Waking up in the village of Gbentchal on the morning of August 8th was an exciting thing for Anna and I. We arrived so late the night before that it took no time at all to crash once our heads hit the pillow. All fears of bugs, mosquitos and any other critters we’d worried about quickly vanished. A much needed rest under our trusty mosquito nets was had, and with the rising of the sun came the sounds of excited little voices outside our hut. They knew a few familiar faces had returned to see them, and they couldn’t wait.
The beauty of being in a world so far removed from our own is that so many of the things we do as routine back home cannot be done. The result – messy hair (no electricity for blow dryers and flat irons), no makeup (you’re just gonna sweat it off), wrinkled clothing (no electricity = no irons), and dust-covered regardless of how recently you got a shower. It might not be all that pretty to look at, but really, it quickly begins to matter very little. It became quite nice, once we got used to the routine – waking up and stepping outside, water bottle and toothbrush in hand, we didn’t have far to go, just a few feet so we wouldn’t spit where someone may walk. Throw the hair in a ponytail or a hat, throw on some lightweight clothes, slip on the flip flops and voila, we were ready for the day. I have to tell you, this was something I quickly decided I could get used to.
While we ate a breakfast of porridge, bread and coffee (delicious fried plantains for us gluten-free girls), our first morning began with a brief time of worship led by our awesome team leader, Daniel Hughes. School graduation immediately followed, it had been held off so that our team could participate, and it really was a beautiful thing to witness each child graduate to the next level. Then began what would become our daily routine: mornings were devoted to a split between VBS for the school kids – singing, Bible lessons, crafts and game time – while small groups of students went to visit the doc. Mentor Leaders Medical Director, Dr. Steve Swain spent each morning, with the assistance of translators, a nurse that travelled with our team, and a couple of other team members, seeing the sponsored children, tending to their physical needs, giving immunizations, vitamins, and documenting measurements to track their progress. Each child was then photographed by Anna, and off they went back to VBS. This was also the time that sponsored children were presented with any gifts or letters that were sent by their sponsor.
At noon, lunch was served, and really, this is when my emotions got the best of me. A half dozen women prepared lunch for around 200+ students each day in a kitchen that honestly left me speechless. I never could get over what they were able to accomplish every day with so little.
Yet, each day they managed to serve up a large meal to hundreds of hungry children, and the clanking of metal on metal became music to my ears. The sad part was what took place outside the Hope Center, where the clinic had been quickly disassembled and turned into a lunchroom so the kids could get inside out of the heat. The unsponsored children – the ones who aren’t able to go to school because they have no sponsor here in the United States – stood outside under the tree and listened. It was absolutely heart breaking to watch, and I would guess there were as many outside as there were inside some days. Some of them stood and peered into the windows, watching the others eat, while they may have not eaten for days. To be clear, this doesn’t happen because the women cooking or the Mentor Leaders organization have only a heart for some children and not others. Only children who are sponsored are served, because if it were a free-for-all, the entire village would line up and there would never be enough. There have to be boundaries, heartbreaking as it is, and it only served as a harsh reminder of the need to spread the word so that others back home are given the opportunity to sponsor a child and literally change the life of that child.
Various other activities continued that, and each afternoon that followed. Each day, regardless of what the rest of the team was doing, Dr. Steve and his team saw patients from the village after lunch. I think in the time we were there, he saw over 500 villagers, including the Chief. The next week, we added a purity conference for teen girls into the mix, and many other projects were carried out…all the while, we took the time to love on those sweet kids, many who have lost one or both parents to water-borne illness. It was instantly clear to us that above all else, these children need love — not only the love that we can give in our own human way, but the love of Jesus.
We left home earlier that week really having no idea what we were walking into. I’d personally not had many conversations with those who’ve gone before. I would love to tell you that at first I had this burning desire in my heart to go, but the honest truth of the matter is, I didn’t. I knew God put the desire in my heart to go, and that it was something I just had to do…but I was numb getting there. I was even a little scared. People have even looked at Anna and I, in awe of our “bravery,” (their words not ours) and honestly I feel quite silly when that happens. The only “brave” part about this trip, if you want to call it that, was our willingness to say yes to what we believed God was calling us to do. The rest? That was God. We didn’t go to Africa and offer much of anything to the people of Gbentchal…we were simply vessels, used by God to help make a difference in some small way in the life of a people who desperately need it.
I’ve had people ask me why go at all? What real difference do we make there? I wish I had the words to adequately explain what I feel in my heart, and what I know to be true, and you can be sure I’ll do my best with this blog…but let me say this: if the only reason we went was so that we could come home and tell the stories of a needy people through photographs and the written word, begging others to pray and give, then it was all worth it. It’s impossible to really imagine what life is like in that region of the world, to imagine the extreme poverty — these people have absolutely nothing. To be able to go and serve them, and give them the good news of Jesus…made it all worthwhile. I know that not everyone is supposed to go or able to go, but I know that God meant for Anna and I both to take this journey, and I know it was the beginning of something new and wonderful and life changing. I’ll never, ever be the same, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
To donate to the August 5-19, 2015 trip to Gbentchal, please visit this link.