I remember vividly my thought process of early 2008; I was back at school, ready for a new semester but now burdened with a mountain of thoughts and worries. Much like any college student, I was worried about classes and projects ahead of me but I just couldn’t shake a thought running through my head.
Over break, I spent a weekend at the Bishop Claggett Center staffing a youth retreat when Becki Neumann ran the idea past me to go to Ghana with some friends over the summer. My first thought was how cool that would be, my second was how much money I didn’t have. Now, my third thought was I could get killed. Frankly, I didn’t know anything about Ghana, couldn’t quickly spot it on a map or couldn’t tell you anything about it at all.
Like any good college student, I ran to Wikipedia! Soon I learned about the imports and exports, political standings, and of course, location.
I ran the idea past some family members who had some major doubts and concerns. So, I returned to school toying with the idea in my head.
I spoke to my closest friends at school who encouraged me to pray on my worries; if God wanted me there, He’d get me there. To be able to “let go and let God” is a much easier concept to say than put into motion but I tried. I remember praying that I needed God to make it super obvious, like smack me in the face clear…and He was. I remember getting an email newsletter from my favorite band that had nothing to do with anything. At the end of the email, it talked about doing what you are called to do and it said something like, “If you need your green light, here it is…” Needless to say, I thought that was interesting but I wasn’t fully convinced. Then in the bathroom of my dorm a few days later and heard something very similar on the radio: just have faith and go for it. Soon after, I reluctantly committed to the trip.
My next move was to raise the money. I hate asking people for anything, so this wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I had to have faith and know that God was going to do great things on this trip. To constantly remind myself of this, I printed out the Ghana flag and taped it to my ceiling above my bed. Go to bed thinking about Ghana and wake up thinking about it. I sent out a ton of letters and before I knew it, people in my life with investing in my trip. I was so blessed in raising money, that I went over the required $$ amount. I was shocked and humbled. This gave me such a great amount of encouragement and with some minor fears, I was ready for my trip.
Summer came and after the six weeks or so of staffing at Claggett, I was all ready for my trip. The trips started out rough, cancelled flights that ended up in adding another stop along the journey, lost luggage, and too many hours crammed into seats that only seemed to get smaller by the passing hour. But finally we got there!
My first days of Ghana were filled with a little sightseeing but what meant the most was going out to Akramaman village. I drove up to the school and my heart was filled with so many emotions. I was so excited to meet everyone and to see what the kids were learning. I wanted to learn about everything, see everything and it was pretty overwhelming.
We soon started on our real mission for the trip, the reading camp. I didn’t feel very prepared for this. I have never taught anyone how to real, let alone, in a different country. I didn’t feel capable but I found out that feeling helpless wasn’t really an option. The lead teachers got wind that I was an artist and that I would head up the art class. I freaked out in my head. I had no idea what to teach these kids and not just a few kids, but over 150! Soon the kids arrived and I was very excited to meet them. They were so energetic and reminded me so much of my campers back home The craft ideas came without hesitation, there is a lot you can do with construction paper, glue, and stickers! But outside of the classroom I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to talk to them about but the talking came so easily later after a few games of pick-up soccer, and yes, I lost every time.
As the days passed at the reading camp, I grew closer and closer to the kids. I saw them struggle through books one day and read it perfectly the next. I saw the joy in their eyes and laughter that seemed to spread all over the campus. I can just remember being so tired every morning waking up but get so excited when we were about 5 minutes from the school, knowing the kids were ready for another day of learning. We exchanged songs with the kids, silly camp songs that seemed to have new life with a new audience; one of the songs taught to me I still find myself singing on occasion and laughing every time.
Leaving Ghana was very hard. I had connected with so many people, fell in love with the land, and had a heart for the cause. One thing that made a big impression on me was realizing that teaching at the reading camp was a small section of a much greater effort from Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope to empower children. I felt like all the people I met changed me a little, gave me such a different perspective on the world and how the world sees me. I still feel impacted by what I have learned, humbled by the simple living day to day.
This trip made me wrestle with my own selfish thoughts: my need for warm showers, cold soda, and timeliness. I did have to let go and let God because clearly how I wanted things to go didn’t really work there. I had to give up control and let God use me as He sees fit. This concept was so evident from the moment of my decision to commit to the trip, to the moment I stepped off the plane back in the U.S. Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope provides such a unique opportunity to use people, to stretch them, to change them. I don’t feel like I influenced many people there, they impacted my life way beyond what I could have ever imagined.
One of our first days in Ghana, Debi gave us this rubber, blue and white GMH bracelet to wear around, almost five years later, I still wear it every day. It serves as a reminder to pray, to stay committed, and to remember how God can changed you in the most unexpected ways.
Note from Debi: Now that Laura is in the working world, she supports GMH every month with a recurring donation. Her once selfish thoughts now delight in giving back. Check out our website http://www.gmhope.org and like us on FaceBook GMHope.org