I sat there for almost five hours. A hot breeze would occasionally brush my cheek, reminding me that I was in Africa on January 10. Man, I was grateful to be here. Just one week ago I was sitting in my car, shivering as I stared at the -1 on my dashboard. Halfway across the world, things were completely different.
In more ways than one.
- I watched a woman walk with a large blue bucket of water on her head, balancing what must have been a crushing amount of weight. As she walked past me on the dirty road, I wondered – how far away did she live? How long would she have to carry that? I realized that every morning, I just wake up and turn on the faucet. I knew this; I grew up here. But somewhere in between the familiarity of comfort – I had just forgotten. Forgotten what it was really like to live here.
- I left my phone at home; it was useless to me out here. Wifi was rare, and our hotel didn't even have access. There wasn't Google maps, or even street signs for that matter, so you actually had to pay attention and figure out where you were going. Driving four, eight hours was always a risk and a danger – were we going to end up in the right place? At one point I felt so OTG I thought, "I could just disappear and no one would ever know where to find me."
- Certificates are a big deal here – you know, like the kind you got in middle school for getting an "A" or for passing the grade. Sherri, our relationship manager and resident missionary in Tamale (she visits with our By Grace girls regularly!), said Ghanians will give them to her whenever she speaks at an event or leads a group in any capacity. They are just cheap pieces of paper, but they have meaning here – as in, when you apply for a job, this can actually help you make more money. She said that they are SUCH a big deal in Ghana because the threat of slipping into obscurity is so tangible. If you are not someone here, you are nobody.
Achievement is somewhat difficult to measure in Ghana. One of the most beautiful parts of this culture, in my opinion, is their attitude towards it.
I heard a story about this man who got up to sing in church. He was entirely off-key and it sounded absolutely terrible, but he gave all of his heart and soul into this song. When he sat down, everyone crowded around him and said, "You tried!" with great enthusiasm and admiration. And what I learned is this: this culture values the effort, not the result. They don't care whether you crash and burn, they care whether you gave it your all. That, I thought, was pretty cool. So what if you failed! "You tried!" And that's a commendable thing.
There's a quote from Growing Deep in God that says, "The problem with the Western church is that they are so focused on commitment instead of surrender. Commitment is about DOING, surrender is about BEING."
And I remembered what Sherri told me earlier on that day, as we were sitting in a compound visiting a friend. She said, "People think that you have to be an excellent speaker or teacher, but really, 90 percent of it is just being here." As we went from one family to the other, sitting and sitting and sitting, I started to realize that just BEING here spoke more than anything I could DO. Just being here told them I cared about them. That I loved them. I didn't have to say anything great or quote a Bible verse or teach a lesson – I just needed to be here.
But as I sat there for four hours, on a plastic chair in a courtyard surrounded by small family living spaces – I was really overwhelmed with how much By Grace had changed.
I talked with girl after girl after girl, and learned each of their stories. They spoke of how their parents were petty farmers and traders, unable to afford training for them. They spoke of how they wanted to create a better life for their children (some were in their thirties). They spoke of how they were so thankful for this gift they had been given, that they prayed, "God would bless the person who did this for me." If you are reading this, and you're a donor or customer – that's YOU they are praying for.
As we were driving to our building – this incredible new building that we were opening up – I thought of where we would be in three years. And the truth is I really have no idea. But as we dedicated that space, and the girls were laughing, playing and eating lunch, I knew that something special was going on here, and that God has a plan for each one of their lives. And how cool is it that we get to play a part in that.
This trip to Africa made me thankful for small things like coffee and Google maps and RX Bars, but also thankful for big things, life things, like this journey of By Grace and how far we have come. And more than that – I had a strong sense that we are just beginning. I'm so excited for what's to come.
Until next time,