (today), Grant and Amanda opted to go with Cheryl's team and the medical mission. Jess, Dorcas and I spent the day at an orphanage with all babies under 3 called Anfaani Children's Home. An American woman who now lives here whom our team met last night and invited her to join us for dinner - she joined us today also and that was really need. She's been praying for more Christian fellowship as she hasn't had much of that here and was so thankful to meet all of us and be able to join us. At Anfaani Children's Home - Cheryl's organization does child sponsorships there. There are 3 kids who still need sponsors but the rest have them. (if you want to sponsor, let me know and I'll find out from Cheryl how). We spent the morning holding babies and playing with toddlers. They have 12 kids total and they are super cute. I spent a majority of the day holding a little 6 month old named Mona. She is precious and loves to be held. She's as happy as can be when you just simply hold her. If you put her down, then she cries. We learned how to do cloth diapers and we presented them with a bunch of supplies. The director - Auntie Maria had us poise for a photo with all the supplies piled up on a bench and her and I shaking hands as I held her some of the items. It is very formal here in things like that. Kind of different than other places I've been but I like it. I will post pictures of that later too. We stayed there until 1pm and then took a taxi to the internet cafe so we could update everyone back home with blogs and emails. After this, we are going back to the Guest House and will pack up for heading back to Accra tomorrow morning. Cheryl and her team went on the medical mission again today back to the villages they've gone to so many times in the past 40 or so days that they've been here. Today is their last day in Tamale and it will no doubt be very hard for them to say goodbye today. Please keep them in your prayers. And all of us.

We fly back to Accra tomorrow and then we drive straight from there to Aflao where we will stay 2 nights and visit a school and orphanage there in a heavily voodoo town. Please pray alot for our team as we go there. The Lord is faithful and He is covering us for sure - the more prayer support, the better though. I have felt all your prayers on this whole trip - the presence of the Lord is and has been with us. He is sooo good! And I am so glad to be here. I love Ghana.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A worship experience in Ghana

Today is Sunday and we went to church today in a village named Tarikpaa where Cheryl has been going for 5 years and her ministry has helped to begin building a new church and hopes to build an orphan home in the near future. It would be so amazing to be able to see that come to fruition and to be able to send teams in the future to volunteer there. I love the villages and the people there. Church this morning was AWESOME!!! My church in Nashville is charismatic so this church was not that much out of the ordinary for me. I loved it so much. Worship was so amazing. They had a team of Ghanaians dance and sing for everyone, then there was like a worship team and we also danced in a big circle basically following the leader who would do different dance moves and we would all follow. It was a fantastic celebration!!! They asked us to come up and sing them a song. The team who had been here before us had learned a song in the language here and they taught it to us. It basically says "Thank Him, Thank Him, for all that He has done". It was fun. Then the pastor introduced everyone who was there visiting and he asked me to give a little speach. I told them why Visiting Orphans was here and then another pastor who was visiting gave the message about being fruitful. Later in the service, we were all called up again and the pastor gave us each our Dagbani name. That's the language in this region. Here are the names he gave us and their meanings:
Amanda - Balima (means: Uniting together)
Grant - Deeshini (means: Forgiven, forgiving)
Jessica - Ndeeya (means: Accepted and accepts challenges)
Autumn - Nunje (means: Everybody likes me)
Dorcas - Mankubahi (means: I will not give up)

How fun!!! I loved my name and I hope everyone does like me:) hee hee It's kind of hard to pronounce. Mine sounds like noonjay sort of. I'm sure I'm still not pronouncing it right.

After church, us 4 VO team members, Cheryl and Dorcas went with Pastor Muhammed to meet the village chief. It's a big deal to meet the chief and it's very formal. You are brought into a hut and seated around him and he sits up on a platform that is higher than everyone. The pastor translated while Cheryl greeted and thanked the chief for the hospitality of the village people to our team. She also presented to him the need for more land to build a school and an orphan home and humbly asked if he would allow us to have land to do those things. She said she understood he would need time to think about it but he came right back by saying he was in favor of it and all that she spoke of regarding educating and caring for the children was speaking his own heart. He said that he would not be around forever and he wanted the village people to have these things. And that he could not even think of turning this request down. Praise God! This was history in the making and we were there to witness it. How awesome!!!! He said he had to take it to the council (not sure if that's the word he used but that's basically what it is) and that Cheryl would need to come back and meet with all of them to get official approval but that he didn't think they would turn it down either. Please be praying that they are in favor and the land for building a school and orphan home is granted to them!!! We got a picture with the chief - I am sure that Cheryl will be posting that photo on facebook so look for it on my page as I'm sure she'll tag me.

We are now at the internet cafe using the computers here. I was happy to be able to update my blog from here. Thanks for all the prayers from y'all and for reading the updates. We all so appreciate it. We have an amazing team here. I am getting to know each person and they are all precious brothers and sisters in Christ. What a wonderful blessing to be able to join this team! The journey has already been so amazing and we're only a few days into it. Stay tuned for more!!!

Falling in love with Ghana

Friday morning we flew to Tamale, Ghana. We had to get up at 4am but that wasn't that hard since our bodies were already confused with the 5 hour time difference anyway. We were so tired by the time we went to bed, we slept fine. We left for the airport at 4:30 am - our flight was the earliest one of the day and Dorcas, our Ghanaian friend who picked us up at the airport, said that if you don't get there early - even though you have paid for the flight, they will start giving your seats away. We were like the first people there. The plane was 2 seats on each side - not very big and it was full. The flight was smooth and for breakfast, they fed us a tuna or chicken sandwich. You can't be too picky on mission trips so we all ate a sandwich for breakfast - hey, why not? It wasn't too bad either. Got a juice box and a bottled water and I had taken a motion sickness pill cause I thought the in-country flight might be bumpy like the one in China. It wasn't but it sure made me tired - I was out like a light on the 1 hour flight and had a hard time staying awake the rest of the day. We had a busy day. Cheryl and her team were there to greet us at the airport and we received a warm welcome from them. We got our luggage and the driver took us all to the GILLBT Guesthouse in Tamale. Same Guesthouse name as the one in Accra but this one is much bigger - many buildings spread out. In my room, it's me, Jessica and Dorcas. Amanda and Grant, who are the married couple on our team, are in one room. Cheryl's team are in the same building with them and me, Jess and Dorcas are in the building next to it. When we got there, the team had breakfast left over so we ate again and got to meet the whole team. We then had an orientation meeting where Cheryl told us a lot that we need to know about Ghana and the places we would be going. She also told us that she wasn't going to tell us everything cause she wanted us to experience it ourselves. Which was fine by me - I'm all about experiencing the cultures of the different places I go. So far- I love Ghana!!!! The people here are beautiful inside and out and so welcoming. I am falling in love with this place - I knew that I would. Long before I ever came, I had a heart to visit Africa and now I'm here and getting to experience it and it's amazing.
After our orientation, we went to the Anfaani Children's Home - this home has all babies under age 3. Once they are 3, many of them go back to live with their fathers. International Hope and Heritage, Cheryl's organization, has sponsorships of the children there and this helps them so much. They can only take 12 children max at a time because of the size of the facility and the number of caregivers. The children are called orphans but actually they do have families - most of them had at least one parent, often times the mother, who has died. The father's put them there to be cared for until they are 3. If they are officially declared abandoned - meaning no family has come forth to speak for them - then they can be adopted. They do not care for abandoned children at Anfaani - those children would go to other places where they could be adopted out of. The babies there are adorable! We brought a bunch of cloth diapers and plastic pants to give them. We were not there very long that day but we did get to hold some of the adorable kids. Several of the kids there are sick. One had a really large bump out of the belly button area of the stomach. It was a small baby and I had never seen anything like that. The team told me that it was hernia. A lot of the children we see have that but this baby had an especially large one. Please pray for the children here - so many are sick and they just don't have the kind of healthcare we do in the states.
After we went to Anfaani, we then went to Hands of Mercy - which is run by a man named Silas and his wife. They have 3 biological children and 16 children who were orphans that they took in. They don't call it an orphanage - they call it their big family. They had photos on the wall of each child with his/her name under it. It was so neat to see. Most of the children are older than 5 - Silas said he doesn't take babies - they have so many kids, babies are harder to care for. BUT... he got a call about one little baby who needed help and he couldn't turn away so he took that little one in. The whole time he was sitting and talking with us - that little baby was holding on to his leg. Hands of Mercy was established in 2008 and they have only taken in the very poorest children who needed help the most. They have 9 boys and 7 girls right now. Plus their biological 2 boys and 1 girl. I wish I could upload pictures right now - will do so when I get home and Cheryl is uploading some today on facebook so if you go to my facebook page - you should be able to see them. She'll tag me and the team. The kids at Hands of Mercy were so cute! I can't wait to go back there and spend a day with them. Myself and the other 3 Visiting Orphan team members are going to go back there this week to volunteer and help take care of the kids for the day. The other team members that have been with Cheryl for the 30+ days they have been here have already done that - they said they helped with cooking, laundry, washing dishes and just playing with the kids. One of the kids was literally falling asleep as he was sitting on the floor. I saw his head bobbing and got up to pick him up. I held him on my lap and he slept. He felt really hot and the team said he is sick. I pray he is better when we go back this week.
We are learning some of the language here in Tamale. Deciba means good morning. The response when someone says that to you is Naa. Antere is good afternoon. Aniwoolah is good evening. Ayuli is what is your name. I like that one cause I get to find out the kids names.
I have been surprised how many people speak English here. School in Ghana is free and once kids are in school - they all learn English. Some families do not send their kids to school though - even though it's "free" - there are some things that are not - probably books and supplies and really poor families cannot even afford that so they do not send their kids. A lot of kids in the rural areas are not put in school becasue they have to work on their families farm.
After we visited those 2 places, we came back to the Guest house and the team made spaghetti. They had been eating food prepared by the Guest house but Cheryl and her team decided it was cheaper to buy food and make their own and they could prepare more variety and things that the team liked. Apparently it was the same thing almost every day and the cost had been adding up. It's been fun to do our own meals - feels like we're a big family. And actually, we are. The family of Christ! I love to see that in action - on the mission field each day and as we cook and eat together each evening. After dinner on Friday, we had a group discussion on Chapter 5 in the book Radical. I felt like a zombie to be honest because it had been such a busy day and we had gotten up at 4am. I went to bed about 9:30 and I had been tired all day and then, I laid down to go to sleep and I couldn't. I was up for hours. It was so frustrating. I knew I was tired, that we had a long day coming and yet I couldn't get to sleep. I finally did but I woke up so many times during the night. Finally got my best sleep about 30 minutes before it was time to get up. I was tired that morning but felt actually pretty good as the day went on so it wasn't too bad.
Saturday morning, we had breakfast at 8 am - eggs, oatmeal and toast. We left at 9 am to go to the villages to do hut to hut evangelism. I have never done anything like that. To be totally honest, I didn't know what to expect and I was a bit nervous. But it was AWESOME! We went to 4 different villages over the course of the day - all within 30 minutes of each other. We went to Sankpem, Zugu, Kushibo and Yipielegu. In each village, we specifically went to visit widows. There were several in each village and Cheryl had been going for 5 years back to the same ones and building a relationship. They know her now. She usually has different team members with her but she is the constant and they recognize and respect here. Being here with her has been a huge learning experience. Mostly, I now understand and see the importance of building relationships and going back year after year to the same places. It is important in all country but perhaps even moreso in Ghana. As Dorcas says "In Ghana, relationships are everything". I see that to be true.
The kids of the widows in the villages we went to were so much fun. At the second village, one adorable little girl named Mary stood in front of me as Paige told the Bible story Panorama and she mimicked everything I did. I had so much fun with that. If I smiled with teeth, she did. If I folded my hands, did thumbs up, laid my hands on my lap, crossed my arms, tapped my fingers, winked, etc, etc. - she would do it too. It was the cutest thing. And just reminded me at the core that children are children wherever you go. It also reminds me how we are all one big family in Christ. I love my extended family here!!!
4 of Cheryl's team members took turns sharing the overview of God and Jesus. It started with creation, the fall of man when sin entered, the promise God made through Abraham, and later the prophecies of Christ and how those prophecies came true when Jesus came. It talked about Jesus's work and his death and resurrection. And how we can have a relationship with God if we believe in Jesus. And eternal life with Him in heaven for those who believe. And that we are called to tell others about Him and that is why we came. At several of the villages, the response was awesome and the head woman would tell us how they knew it to be true what we were saying and that they believed. Several though, sadly kept saying that they were too old to be saved even though they believed but that they wanted their children to know about Jesus. Cheryl, of course, told them that their believe about being too old was not true - she's been telling them that for 5 years but culturally they still believe that. I pray they would come to understand and accept that it's never to late to have a relationship and salvation in Jesus Christ.
By far, the village visits were one of the ultimate highlights of all my mission trips. I loved it. Even though they are so poor and do need so much help, they still have a joy. They aren't distracted by technology (I say this as a type a blog entry - go figure) or material things. They have such a sense of community here. We saw small kids with babies wrapped up on their backs. Watching the kids put those wraps on was pretty amazing. These are strong kids. And they literally take care of each other. We saw the kids taking care of the babies even moreso than the mothers. It was really interesting and different than other places I've been. They also seemed joyful. I first saw that kind of joy in the midst of poverty in the Philippines in 2007 with Compassion and I'm seeing that same thing here. There is a joy and contentment in their faces. There is so much poverty and need but in the midst - there is joy. And for those here who know Jesus - they really KNOW Him. He is so real to them. He is their everything. And I love seeing that! And I want more of that for Christians in America!!!