A dozen ABCers are preparing for a short-term missions trip to Ghana this summer to visit the Amazing Grace Preparatory School in Kumasi.  We have been talking about this trip in different venues, and we thought it wise to address the whole ABC community through the Messenger.

Spiritual journey, not a vacation.  Going to Africa does sound like a vacation, but this trip contrasts considerably from a pleasure tour.  Our team is committing significant time and energy into spiritual and cultural training.  It is a lot of hard work!  For the six months leading into our trip, we are meeting frequently for the purpose of spiritual, cultural, and physical preparation.  We are working hard at fund-raising events.  We are learning about language, culture, poverty and development.  But most importantly, we are committed to having God work in us and through us.  This has meant a whole lot of prayer (we have practiced breath prayer, centering prayer, thanksgiving prayer, and currently we are praying together each day on the buddy system).  And we have signed on knowing that this venture is designed to increase our faith.  We are wide open to God challenging each of us personally through this trip, as well as together as a team.  A faith journey, by definition, means a bumpy ride, as our faith is called upon only when we hit the limit of our abilities and resources.  We must trust God most when we cannot see our way clear, when we cannot accomplish our goals on our own.  This trip is designed to be way beyond our natural reach, and therefore to drive us to prayer and faith.

Use of resources.  We are projecting that we will need $36,000 if the full team is to go.  This includes airfare (over two thirds of the cost), room and board while we are in Ghana, and a gift to the Amazing Grace School for the building of their Kindergarten playground area.  This is a lot of money, especially in a year when our giving to the church needs a boost, but there will never really be a good time when the financial picture looks more “do-able.”  Every year we would face much the same financial reality.  It was the same situation when we first went in 2006.  This is why we waited eight years to return to Ghana.  If it wasn’t for the price tag, we would have gone back much more frequently.  We cannot accomplish this trip on our own resources.  So why now?  We were specifically invited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Amazing Grace School.  The school started with a handful of Kindergarten students.  By now these students have graduated from college, and are back in their community in leadership positions.  This was always the goal of the school-to bring the community out of poverty through education, mentorship, and investing in future leaders.  So this occasion marks a significant milestone in the organization’s history, and they are looking for more partnership with American churches, in order to take their next steps towards their vision of holistic transformation of poverty in their community.  This is a strategic year for the school; consequently it’s the most strategic time for us to visit.

Beneficiaries.  We would not go on a trip of this magnitude if the receiving organization did not benefit tremendously from our presence.  They receive financially in the exchange.  We not only give them a gift when we arrive, but each team member will also be challenged to continue giving in the years that come.  The past Ghana team took on sponsorships of students, fund-raised, and looked for ways to increase giving to the school, producing an enduring ripple effect from that trip for many years afterwards.  We expect that to happen again.  In addition, both sides benefit from relationships across cultural and geographic lines.  We get to know people as real people, rather than just names.  Our mutual prayer lives are enriched and broadened.

But, as is the case in all short term missions, ABC benefits greatly as well.  It’s as much a trip for us as it is for them.  We expect God to be working in us in widening circles, and to lasting effect.  And while adults will benefit, my focus is specifically on the youngest team members: Mia Barinaga (17), Alena DeVaughn (13), Zoe O’Neal-Petterson (12), Bridgette Swanson (13).  This age group has the potential of taking not just steps in their faith, but giant leaps of faith.  I want to see how God uses this trip for their spiritual transformation.

In preparation for this article, I asked the 11/12+ year olds of our last trip (now 19/20+ year olds) to reflect on their experience.  These are some of their comments:

“Ghana was a huge stretch for me.  It was preparation for living in India-it helped me figure out how to adapt successfully, I think.”  — Caitlin Eby-McKenzie

“For me, being an only child, I was used to being a little spoiled.  I never truly realized how many things I was taking for granted…going to Ghana, and experiencing a new culture, new ideals, and beliefs, really gave me a new perspective on my life, and just how truly blessed I am.  Seeing how happy the people there were with what little they had has shaped the person I would try to be…even to this day.”   –Chelcee Blackwood

“The trip definitely made me ridiculously appreciative of what I had back home.  In that vein, I have always remembered how strong their faith was and that always puzzled/stuck with me because they had so little.  I was/am amazed that they had so much faith even though God had apparently put them in a position of serious struggle.  It made me question what is really important and how I can obtain a faith as strong as theirs.” –Sarah Oberholtzer

Maybe you have some questions I haven’t answered.  Let’s talk!  I look forward to hearing them.  We do need your help.  So far we have raised about ½ of what we need.  We are working as hard as we can.  We have more fund-raisers coming in the next few months: a car wash/bake sale/hot dog sale May 3rd; a “Change for change” campaign (take a bottle of Gatorade from the foyer, and after enjoying the drink, wash it out and put all your change in it, to be brought back before the trip); a Women and Girls Tea in June, etc.  But we know all our hard work will not be enough.  So we are asking you also for a donation outright, as an investment in the lives of a dozen ABCers, and for the future of students in poverty half a world away.  A link to make a convenient donation through the ABC website is available by clicking  http://www.altadenabaptist.org/donate/  and scrolling down to the donate Ghana button.

Many thanks-not just now, but multiplied over time.  In the words of a 2006 team member: “What this trip has done for me is indescribable.  People are amazed when they find out that I went to Ghana for a missions trip.  It’s a great conversation starter but most of all it leads me to remembering God’s love and grace which moves me to speak to people that may need Jesus.  I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity I had because it continues to bless me and others day after day.  Thank you to all the people who helped fund the trip in 2006 and all the ones who will help fund this one.  You are a blessing to us all!  Without God this would have been impossible but thank the Lord that his Spirit moves through the earth.  May the Holy Spirit move you today, encourage and bless you in an unexpected way!”  –Caitlin Mendibles

— Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn