Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ghana: Why go there?

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Why go to Ghana West Africa?

It is a question I have been asking my self for a couple months. It is a deep question – complex and multi layered. Here are a few of the things that motivate me on this trip. Some of these motivations are more pure and some are somewhat more self-indulgent. I will be transparent. I share these motivations for a couple reasons. One is that I want you to be “on this trip” with me as much as you can from wherever it is you live. Another reason is that some people consider trips of this kind, but get muddled by their motives (am I doing the right thing for the wrong reason?) and end up passing on something great. I have come to realize that I will never have all the right motivations to do anything good, but that does not have to stop doing good.

Anyway, what follows are brief insights into what is motivating me, for better and for worse. Each of these runs much deeper as this is simply an overview.

1. I was asked. Back in late Fall of 2012, my friend, Nan Deal, called me and point blank asked me to go to Ghana. When a friend asks you to do something meaningful and important, when she says that you have to offer is what is needed, it is hard to refuse. Plus, Nan’s passion is kind of contagious.

***Social science geek alert*** In my research on volunteering I learned that the number one predictor of people deciding to volunteer was that they were asked to volunteer. Seems simple, but the reality is that many people never get asked. They are willing and have the resources, but need a catalyst. Nan was my catalyst for this trip.

2. Friendship. Piggybacking on point 1 is that I have a deep and long friendship with Ron and Nan Deal. We became friends back in 2001. We have walked the road of joy together and shared in grief together. Shared experiences with good friends seem to gain in value over time, like wine, I suppose.

When their son Connor died from an unexpected infection, they lived in Amarillo, Texas and we lived in Burnsville, Minnesota. We drove down for the funeral because 1000 miles is not too far to be with friends in their grief. The work in Ghana is how Ron and Nan focus their grief energy. Their ministry is called, Connor’s Song. The song of his life is alive in this effort. How could I say no?

3. History. In 1996, I was at a fork in the road. I would be a marriage and family therapist or I would be a missionary. I could not make up my mind. I asked God to help me see my way forward, but I got nothing. I wanted a Moses style burning bush (yes, I need it to be that obvious), but heaven was silent. I decided place this life decision in the hands of the MFT admissions committee at Abilene Christian University (thus proclaiming my abdication of responsibility for this decision). I was accepted to the program and my life took a turn away from missions and toward MFT. It felt like a “no” to missions. 

And yet this missionary call in my life kept a slow burn with an occasional flare up as the winds of mission would whip up. Although I have done good things locally that most certainly would be considered missions and have supported others on their mission work, the passion burns still.

In a sense, this trip to Ghana begins a redemption of sort. It is not that I made a wrong choice to go the route of MFT (I would never have met Ron and Nan otherwise), but rather a different pathway. Where I wondered whether God has said “no” to missions, perhaps the answer was “wait.” Or more likely it was, “You will not be mature enough to handle it for about a decade and a half.”

4. Privilege. This is a tough one for me. My parents were high school educated, working class Americans, fighting hard to qualify as middle class. During my childhood, my father was a janitor and paper route driver and my mother had several jobs – child care, paper route driver, and server at Carbone’s Pizza (yes, occasional free pizzas was a nice perk here). It was all they could to make ends meet.
My mother would say we were privileged because of God’s love for us – status and money were irrelevant. She would be right.

I have this rare blessing in the history of the world – to be a university professor at an American university. Though I am not getting rich in cash, I am rich in status, opportunity, and training. Learning how to understand what this means, especially in the family context form which I came, is not always a simple task. My family system has no historical hooks on which to hang this life I am living.

One thing I know is this, if I do not leverage the opportunities of my training and position toward service I have missed out the best and most important part of having such a unique privilege.
In short, this trip is helping to SAVE ME FROM the many pitfalls and obliviousness that privilege creates. The seduction of privilege being self-indulgent is great and nuanced and almost invisible.

5. Guilt. Related to privilege is guilt. Why me? I did not choose to be born in America. I did not choose to be intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually capable of being where I am now. I am blessed, got lucky, or something. Almost every single aspect of me being situated where I am in life had absolutely nothing to do with me.

I could be a child slave just as easily as I could be a university professor, were I born into a different family in a different culture and in a different geography. I live in an unfair situation. I have so much privilege that I could ignore most every pain in the world and not even feel an impact on my life. What is fair about that?

Yes, I feel guilt. Yes, this trip will be a small salve on this guilt – I think. What I hope it does is to provide perspective and improved motivation to do more of this kind of mission.

Guilt is not the best motivation and should never be the only motivation, but I would not be honest to deny that it is there.

6. Adventure. I have been so eager to get a chance to do something I have never done before. Although everything I do the first time meets this criteria, this trip takes it to a whole new level.
Part of this motivation is to see whether I can even do it. I am 43 years old this week and feel the beginnings of decline in some aspects of my life (e.g. if I sprint I will probably pull a muscle). For the rest of my life I will be asking, “Can I do this”  AND “Can I still do this?” It will be so rewarding to know I can and so informative to learn I can’t. It’s win/win.

I reflect on the wise words of one of my mentors, Al Ogren, a founder of my favorite places on earth, Flaming Pine Youth Camp. Al has been retired for several years now, but still goes on the five mile hike through the Northern Minnesota forest. He looked at me a couple years ago and said, “Chris, do you know why I still go on the hike?” “No, why do you still go on the hike?” I answered. He conjured a familiar and knowing smile and said, “I still go on the hike to see if I can still go on the hike.” How did he know how much I needed to hear that?

7. Example. I want my children to see and to experience mission before they go to college. Although they are not joining me on this trip, plans are brewing for their participation in the future.

Plus, my goal for next year is to make a mental health missions travel course out of this trip. I want to expose students to a new world, a new way of understanding their training, and a new view of their privilege. I am situated to influence students – and everything I do influences them somehow. What better way to leverage this place I am in than share experiences with students?

8. Ghana. I am learning about Ghana. The more I learn the more I am inspired. As I see it now, before arriving and experiencing, Ghana is a national of contrasts. It has a rich culture of music (e.g. high life music) and is deeply religious. It has educational opportunity and is rich in some natural resources. It is politically stable as best I can tell. There is a lot strenght and beauty in Ghana. I have the feeling that once I get there, it will be easy to find much to love.

At the same time, there is widespread poverty and limits to access to healthcare and education. Many live on less than $1.25 per day (e.g. how can that even be done?). Poverty has lead to the terrible practice of child slavery. There is widespread abuse of children in this way. Inside the forced labor is physical, emotional and sexual abuses.

As much as there will be to love, there will be much that will break my heart.

Well, that is a brief (really? you call that brief?) thumbnail of some of what motivates me to go on this trip to Ghana. I am sure that once I meet the children there, they will become a direct motivator for me to return. I am sure I will grow in attachment to this group more and more and more. I cannot wait to meet the team that will be there.
I hope my motives are purified on this trip, but even if they are not, good can be done in spite of me.

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