Hard Goodbyes

After a much-needed night of sleep, we woke up early to begin our last day of camp in Ada. We headed straight to the field where we began with Joey and Ryann sharing a piece of their story. From there, we kicked off a camp-wide futbol tournament. With five fields, each team was able to play each other. The kids were so excited to play the sport they love. They weren’t afraid to get a little dirty – you should have seen their celebrations after scoring a goal. The kids demonstrated great competitive spirit and good sportsmanship as they would help each other up and tend to fallen teammates. Following the futbol tournament, we played a big game of hand ball, kids vs. coaches. Despite the tough loss for the coaches, we still had a blast running around with the kids. After hand ball, we handed out awards to players that showed exceptional character. Lastly, we circled up for a final prayer, which was followed by buckets of water being thrown on all the kids. It was a great surprise for the kids! Before goodbyes, we played with bubbles that we had brought and took photos to remember our teams. The goodbyes were tough and included many final high fives and hugs, but it was encouraging to see that such strong relationships were built in a few short days.

After camp, we headed back to the hotel, packed up, and headed back to our first destination in Accra. We got to enjoy a much need change in cuisine as we had pizza and ice cream instead of the typical chicken and rice. We ended the evening debriefing our week here in Ghana. We had great discussions about the many ways in which we saw God working this week even through challenges that we faced. We closed the night playing cards as a team and preparing for our last day here in Ghana.

Peace & Luv,
Drew and Hilary

Farmer’s Tans and Full Hearts

As we are reflecting on our day, we can’t believe that we’re almost done with this trip!! Today was a *long*, sweaty, challenging- but rewarding- day spent loving on the children in God’s kingdom that were at the camp. We started off at 8 a.m. being extremely welcomed back into the camp- even kids that weren’t on our own teams ran up and hugged us and grabbed our hands as we piled out of the van (like a clown car- picture the 20 of us all packed together realllll close).

After warming up the kids with some simple games, we grouped back into our teams from the other day and took off to the field. Here, we rotated through different stations, such as Bible study, making bracelets, frisbee, volleyball, American football, kickball, baseball, sack races, jump ropes and of course futbol!!!! The day was broken up into two sections of the rotations split by a lunch break, with each team doing five activities. Despite the heat, morale was still high among the teams, and our Hope team was able to push through knowing these kids are worth it. At lunch, the kids were served banku and okra, which Kyle described as “looking like snot,” which then drove us straight to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 🙂

Back at the hotel, we had lunch and an hour to take some time to rest before finishing the rest of the day. During this time, Abby and Ryann found ANOTHER LIZARD (which brings the count to four) in their room. While Ben had mentioned the day before they are commonplace and completely harmless, we can’t help but picture it crawling all over our room. I hope this gives you an idea of the kind of paranoia we are feeling, as we have yet to capture said lizard…

We stuffed ourselves back into the van again to go back for the second half of the day. After finishing the remaining five stations, we went back into the church for dinner and worship (Guess what? CHICKEN AND RICE!!). It’s truly inspiring to see how they worship in a different way from us but under the same faith; dancing in a large circle/conga line, clapping along to music and belting out every lyric to every song that was played. Me (Ryann) and Jacinda’s team, which is mostly teenage girls, went up in front of everyone and danced to more music. It’s safe to say these kids have a passion for Jesus, and His love has truly been evident through them throughout this day. We went up to teach/repeat Proverbs 3:27 again (s/o to Boersma!!), and were able to teach them the fun “Father Abraham” song. They have been tested on their memory of the verse multiple times today, and it’s been amazing to see the impact of this verse on them in the short time that they have learned it.

As the night wrapped up, Eric was reflecting on the day and asked kids to share their favorite part of the day. A couple came first, and then the other shy kids warmed up and joined in. The majority of the answers involved two things (can you guess?): Bible study and futbol! It was eye-opening to see that through fun they truly are paying attention and learning from the gospel. They answered proudly that love can be shown through helping those you care about and sacrificing your needs for others. Some also talked about how this can be incorporated into their sports and games, which was encouraging for us as student-athletes to see the simplicity of love in competition.

After the kids were dismissed, we gathered the coaches for a water filter demonstration. Drew and Scott helped Ben explain the process of assembly, while Jacinda and Megan elaborated on its relation to the gospel and our walk of faith. The coaches were very expressive in their awe of the clean water… and their disgust of the mucky water that it was filtered from. We were then able to hand out a filter to each of the coaches, and their gratitude was very evident in their faces and hearts. This is an experience that will continue to amaze us and will not be forgotten for either parties.

It was then time to squish back into the van again and head back to the hotel to debrief. It has been touching to see what moments have impacted each member on our team & Sports Friends staff throughout the trip. As challenging as the day was, debriefing allowed us to share how we saw God through stories and prayer requests. We can’t fathom that tomorrow is full of packing up and saying goodbyes to the kiddos we have grown to adore. We can only hope that we have made just as much of an impact on them as role models as they have done for us.

Here’s to tomorrow!

With sleepy eyes,
Anna, Jacinda, and Ryann <3

A Day at the Beach, and the Start of Camp

The day started off with the team loading up in vans and heading towards a resort down river from the ocean. Peacocks and horses roamed freely around this luxurious oasis. It seemed like we had stepped out of the country and into a paradise with the contrasting quality of the surrounding villages and the luxury of the hotel. We took several hours swimming in the hotel pool and resting. At 12:00, we boarded a hollowed-out canoe for a boat ride. The shores of the river were dotted with houses, piles of clam shells from past dinners, and people trying to stay cool in the heat. We passed mansions with wakeboarding boats and jet skis right next door to mud shacks with straw roofs. The different levels of wealth were astounding. After half an hour, we reached the ocean shore. The beach was covered with trash, but we still enjoyed the beautiful view of the ocean and shells scattered across the shore. After some quick pictures, we returned to the hotel.

After a quick lunch and a change of clothes, we headed to the church where our opening ceremony of camp would begin. We arrived around 3:30, and children were already gathered in the courtyard of the church. Our SEED team members wracked our brains for every camp song, activity, and game we could think of to play with the kids. For hours we sweated, laughed, danced, ran, and sang with the children. Drew and Joey took on the task of explaining the games to the children. Some of the games we played were: Limbo, team relays, Simon says, sock it to the devil, blind folded circle tag, baby shark, and many more. As the day went on, we drew the attention of neighbors and individuals passing by. Many new kids came to watch, and with the encouragement of our team many took part in the activities. Nicole made a special friend with a small child who looked to her for encouragement the rest of the night.

Eventually as dusk approached, we split the kids into groups and headed inside. Through method of “mingle mingle” we sorted the kids into what would be their teams for the rest of camp. Leaders (us) helped come up with team names (many of which were professional soccer teams) and scramble to memorize names. About ten kids were in each group. Next came dinner. A container of food was passed to each child. These children to not get much to eat, and what they do are always leftovers after the elders have eaten the best food. When they opened the containers and saw the meal, the joy and excitement that lit of their faces is hard to explain. Talking in the hall seemed to cease as the kids became absorbed in eating. Joey, who had been playing with kids all day and had dirty hands got up from the bench among his team to try and find some sanitizer. As he walked pass Ezekiel, Confidence, and Samuel, they called out “sir”. Stopping, Joey looked over to see each one of them holding out their spoons and boxes of food. “You need to eat sir, take ours” they said. They thought I had gotten up because I hadn’t received a box of food and was looking for one. By now, the food was no longer being passed out, and there was no way for the kids to know they would get another box. They were offering him the only thing they had, their only meal for the night, and the thing that had just minutes before made them all light up with joy. It was hard for Joey to hold back tears from this gesture.

The kids would eat everything from their meal. Even the bones and gristle from the chicken. After dinner we handed out shirts for the camp to the children. They were so excited they were hopping around. They were strangely finicky about their shirts though, some wanted them to big, some on the smaller side, and some just right. Shyly, a kid asked Joey if they got to keep the shirts when the camp was finished. Upon hearing yes, the child and his friends erupted in excited chatter.

The SEED team went up to teach the verse Proverbs 3:27 to all the children. Ben and Josiah later said it made them emotional hearing all the children excited to learn the verse. After, Josiah asked for volunteers to pray, and a brave little girl quickly hopped to the front and led the whole camp in prayer. As she prayed, the small voices of about 100 children could be heard whispering their own private prayers to the Lord. Finishing the prayer, two girls led us in the start of worship. Slowly but surely, coaches and children stepped up to the drums and eventually a full-blown worship occurred. Clapping and dancing in a large group, nobody was left sitting in the pews. The children were quick to mimics us leaders in our moves and Megan ended up having flow blown Congo line wrapped around the building. As the songs wrapped up, tired, sweaty, and open-hearted children filed in the pews for the last time of the night.

God revealed himself today through the eagerness and enthusiasm of the children. Once we were divided into teams and learned the kids’ names, we were able to connect with them incredibly quickly. Their smiles and laughter were contagious as we talked and danced with them. In the coming days we will be working with the same ten kids on our teams to build deeper relationships with them. Please pray for the potential impact these relationships will have on us and the children.

Hope, Joy, Tailwinds.

Joey, Megan, Adair

Rain, Delays, and More Rain

This morning we had the opportunity to visit another village. When we left our temporary home, we expected a typical hot and sunny day in Tamale. However, the further we drove the darker the sky became. Within seconds, the wind picked up and it began to pour like crazy. We made an immediate stop to cover the suitcases that were stacked on top of the vans. As we continued driving, water started to pour through the trunk of the car and the air vents. It was an adventure to say the least.

Once we reached the village, we ran through the pouring rain and took cover under a tin overhang of one of the family’s homes who live in the village. We were able to learn that the young son had had a tumor in his nose and Sports Friends helped him to get the medical care that he needed in order to remove the tumor. The surgery happened over two years ago and today was the first time Sports Friends was able to see the boy since then. After greeting the family, we were able to pray over them and it was clear that the family was very grateful for our visit.

Soon after, we all hopped into our vans to get out of the rain, just to find out that one of vans was stuck deep in the mud. People from the village ran over to help push the van out. Even though the day up to this point did not go according to our plans, we were still seeing God work through the family we met and the people in the village.

When we were finally unstuck from the mud, we headed to the airport to fly back to Accra. Because of the weather, our plane was super delayed—it was supposed to take off at 1:00 but didn’t end up leaving until almost 5:00. We made the most of our time together, though, by playing cards, napping, challenging each other with riddles, and just continuing to learn about each other. After a short 45-minute plane ride, we landed in Accra and drove 2 hours to Ada. We’ll be here for 3 nights and will be helping Sports Friends with an overnight camp.

We hope for a restful night, as these next 3 days will be long and busy. As our excitement for camp grows, please pray that God will work through the coaches in being role models for the children and that the children’s ears and hearts will be open and receptive to God’s love and everything He has to offer them.

With love,
Hilary and Abby

A Long, Rewarding Day

After miles of rough, red roads, today’s first stop was a small village of clay huts just outside of Tamale. As our vans pulled up to the village school, kids ran in excitement to wave out the windows and greet us. We toured each classroom, which were split up by ages, and high-fived and sang with the kids. After waving goodbye to their precious smiles, we walked through the village to the chief’s palace. There were many goats and chickens along the way, and a horse inside the palace. We were all given permission to enter to greet the chief and received cola nuts (an important part of the Ghanaian culture) as a gift for visiting.

After leaving the village, we were looking forward to our sixth meal of chicken and rice to fuel us up before a camp with some local children. Again, we were greeted with smiles and high-fives, and the kids grabbed our hands to go play as soon as we stepped out of the vans. The coaches led us all in some games that we had taught them at the clinic yesterday and then split us into stations. Some of our team worked with the little kids and Ben (a leader of Sports Friends) talked with the kids about God, while the rest of us ran frisbee, baseball, soccer, and football stations. After they finished the stations, all of the kids played sharks and minnows with our team. We then taught them a Hope cheer and prayed with them before heading back to Tamale.

Before making it back to the compound, we stopped at a local church to join in on a Bible study. The pastor led us through Daniel 9 and the members of the Bible study had many questions that lead to an intense debate. It was cool to see how people from such a different culture had many of the same questions and thoughts about the Word as us.

We came back to the compound to a dinner of beef and rice already prepared for us. We ended the day as a team discussing how we saw God today. Many of us were touched by the connections we felt with the children at the camp and the ways the people of the villages welcomed us so willingly into their community. We are in awe of the way the children have served and taught us so many lessons and can’t wait for the ways in which God will work throughout the coming week.

With love,
Adair and Nicole

Tuesday Travels to Toasty Tamale (tah-ma-lay)

We got off to a good start today with everyone making it to breakfast on time and ready to go. After breakfast we had some time to be with the Word and reflect on the trip so far. Some people spent this time in the heat on the deck and others chose to stay in their rooms and enjoy the air conditioning for a little bit longer. After this time, we gathered all of our belongings and piled into the vans to head to the airport to head up north to Tamale for a sports camp. The domestic airport in Ghana is very different from what we are used to in the US. It is small with minimum security and a short bus ride to drop us off right outside the plane. The flight was very quick, about 1 hour, but we still got juice and snacks. Once we landed, it was just a short wait for our luggage and then we headed outside into the very dry heat (34ºC) to drive to our next destination.

The drive went a lot more smoothly than the previous trips in Accra. We all kept our eyes peeled to see different wild life, and although we joked about lions and elephants, we only saw goats and cows. The landscape in Tamale is much different than the city and more of what we expected to see. It is very dry and hot here, which is different from the humid air in Accra near the ocean. On our way from the airport we stopped at a restaurant for lunch outside where we all enjoyed very large portions of rice, chicken, and pizza, along with the heat. With full stomachs we piled into the vans one last time to head to where we would be staying for the night.

Right when we arrived at the compound we were greeted by the local coaches who were all eager to meet us and learn what we had to share about sports. We started the clinic for the coaches right away and taught them about four different aspects of sport that we thought were important for all sports. We split in groups and took turns explaining and demonstrating servant leadership, team bonding, a dynamic warm up, and sportsmanship. During sportsmanship, the group got the coaches engaged with a game of rock, tree, and bridge. This activity exemplified encouraging teammates, being a humble winner, and still being positive if you lose. Through all of these activities, the coaches learned new skills and tools to use with their own teams here in Ghana. This was impactful for each of us on the trip because we were able to share experiences and suggestions from our own teams at Hope.

After the sports clinic we moved into the water filter demonstrations. We showed the coaches how to set up their own buckets for filtration. Once we got the filter all set up we filled the bucket with water and showed the coaches how the dirty water was transformed into clean water. The coaches were in awe and kept coming up to look at the dirty water. They could not believe that the clean water that came out was safe to drink. After demonstration, we gave each coach their own water filter to take back to their own village along with a t-shirt. They were very excited to receive the filter to be able to take back and share with their communities. It was an amazing experience to be able to hand them the shirts and filters ourselves and to see the looks of pure joy and gratefulness that they were feeling. We ended the session with a group picture with all of the coaches in their new t-shirts. When we took the picture all of the coaches happily said “CHEESE”, filling us all with laughter and joy.

Then we walked over to a cafeteria building where there was rice, chicken, vegetables, and a hot fish sauce prepared for us. We also had water that was packaged out of a bag and you bit the corner to drink it. We ate and chatted with different coaches at our tables. The portions were very large and many of us couldn’t quite finish, but some of the other Ghanaian coaches helped us finish everything, even the chicken bones. After talking with the coaches and learning a little bit about their lives we headed back to our rooms for a debriefing, sharing of God sightings, and games.

Today was long and filled with travel but rewarding but we would all do it over again in an instant. We are looking forward to tomorrow and more chances to learn and serve with the coaches here in Tamale.

With love,
Jacinda & Emily

Off to Tamale!

The team is off to Tamale this morning (Tuesday), a city in the northern part of the country to run a day camp and connect with local coaches and churches.

Internet might be limited while we are away from Accra, so we will do our best to post to the blog and keep everyone updated as we are able.

Thanks for your support!

Piggybacks and Unplanned Acts of God

Today marked our first full day since touching down in Accra and wow it was a good one! We began the day like any other and enjoyed breakfast at 8:30 followed by the rallying of all 20 of us back into the two vans.

From there, a quick ride took us to the SIM Ghana main office where we had the pleasure of meeting the former director of SIM Ghana and his wife who gave us a quick rundown on the system and mission of SIM and some important health reminders. For those who do not know, Sports Friends works under SIM along with multiple other branches to learn and spread the word of God throughout the entire country and world, so it was neat to be able to meet and speak with the individuals that orchestrated this trip. They also provided cookies, of which were passed around the table at least four times as we each grabbed another. That meeting took about two hours which led us right into lunch time.

Ben and Josiah guided us to a quaint little spot along the road called Urban Taste. This is where the adventurous eaters were tested as one of the specialties was a dish called Banku and Tilapia. We all know what Tilapia is, however, the plate included the entire fish with eyeballs and everything. Banku is a fermented corn-type dough side dish that was entirely eaten using your hands after Josiah had made a point of not using any utensils. Others simply enjoyed a dish of chicken or fried rice and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know everyone a bit better and jumped out of our comfort zones by learning many new cultural norms.

When lunch was over, we jumped back into the vans and left for a small village, about 45 minutes outside of Accra. Once we arrived, we were hesitant and unsure of what the game plan was but all the while these adorable children kept passing by and waving from afar. During this time, we waited around a bit and met a few Sports Friends coaches which was awesome to see God’s system in action!

We had packed along a handful of water filters for a demonstration only to discover the packs were missing the drill bit used to make the perfect hole in the buckets. Luckily, we were able to find a knife and Ben was successful in making a hole to provide this family with clean water. Meanwhile, others like Joey were busy entertaining a majority of the timid children by allowing them to chase and grab onto him. Adair, myself (Anna) and Megan were able to get the other girls in the village to play some games.

After some hanging around we had quite the crowd and walked across the street to the field. The field is not what you would picture, rather some bamboo soccer posts and a patch of dirt. The joy that the children displayed was so encouraging and in the short amount of time we were there we all experienced or saw God through their endless smiles. The excitement of the children involved us in so many aspects as Adair did flips off two stacked bricks along with the other children, Joey was giving endless piggyback rides, and everyone else was mingling or playing games.

When it was time to wrap up, we got to see the coaches teach by gathering all the kids up and prompting them with questions like “what is love?,” “how do we show love?,” “what is forgiveness?.” Each child was engaged and giving thoughtful answers as the “Madame” was introducing the character of Jacob and each child wanted to share that they knew who his twelve sons were. Closing in prayer, we began to load the vans where the children started shouted “do not go” as Joey had to literally get kids pulled off his sweaty back.

After a rough road trip back, we had dinner and reflected on our day where we saw the presence of God. Personally (Anna), I loved getting to know one of the little girls, Rachel, who was quiet and timid but when we circled up to pray she was asked to pray and did so with confidence and grace for the entire group. It was so cool to see her be a leader and example at such a young age for the other children. I (Scott), personally saw God working through the kids as they started off so timid and opened up and were so crazy by the time we had to leave. The joy that each of these kids showed was a true reflection of God and the work He is doing in Ghana through Sports Friends. With that, this first full day was more than we could have ever expected and we were all exhausted. After a cold shower we are all exited to get a good night’s sleep to see what God has in store for us in the coming days!

With Love, Anna & Scott <3

We’re Here!

After an *exhausting* 7-hour red eye flight from Chicago, the team landed in London all safe and sound. Since we were divided into three different flights, we regrouped at the airport shortly after landing. We napped and snacked for several hours in the Heathrow airport before boarding our next flight to Accra. This time, our team was united on a British Airline double decker plane. The flight passed much more quickly, as this time we were all grouped together J (I – Ryann- made friends with a lovely passenger from London, as I was seated by myself).

Landing in Accra around 8:30 p.m., we were welcomed by our leaders at Sports Friends (Kyle, Bryan, Josiah and Ben) – and a balmy heat wave. Soon we were all sweating, experiencing our first encounters with mosquitoes, and loving every minute of it. As we worked our way through customs, we listened to a live airport duet perform “Time after Time,” time and time again! Honestly, they were pretty amazing for only playing this song and an instrumental rendition of “Killing Me Softly.” Luggage arrived smoothly, and assistants from the airport then loaded our luggage and split the team into two vans. First one to the second van, Joey (writing in third person here) encountered his first experience as a rookie traveler. An official-looking employee instructed Joey to tip the luggage loaders. Hesitantly, Joey asked “How much?” while trying to make eye contact with the leaders outside the van. Moving to block his view, the “employee” stated 20 dollars would be fine, and they would take any currency. Joey (still third person) may be new to this, but he wasn’t completely lost in this game. After stating he was just going to check with his leaders, the man told Joey not to check with the leaders, to sit down and not worry about it. After Joey’s first lesson, the crew continued to the place they were staying, which was just a short drive from the airport.

The house we’re staying at is pretty cool, but not in regards to temperature (until you turn on the AC !!). There’s enough beds, fans and pizza for everyone, so we can bare the heat!! There are also some frogs that have not been visually identified, but their croaks have been heard from the second we got out of the vans. I (Ryann) think that we are all pleasantly surprised at how well everything is coming together as Bryan, Kyle & the gang is providing for us, especially since we had no idea what to expect from the living arrangements without having seen pictures before arriving. Currently, we’re sitting in the conference room, eating pizza and just sitting around talking. Kind of funny that all we want to do is sit after SITTING ALL DAY, but that’s just how it is sometimes!! Since the first day we all gathered together, we have each shared our “one-word description” on how we feel at that current moment – with what we’ve dealt with so far, it’s ranged from initial excitement and jitters to exhaustion and disbelief (at the flight cancellation). Today, some of these words were mentioned, but I think Jacinda put it perfectly in hers: “Finally.”

Shoutout to all of our moms for letting us go on this amazing trip- Happy Mother’s Day to you, we love you all!!

Peace, Joy and Tailwinds,
Joey & Ryann

Delayed but Determined

After months of training and preparation, today was finally the day to begin our journey.  We began the morning with more meetings to get to know each other and practice telling our stories.  We finished meetings and headed out for a brief break.  While on this break we learned that our flight from Chicago to London had been cancelled.  Caroline decided the best course of action was to leave as soon as possible to get to Chicago to hopefully find another flight.  We cut our break an hour and a half short to get going.  For those of us who hadn’t packed yet this was quite a shock.  We took a bus from Hope to Chicago.  We waited in line at the British Airline station for what felt like forever until it was officially confirmed that we had no other options and must wait until tomorrow to fly out.  It was definitely a twist in plans but patience is a virtue and today we were tested.

After several hours of waiting and snacking and waiting, we took a shuttle bus to our hotel for the evening.  Sixteen hungry souls were very eager to eat and relax. We spent the evening at the hotel playing pick-up basketball and volleyball, just preparing for our week spent playing games with kids. Although God threw a wrench in our plans we had a lot of quality time spent with each other and learned a few interesting things. First, James Ellis does not like water or the texture of blackberries. Jacinda really really likes cheesecake. Joey not only is a track star but also broke Coach Mitch’s ankles in basketball. Anna Bremmer took the lead in getting us back to the hotel. While the rest of us ate dinner, poor Emily and Abbey only got their food in time for a late-night snack. OHHH and we cannot forget the two pet parrots we have been hanging out with at the hotel. Excited to spend the day learning more and more things before heading to the airport to finally catch our flights to London. Ghana we are ready to meet you!!

Love, Drew and Megan