Monday, April 11, 2011

Trip Highlights ~ Chris & Jake

Chris Gardner ~ Owner of Bella Homes, LLC; husband; father

In Chris’ words ~ For me, it is hard to figure out what was the top highlight of the trip. There were a lot of great things - the orphanage, shopping with Doug, the council meeting up in the village, all the great conversations we all had together, or even just the quiet time to reflect and worship our God. Below are my thoughts…

Reflecting back on the trip, I would have to say that perhaps the best part of the whole trip is simply how it has impacted my life so far.

It seems God must take me away from my life to get me to listen. For the first time in many years I had no internet, no computer, no cell phone, no texting, no TV, nothing….furthermore for some reason I had my own room for a couple of nights and I was all alone. I am not good at going to bed ever and trying to go to bed while dealing with a 6 hour time change was not that easy for me. I had plenty of time to think. At that time, I desperately wanted to talk to my wife and hear what she and the girls (I have a 4 year old girl, Kayley and a 2 year old girl, Halle) have been up to. I think I just wanted to be able to call and at least feel for a few minutes that I was back in the comforts of home.

Verizon phones do not work in Ghana. I could have borrowed Jake’s international phone to call my wife, but the funny thing was that my wife’s phone had gotten wet back home and broke the same day we arrived in Ghana so she was without a phone for 2 days. I think God might have had something to do with that….

I was stripped away from every convenience I knew - comfort of family, nice home, nice food, nice bathrooms, etc…. I was hot, sweaty and tired and all I wanted to do was hear my wife’s voice, hear my girls say ‘luv you daddy’, and I had no way to make that happen.

Some may know me enough to know that if someone tells me I can’t do something or something challenges me - I react, I do not back down. And yet, here I was, for one of the few times in my life, unable to control the situation….not happy…

This first night I was there, alone, middle of the night Ghana time, I was actually a little confused and frustrated to why I came back here. I don’t like being hot and sweaty, I don’t like strange food, I don’t like cold showers, I don’t like having a stomach ache all the time, I don’t like this bed, I miss my kids, miss my wife, and why is there no internet here!?!? Why doesn’t my cell phone work?!!? What the heck am I doing here!!!???

No answer from God, just more silence…

Next day as we were in the village I started to adjust a little more. I got a little more used to the heat, and got busy trying to keep up with my new friend Doug who just happens to compete in Iron Man events all over the world, and recently completed his 13th event last fall.

Each night, I would ask God why I was here…still no answer.

Each day became even busier than the day before as we encountered many great experiences - church in Asikuma, touring the school, sitting in the council meeting with Doug watching Nana lead his team, handing out gifts, meeting the basketball players, and more and more…

One of the last days we went to the Beacon House Orphanage and we were able to listen to the story of the director and founder of the home. Hearing her passion, her commitment, her laughter while being amidst one of the hardest jobs on the planet, made me open my ears and finally listen to what God was trying to tell me all week. It was not that God was not answering my questions of why I was here, it was just that I was not listening. I was still distracted. Still focused on how much work we could do here, how many opportunities there were here. And at the same time still focused on back home. I had not been listening.

After the meeting with the director, I was able to play with the kids for a little while. It was then I fully realized why I was here. It took these little smiling faces to make me listen. After playing with these little guys and having all the little girls dance with me while they stood on my feet and I twirled them around, I had to walk away. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was broken.

I realized that I was not be able to help these kids today, but in fact they were the ones who were doing all the helping… they were helping me, changing my life!

I will be back and will make a difference somehow in their lives and the lives of the kids in Asikuma.

I will not just be going through the motions anymore. I will listen.

God gave us all talents and abilities. He gave me the ability to build and construct. That’s what I will be doing for the Lord come August! The times in my life where I have felt closest to God have been when my girls were born and this trip to Africa. I cannot wait for August, working for the Lord, working with my hands, using the talents that God gave me. That is what it is all about.

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Jake Sullivan ~ Founder of Kingdom Hoops International/Isaiah 1:17 Foundation; husband & father

I’ve discovered a new way to live. Every morning when I get out of bed, I look for Jesus. No, not because I’ve misplaced him. And I’m not talking about a feeling I get during prayer, or revelation that comes to me while reading scripture. I’m talking about finding Jesus in the eyes of real people. In the eyes of the poor, the handicapped, the oppressed, the orphan, the homeless, The AIDS victim – the abandoned and the forgotten. (Excerpt from Red Letters by Tom Davis)

In Jake’s words ~ In 2008 when this journey began this quote above was all I asked from God each night as I laid my head down to sleep. My prayers were not long or deep and often times I was sure I was the worst person at prayer in my whole church community. I simply wanted to see Jesus each day in the eyes of other people. I have soon discovered that my simple prayer each night for God to give me the eyes to see Him, and let my flesh obey Him, would radically alter my life and send me on an incredible adventure for Christ.

Seeing Jesus in the eyes of youth in a far off continent seems like it could be everywhere all the time. However, during my journeys to Africa the past three years it always seems like God brings that one person in my path whose face glows of Jesus like no other face….even amongst the thousands of children in a land of desperate need.

In 2009 the first face was a boy named Nana Yaw, the second face was a boy named Big Sam, and then a small boy named Samuel, soon later there was a Prince, and then a young man called to lead named Mike, then a stranger named Ezekiel, and then a unique mother named Mercy.

This most recent trip to Ghana was no different. As our journey began and a couple of nights had passed it seemed like God was not fully hearing my prayers as all the incredible people that came into my life seemed no different than the one before. Then God did it again. He showed me the face of Jesus in one little boy named Albert. Albert is 12 years old and incredibly intelligent with a desire to lead, a desire to be more than just another boy from Asikuma. Words can’t really explain it but it is like Jesus touched down and said, this will be the boy that helps to lead the youth and maybe someday the people of Asikuma.

So, how did I meet Albert? On day two in Asikuma I was feeling tired and worn down and decided to lay down and take a quick nap with JJ. Our nap lasted two hours and during our restful sleep the rest of the group snuck out without me to the village to hand out shoes and clothes. The group returned to the hotel at about 3pm and I quickly awoke because what type of servant sleeps the afternoon away in a place with so much need, but as always God knows exactly what he is doing.

My wife sat down on the bed to journal and I felt guilty so I quickly headed out the door to see what God had planned for me. As I took my first step out of the hotel there was a boy who fell to his knees with his face to the ground asking me for a pair of shoes since he did not receive any when the group was in the village. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stand up and look at me in the eye and ask for a pair of shoes. However, when he looked me in the eye I know for sure I saw Jesus.

From that moment on, Albert was at my side for the remainder of the trip. The most incredible part of Albert was his incredible proficiency of the English language and on top of that an unmatched level of self-confidence. How had he become so educated? How had he become so confident? This question swirled through my mind as he spoke and I got to know him. I had never met another young boy in the rural parts of Ghana quite like him. It was as if God’s hand had been on him throughout his life and brought us together intentionally to make one great team. Over the next few days Albert became my right hand man and my personal interpreter! I do not pick up on languages quickly as my Spanish teacher in high school could tell all of you!! This often becomes a real barrier for me in Africa and sometimes causes me to avoid new relationships as I am not confident in communicating with all the people. But with Albert I could go anywhere and talk to anybody and he would interpret everything I said and everything the other children or people of Asikuma said. It was like a new world was opened to me through one little boy with the eyes of Jesus.

Albert soon allowed me to meet his family which included his mother, father, sister and her twin boys’ who are going to become the most well-dressed one year old boys in the history of Asikuma when I return in August. I am not sure where God will take Albert or where he will take our relationship but I know God has big plans for him and I am so excited to be a part of his life. To sum it all up the highlight of my trip was God bringing Albert into my life. I have not had a morning or night go by that he is not on my mind and can’t wait to see what God has planned for us come August!!


Janel said...

Chris~ I love how God works. You set out to help others and to create positive change, and then God uses THEM to change YOU the most! Jake and I have experienced the same thing, and it's what keeps us coming back...being conformed and transformed by Christ to become lovers of people...there is nothing else quite like it.

Jake~ I knew you were mad about missing out on the shoe dispersing adventure!!!! :) But like you said, God had a different way to use you that afternoon. I love how God has given you the ability to zone in on individuals and seek out their gifts and talents. You can identify leaders easily. I am excited to see how God will use Albert in Asikuma and elsewhere. Love ya!

Mindy said...

I really thought the stories couldn't continue to be so impactful, especially after reading the 8th grader's perspective, but I was wrong. And I'm so glad I was.
Chris and Jake, I'm so glad that you allowed God to humble you both so that he could then use you as he wants.

Katlyn said...

Chris! I love how you described the struggle of waiting and listening for God to speak in some way! It was an awesome perspective and grounding as well!

Jake-I still love hearing about Albert. He has a heart of gold, and one that will grow deep in a relationship with God as he grows himself. I can't wait to see what God has in store for him :) He has an awesome mentor in you!