In the fall of 2016, shortly after announcing that I would be leaving for the World Race, I was at my weekly Rotary meeting at the Waikiki Yacht Club. I remember this night because of instead of sitting with my usual gang of Nicole, Rich, & Paul, I sat next to James Ham. I got to tell him some of my story and about the race. When I listed my route to him he told me that he had a contact in Ghana. He knew a doctor there who worked in a hospital that our Rotary club helped fund in some way, he sent an introductory email right then and there and that's where months of correspondence with Dr. Gavin Apio began. I had no idea at the time how big of an impact this would play in the months to come.
As many of you know, our time in Ghana was extended. Instead of spending month 6 in Burkina Faso, we spent both months 5 and 6 in Ghana. Our last two weeks in Ghana were classified as "ATL" which stands for "Ask The Lord". This means we were not assigned a specific location, housing, or ministry. We were given a budget, told to stay inside of the country of Ghana, and the rest was left for us to ask the lord what he wanted from us. As our team prayed into this, I was reminded of Gavin. The Lord had told me in my quiet time weeks before this that He would provide the dots and it was a special gift of mine to know where to make the connections. I reached out to Gavin and although I wasn't able to get in touch with him, our team heard the Lord confirming over and over again - through visions, signs, odd coincidences, etc - that Kintampo, Ghana, where Gavin worked, was where He wanted us. So we went.
The road to Kintampo was fairly smooth. God kept placing helpful people on our paths. Within the first 24 hours we had already found a place to sleep and a small shop that could provide food and water for us. We even had Daniel, a young man who was willing to take time off of work to show us around the town. We asked the lord what He wanted from us here. After a couple of days with no signs of why He brought us here, many of us, including myself, were frustrated. We knew it would have been easier to go to a bigger city. We could have lived somewhere more comfortable. We could be eating different food. We could be closer to some of our squad. But no, this is where the Lord told us He wanted us. I prayed boldly. I wrote in my journal "Why am I here? If it's for you, I will stay. Please show me. Please show up."
The next day we walked around town. It's no surprise to me that of all the places in this town, we ended up living around the corner from the hospital that Gavin works at. It's literally a 5 minute walk. I was encouraged at the sight of the hospital. Since we still hadn't heard from Gavin we thought at the very least that we could pray for patients at the hospital. So we wandered around the area.
After months of emailing, we finally met in person and it was like a scene from a movie. I happened to be standing in front of the children's ward with Emily where Gavin was about to start his rounds. Without knowing who I was (we had never seen each other prior to this), he walked straight to me and introduced himself. When he said his name, I lit up. I said my name and he stepped back in disbelief. He was so surprised to see me. We hugged and caught up. It was a really joyful moment. I introduced him to my team and he showed us around the hospital. He showed us the water filtration system that my rotary club funded. It was so amazing to see something tangible that my club has done so many miles away. It was surreal really.
We went around and prayed for patients. I asked for healing and comfort for them. I still haven't seen immediate healing and it becomes discouraging. There was a tiny baby girl only 11 days old with some kind of rash all over her. I couldn't stop looking at her. Her future kept playing out in my head. I wanted to take her. I wanted to protect her. There was a 2 year old with severe stages of malaria. He was losing blood. I knew by the sight of him that he was only getting worse. While praying, the electricity went off, as it often does in Ghana. It happens at least once a day. The generator kicked in a few minutes later. There's no AC so the room was warm and at this point I was sweating. I looked over and saw a cockroach crawling in the wall. We moved to the emergency room. One of the ladies I prayed for had been unconscious for 4 days. She had just suffered her 2nd stroke. She had gray hair and a tired face but she was only 55, close to my mother's age. I didn't want to leave her side. She was breathing heavily now. A few days later we found out that she passed away.
Gavin introduced us to a cheerful nurse practitioner named Haruna. He was wearing a big hat and a hipster shirt. When we asked about the hat he said that every man needs something that defines him in a room full of others. Because if no one remembers you in a room then were you ever really there? He's been wearing his hat for 15 years. He invited us into his consultation room to talk. We sat and talked story for hours. He wanted to know why we were on the race. This was such a good reminder for me in a time where I've been in the pits. The conversation reminded me why I'm here. I could see how our stories were resonating in him and it brought tears to my eyes. He was raised Muslim. His family is Muslim. But he identifies with Christianity now. He expressed the desire to be baptized one day. I peaked with excitement and told him that if he wanted that not to wait a second longer and that we would make it happen if he wanted. So we set a date. The following Saturday.
It wasn't until later that evening that I connected the dots of the full circle.
Twelve years ago, I was baptized in Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River, in Uganda, Africa. I knew then that God was calling me to do missions. I knew that I desired to be back in Africa and I promised myself that I would make it back here by the time I was 30. God is faithful. And here I am. 12 years later, at age 30, in Africa, not for my own baptism but to baptize another. Hoping that God captures another heart like He captured mine 12 years ago.
The day was beautiful and perfect. We went to the nearby waterfalls with Gavin, Haruna, and some of his friends. Emily and I performed the baptism. I could not stop smiling and neither could Haruna. We talked about the meaning of a baptism, presented him with a Bible, and connected him with Daniel. We pray that their relationship grows into one where they can encourage each other.
He planned this all along. 12 years ago when 18 year old me nervously asked if I could be baptized, He was preparing me. He knew that I would be back here. He knew that I needed 12 years of growth and intimacy and life and relationships.
Like my own baptism, this day is one that I will never forget.
Africa has been the toughest part of my race thus far, but I'd do it all again for this one moment.
"Currently sitting on a blue plastic chair under a mango tree. Heat index is 101. Humidity is over 80%. Every part of my body is dirty. Every part of it is moist with sweat. I'm used to my own smell and the smell of my team by now. Every 5 seconds I am killing an ant on me or swatting a fly away. I can't keep the dirt off of my feet even with shoes on. Even a shower isn't worth looking forward to. When you replace a shower head with only a bucket of water you don't ever feel fully clean. And the second you are done you begin sweating again. And with our $4 per day food budget and lack of options at any "grocery store" or market, the term "meal" is used loosely and I don't imagine feeling full anytime soon. Even sleep is tough to feel excited about. The 7 of us lay on the floor next to each other like sardines packed together in a room with one fan and a tin roof. The Islamic music, chickens, roosters, and children form a soundtrack that's on repeat. I wish this was all an exaggeration. Uncomfortable would be an understatement. But the reality is that I am still very blessed. My God is still a good one."
This was taken from a journal entry that I wrote on April 14, 2017 in Adiake, Côte d'Ivoire. Since then, I've had 2 cases of malaria, 2 parasites, a rollercoaster of stomach issues, waves of emotions, relocated to 4 different cities, and am currently in Sunyani, Ghana. They (Adventures in Missions) talk about a "mood curve" often. I'm sure you've all seen some form of this. You start out at a high point of the curve and you move up and down it throughout the journey. I'm going to be honest with you - most of Africa has been in the pits for me. For the first time, I understand why people quit the race. I understand why people give up and go home. I understand why people have a crappy attitude and check out. They warned us of this. I knew it was coming. They even said it would come around the halfway point. And here we are - 5.5 months in. Halfway. From the moment you wake up to the second you put your head down for bed, race life can be exhausting.
But don't worry about me. With the pits, comes a peak. Always a peak. And as I'm sitting down here, I can see the peak way up there. I get glimpses of it when I hold a child that won't let go. Or when we sit with a woman who cries to us because we bring with us an answer to her prayers. Or when we meet a man who feels encouraged by the good news. Or when I gently feel the spirit moving in ways I never thought I could. And when I speak to people on my squad who are sitting with me down here, who let me be me, who continuously remind me of why we are here.
Life on the race is hard. But as I wrote in my journal, my God is a good one. And that alone is enough to get me out of the pit.