Being Reshaped by My Mission Journey
Being Reshaped by My Mission Journey
By Volunteer in Mission Debbie
Disciple’s Message: “Unity”
George and I were blessed to serve The United Methodist Church with nine other wonderful people in Ghana, Africa October 3-15 (2014). I plan to share more during today’s message.
While there, I purchased a Unity carving.
Unity carvings are one of Ghana’s most famous works of art. They’re known for their beauty, the genius behind their design, and for the extreme difficulty of carving each one.
The wood for the unity is taken from the roots of different baobab, redwood, and blackwood trees throughout Africa. Only the most skilled artisans can create a unity carving, since they have to make it entirely out of one piece of wood. They must do this without breaking the wood or cracking it at all. If they do break it or get any small cracks then they have to start all over again.
The carving represents the wide spread African belief that, if everyone works together as a village and supports one another anything can be accomplished.
This is true for the partnership and unity between the UMC here in the United States and the Methodist Church in Ghana. It is also true for our two churches, SUMC and WG UMC, we are working together and supporting one another. Together, and with God …all things are possible!
And the people of God say …Amen!
Message: “Growing in Ghana”
George and I were blessed to serve The United Methodist Church with nine other wonderful people in Ghana, Africa October 3-15 (2014). We made a significant difference in the lives of over 1000 people and experienced growth and learning on many levels. It was an awesome experience and it energized us to want to do more. I’d like to use the mission trip as the backdrop to the message today.
We are each blessed to belong to The United Methodist Church, New York Annual Conference, which supports Volunteers in Mission ministry and provides us an opportunity to be a part of God’s work in places both near and far away. When any of us participates in mission, we all participate …some of us by volunteering for the mission trip, others by raising funds or sending materials. And, perhaps most importantly, many others participate by praying for the mission.
Our trip began months ago with much planning, meeting and organizing. And, it culminated with the long journey home via van, plane and bus back from Ghana to the SUMC parking lot. Eleven volunteers, backed by your prayers and support, experienced an adventure of the body, mind and soul.
The partnership between the NYAC and the Methodist church in Ghana is longstanding and strong. The village school where we performed much of our work is a Methodist school in the village of Awombrew outside the city of Accra in Ghana. It was built from nothing. It was created with vision, hope, faith and love. It now serves hundreds of children grades kindergarten through high school.
We also expanded our service to a nearby medical clinic where we treated over 700 patients, from infants to a one hundred year old man, for ailments ranging from aches and pains to diabetes, high blood pressure, malaria, colds, allergies and infections unique to the lifestyle and environment of the area.
We also spent a day with the Global Ghana Youth Network School building tables and benches, painting and making general repairs to an open-air school that serves children in the city of Accra.
In the very beginning of our trip, both Pastor Woody and the Reverend Joseph Ewoodzie (NYAC VIM mission coordinator) offered the following guidance:
Remember you are here for more than accomplishments. You are here, as God’s light and love, to form relationships. You are here not just to “do for” but also to “be with” the people you meet. Therefore, if it takes a little longer to get the job done and you’ve made a friend and formed a bond …you’ve done what you’ve come here for.
We took this advice to heart and, as a result, played with children, had conversations with those we worked alongside and treated, and even spent time in front of the classroom. George taught a mini lesson in aeronautics using paper airplanes and I taught a small biology lesson with the song “heads, shoulders, knees and toes”.
It was soul satisfying. It was hard work.
It was energizing. It was exhausting.
We taught, but we learned more.
We loved, and we were loved back even more.
The Bible tells us in Matthew 25:40 …“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus explains in this scripture that, when we feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger …so it is that we are showing our love to God.
Today’s scripture tells us the greatest commandment of all is to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.
Indeed, this is what we did in Ghana. Whether painting school buildings, administering medical care, attending church services in the villages, nurturing our fellow VIM members, or attending nightly devotionals …we loved God. We loved each other, we loved strangers and we loved God with all our heart, soul and mind.
In one of our evening devotions, a team member shared that, this past summer, the theme for the Vacation Bible School was “Workshop of Wonders”. It centered on several elements: Walk with God; Build with God, Imagine with God and Grow with God. Our trip was a “Mission of Wonders” and moved us to Walk, Build, Work, Imagine and Grow with God.
Walk with God
It wasn’t always easy to Walk with God on this mission. The circumstances of our stay could be trying at times. Traveling in a pack of eleven people wherever we went, attached at the hip, required to stay together all the time gave us little to no “me time”. You can imagine this might make you cranky.
Dealing with a variety of personalities and communication styles on the team, each with our own idiosyncrasies, found us annoyed with each other at times. Of course, these are situations we encounter whether we are on a mission or at home. This trip simply magnified and intensified the experience.
We may have thought the journey was all about the people of Ghana, but we quickly learned it was also about us. It was about seeing the best in each other …seeing the good, no, the God, in each other even when we were not at our best. It was about learning to Walk with God when you are rested …and when you are tired; when you are laughing with each other …and when you are irritated with each other; when you are sitting comfortably at a meal …and when you are crammed in a van driving over bumps in the road like you’ve never experienced before. It was about Walking with God when you are energized to give …and when you think you have no more to offer.
This trip intensified the lesson we are each asked to live daily – Walk with God …invite His presence into each moment, …remain spirit-filled and loving, in all circumstances. I have to admit, there were times on this trip when I earned a big fat “F” in this lesson. And, because the lesson was so intense, it was more effective …dare I say transformative. Since returning I recommitted to my morning time of prayer and meditation (regardless of schedule) and have added into the mix writing in a gratitude journal. I know this practice helps me in my Walk with God.
Build with God
We built many things while in Ghana. George and others built a concrete walkway. We enhanced the school that was built with a fresh coat of paint on many …many walls of the school. We built shelves, tables and benches. We built a make shift medical clinic out of folding chairs, card tables, donated medical supplies packed away in Rubbermaid containers and a narrow veranda. Yes, we built many things, but mostly …we built relationships.
We met with the Bishop of the Methodist church in Ghana and learned his perspective on the needs in the area. He shared meals with us, visited the work sites, invited us to his home and introduced us to his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. He came to our final dinner and offered his sincere thanks for our time and effort. Woody reciprocated with heartfelt thanks for his support and what we gained from the opportunity to get to know him and the people of Ghana we worked alongside and helped.
Then, there were the children. It seemed they had an endless supply of smiles and affection to offer whenever we came by. At the end of an exhausting day of volunteering, we regrouped at the school. As we exited the van, we were surrounded by children who wanted to touch our hair and our skin; hold our hands; play football (soccer) or teach us a game. They loved having their photos taken and took great pleasure in being part of a “selfie” or photo bombing a group shot. What stood out prominently to us was that, these children with so little – so little toys, food, school supplies and other amenities – were so full of joy and so willing to give God’s love. We experienced in them the face of God …pure, uninhibited, and open sharing of love. It warms my heart immediately once again as I visit them in my memories. And, it leaves me wanting …for more. We came to bring the love of God – and we found it was already there to greet us.
We built relationships with over 700 patients who came from miles around for medical attention. We attempted to communicate by introducing ourselves with our Fonte names. Men and women are given a Fonte first name depending on the day of the week they were born. I would introduce myself… “Me ame Odd-u-a” and get delighted giggles and laughter. I thought the smiles and laughter were in response to my excellent use of the language. Later, I discovered I was mispronouncing it ever so slightly and, instead of the female Fonte name (Adwoa – Adj-wa), I was introducing myself as an antelope!
It was touching to see how quickly we formed a relationship with only the language of smiles, touch, care and love …a lesson to keep alive even when we are in our country and our spoken words are understood.
The Ghanaians taught me a phrase to use when asked “How are you?”. The answer is “Nyame Adom” or – the grace of God. The full response of “nyame adom, me ho ye” (by the grace of God, I am fine). In the village I met many Ghanaians whose response to “How are you?” was “Nyame Adom” – by the grace of God, I am fine. The spirituality of the people was authentic and genuine. They sang and danced to the front of the church during offering to give – joyful and gladly – of what little they have.
One of my fellow team members exclaimed – “I have no right to ever complain again! My complaints pale in comparison to the lives of these people.”
Yes, we built much with God. Including building a greater appreciation for all that we have as well as a greater understanding of what it means to give freely and joyfully to God.
Imagine with God
One of my mission team members, Brian, offered an evening devotional that best suits the motto “Imagine with God.” With his permission, I share it with you.
“Observations I saw during the week of work and play. Getting a sixty-year-old man to play a game and kick a ball. What a smile came to his face. To get a shy person to interact and play with the group, the same results. Having a scared infant touch my hand after getting down to her level and asking her name. Watching a mother stop …put down her laundry and try to kick a soccer ball while in a dress with a child on her back …all the while, laughing at the attempt. These joys I saw bring me to my devotional …If people could be like Ghana children.
The amusing conversation on the bus ride to the airport about Dr. Seuss led me to this rhyme:
If people could be like Ghana children
We’d be happy to get up to our jobs or our schools,
To learn about letter and numbers and rules
We’d be happy to see new faces each day,
So long as those faces all wanted to play.
To learn in our classrooms or just run down the hall,
Is nothing compared to a good game of football.
It doesn’t take much to have lots of fun,
Some plastic and some tape. A new ball game has begun.
And, when a child isn’t feeling well and they’re feeling kind of low,
Give them some love and medicine and soon their smiles all a glow.
They don’t care what you do, they just care what you say,
Show them a smile and some love. It sure goes a long way.
To be like Ghana children, all stupid wars would soon cease,
A few games of slap hands, we’ve now solved world peace.
If we were all like Ghana children, what a great world we could see.
Loving and trusting each other, what a beautiful world this would be.
If it takes the mind of a child to go to heaven, what do you want to play?” -Brian Denski
You can imagine how Brian’s devotional touched us. I hope it helps you to Imagine with God.
Grow with God
Here is an excerpt from the commissioning service that sent us forth:
It is by going forth in faith that we hope to grow in faith; what we are today, we will not be when we return, for those things we will experience, and the love we will share, will reshape us a God’s people once again.
It is true, who we are now is not who we were at the start. We have been blessed. We have been reshaped. We have grown in our faith.
I hope that, in some small way, sharing this story helps you grow in your faith as well.