Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflections in Ghana (Days 1-3)

A few short months ago, my friend Monique Zackey invited me to a fundraiser banquet for an organization called Today's Choices. I remember specifically NOT wanting to go to the banquet that cold February night because I had had an awful day and just didn't want to be around people. But for some reason, I really felt God prompting me to go (...and today I can understand why...).

Today's Choices started a ministry called Sweetwater Ministries. A few years ago, they opened a home in Ghana, West Africa, where 24 Ghanaan girls who have been rescued from the streets and other difficult circumstances (some were purchased out of slavery) live for 3 years at a time. At Sweetwater, they are given food, clothes, a bed, education, and most importantly, Jesus. They are taught a trade of their choice (either sewing or hair dressing) so that when they graduate, they have a way to provide for themselves.

At the fundraiser that night, I learned all about this ministry and completely fell in love with it. Fast forward about six months and, only by the grace and the movement of God Himself, here I am in Ghana with a team of eight women (and two men...) bringing a girls' event called Girl Talk to the 24 precious girls at the Sweetwater House. During this time, we are speaking to the girls about their identity in Christ, their purpose in the Kingdom, forgiveness, freedom, and redemption. We play games, do crafts, give gifts, share testimonies and worship Jesus together. It literally is combining two of my greatest passions in life - ministry to young women and international missions....a dream come true, honestly.

Our team! From left to right: Monique Zackery, Dante Williamson, Margaret Callahan, Me, Stefani Johns, Karen Walker, Shayna Hobbs, Pastor Chris Williamson, Alisa Malone, Doris McMillian

I have made a pretty bad mistake in that we are already closing on Day 3 of the trip and I have yet to enter one blog post. It would be completely impossible to try and explain all that has happened in the last 3 days, but I will try and give a couple of the highlights. Suffice it to say, it has already been one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

We met the Sweetwater girls on Sunday after church and I was just not prepared for what I was about to experience. We arrived to a beautiful WELCOME sign and 24 girls standing on the porch. And then it was literally 10 - 15 minutes straight of cheers and claps and laughter and hugs. I couldn't believe the reception. It honestly felt as if we were all just long-lost friends reuniting after years of being apart. They literally stole my heart within 30 seconds...I'm already dreading leaving them at the end of the week.

Meeting the Sweetwater Girls for the first time!

I had the honor of teaching on Monday on the topic of identity. I was SO struck that day by how very similar their struggles with their worth and their identity are to ours. One of my teammates, Shayna, said that when they wrote down some of the lies that they have believed about who they are, she noticed that the young African girl sitting next to her had literally written the exact same three words that she - an American woman - had written down. Our lives may look different from the outside looking in, but the enemy's tactics never change. It's amazing...we truly are all cut from the same cloth.

It was a somewhat surreal experience speaking on a topic that I've spoken on innumerable times in the states, but teaching it this time to 24 young girls in West Africa, many of whom have been abandoned by their families, abused, lived on the streets. It was just such a humbling experience to think that God would use me to communicate this message of truth to these young girls on the other side of the world.

One of the most powerful moments of each day is testimony time. We typically have a couple of the Sweetwater girls share their testimony and then one of the women from our team share theirs. Today, the first Sweetwater girl walked up to give her testimony and none of us were prepared for what was about to happen.

It was a story of much hardship but came to a climax when she said, "You may wonder where my parents are. They are gone." And she started crying....hard....then said, "...and so is my sister". She then continued to share, through many tears, about how blessed she is to live at the Sweetwater House where she has "a bed with sheets" and how God has truly redeemed her life from the pit. She was crying so hard...and so were we.

Tears were flowing from the eyes of many of the Sweetwater girls as well...which is such a rarity in this culture. I have a feeling that they were not only crying for her, but also for themselves and the many aspects of their stories that they likely share in common. It was just this moment when it was as if we all came to this place together where we could just weep with one another over the hardships and difficulties that these young girls have experienced but also about the redemption and the healing that Jesus brings. After sharing her story, this precious girl, through her weeping, timidly started singing My Redeemer Lives. We tried, through our own tears, to join her, but it was difficult to get anything out. It's hard to explain what this moment was like, but it is a moment that I know I will never forget as long as I live.

When I talked to this sweet girl later that day, she told me that she loved that song because it has her favorite word in it - Redeemer.

There are so many things that I wish my friends and loved ones could be experiencing alongside me here - to hear the beautiful voices of these girls in the morning as they worship, to see their eyes light up as they open their gifts, to see their tears flow with one another as they carry each other's burdens, to hear their stories of how they have changed since coming to Sweetwater, to see and hear their indescribable laughter as we play every silly game in the book from Twister to Simon Says.

It's frustrating because I truly think I could fill a book with all of the experiences and all of the stories from the past 3 days. I will try to post at least a couple more times during the trip to keep my friends, family and supporters better informed. I could never begin to adequately thank those of you who have given your prayer, financial, and spiritual support for this trip. Please continue to pray for us as we are here, but more importantly, that God would continue to powerfully move in the lives of these 24 young girls. What a mighty God we serve.

We made purple bandana bracelets to represent the girls' identity as royalty - princesses of the King!

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