To Ghana and back again

Community team led by Real Life Church ‘brings it’ to Ghana

They brought it to Ghana, and then they brought it home.

The team of community members from Covington and Maple Valley who traveled to Ghana over spring break under the motto “Bringing it to Ghana” gathered at Real Life Church Pastor Steve Murray’s house last month after journeying over 14,000 miles together.

Susie Neds, a senior at Tahoma who went on the trip, said she was most surprised at the spirit of the people she met.

“They don’t see their lives as a sad thing,” Neds said. “Their presence was almost more life giving than ours was. I didn’t expect that amount of happiness.”

The evening was filled with the telling of “shoe moments” — a term the team adopted after Davis shared about a moment Murray’s son had experienced on a previous missions trip, which was defined for him in moments of fitting people for shoes.

Neds said her shoe moment came the first day, as she and some other team members walked to a river.

“All these kids were following us,” Neds said. “We were their agenda — they have no agenda.”

The team of 16, which was made up of  community members including students from Kentlake and Tahoma high schools and led by Real Life Church, was on the ground in Ghana for 10 days.  The goal: to continue to build relationships with the people of the Mo Tribe with whom the church has been partnering for years, set up a computer lab, and deliver durable wheelchairs to those in need.

The trip was supported by people across the community, including students at Kentwood and Kentlake High Schools who raised money for wheelchairs, as well as students at Tahoma High who refurbished 20 netbooks for the computer lab. Community members and business people also offered both monetary support and in-kind donations.

“The wheelchair piece was really successful,” said Murray, who went on the trip.

There were bumps in the road, though. For example, the chairs arrived a few days late and the team had to rearrange their schedule, but the team adapted beautifully, according to Murray.

Through the church’s history with the area, Murray said he has learned a great deal about aid in developing countries and about what people actually need.

“We are trying to move away from just bringing stuff,” Murray said. “(We) want to bring things that matter.”

The goal in aid, Murray said, is that people’s lives are improved through help that becomes self-sustaining. Much of the work, he added, comes in changing mindsets.

“Help them help themselves,” he said.

The team assembled, delivered and adjusted wheelchairs to people with disabilities, some of whom had never had such a chair before. The team also hosted a soccer tournament that was attended by over one thousand people. The team also visited a children’s home and set up a computer lab at a school.

Students who went on the trip said they learned about aid, people, hospitality, joy and about being grateful for the many, many things they have.

The days were long, hot and filled with work, but in the stories they told, the team members said it was more than worth it.

“I’ve never sweat like that before in my life,” team member Marlina O’Hern said of a long day adjusting chairs for recipients. However, she explained, the reactions of the people who received the chairs made all the difference.

“It all melted away when she hugged me and wouldn’t let me go,” O’Hern said.

Kentlake leadership teacher Greg Kaas said that the thing that has stuck with him in the weeks since the trip has been the gratefulness and kindness of the people.

“We think about what we don’t have and they are so grateful for what they do have,” Kaas said. “That’s something I think about a lot.”

Clark Davis, a Maple Valley businessman who has been on over a dozen trips to the country, told the group that, though they started out on this journey as strangers, they were one of the best teams the church had ever taken to Ghana.

“By the end of the trip you couldn’t tell we hadn’t known each other for 20 years,” Davis said.

Real Life’s long term goal is to build a children’s home in the area, something Murray and Davis said is desperately needed, as they are few and far between. It has also been something that the church has been talking about for years.

“We made more groundwork on building this orphanage on this trip then we ever have before,” Davis said. “Blueprints are being drafted as we speak.”

The church, and the community, are going to keep “bringing it.”

Dave Koon, who went on the trip with his son Jalen, said one man in particular stood out to him.

A man named Daniel arrived to receive a wheelchair using his flip-flop clad hands to propel himself.

“Of all the people we helped, he’s the one I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Dave said. “At the end he just kind of grabbed me and said, ‘Thank you. You’ve given me so much.’”