Not goodbye, but see you later: Christians are guaranteed that phrase.
The trip to Ghana was truly amazing! All the children in the Rafiki village are filled with joy and laughter. Finding a frown on their face was just about as hard to do as finding the mysterious big foot. I believe this speaks tremendously to both their character and the work Rafiki orphanage does in their lives. Furthermore, their gratitude and maturity shown in the way they thanked us through countless handwritten letters and thoughtful goodbyes.
I hope to refine and build upon some of the lessons learned while in the village, such as humility, gratitude and discipline to name a few. The trip provided me with a wonderful and eyeopening experience! As I return to UVa and Batten for my fourth year, I am looking forward to sharing my stories! Leaving the children behind in the village was hard, as I was tempted to find a way to pack every single one of them into my suitcase to take home with me. I am not sure if I will ever get the opportunity to travel back to Ghana to see those kids again, however, they will remain in my heart and prayers forever. As one of the kids wrote me in a goodbye letter, "I know that if I don't meet you again, I will meet you in heaven."
This experience made me a better man, instilling in me a holistic perspective on life and a deep appreciation for what I have in America. People often warn of a culture shock when traveling to a country such as Ghana; however, I found that I experienced a greater culture shock upon my return to the United States. I am just as guilty as anyone, but it amazes me what we take for-granted here in the States. The things seen and experiences gained will make me think twice before complaining about minor inconveniences such as cereal choice, coffee flavor or air conditioning temperature. I am truly blessed, and am incredibly thankful to God, my family, friends, UVa, MOAM and Rafiki for the bountiful opportunities and love given and shown to me.
While on the plane ride home and even now as I write this blog, the mental images of the orphanage that most resonate in my head are that of the hundreds of smiling faces I saw everyday. Their ear to ear grins speak tremendously of the internal joy they have because of Jesus. Seeing the ways the orphans would love each other daily, and listening to the hymns they would sing during devotionals at night was truly incredible. I believe this is a testament to the tremendous ways in which Rafiki raises it's children, and how many of the orphans proclaim their faith through actions, not just words. Moreover, I had to think of John 13:34-35 which says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." From the moment I met the children, mothers and administration, seeing their joy and love they had for one another, it was apparent that Rafiki was rooted in Christianity.
To my friends, peers and anyone else interested in traveling abroad for service work: If ever presented with the opportunity, do it! I cannot emphasize enough the appreciation and eyeopening experiences gained while on such a trip. Seeing the smiles of gratitude on the faces of those helped is payment enough for time sacrificed assisting those in need, and is truly a priceless memory. However, if unable to travel for whatever reason or circumstance, there are always other opportunities to help those in need. For example, the Rafiki orphanage I worked with offers the opportunity to sponsor a child here: https://www.rafikifoundation.org/sponsor.aspxOr if you just want to read up on some of their stories and backgrounds.
Picture note: Apparently they love snapchat filters and braiding my hair.