Traveling from an orphanage in Ghana to the Atlantis in the Bahamas has got to be the epitome of going from the sublime to the ridiculous. It’s hard to believe the two can exist on the same planet. A perfect example of the inequities (and iniquities) of this world. The cost of one meal at the Atlantis could feed the entire orphanage for a couple of weeks. I don’t know whom I felt sorrier for: the children in Africa with nothing or those I watched on “spring break” that have too much. My own ability to move between the two worlds almost seamlessly is disturbing. The initial guilt upon returning home to all its luxuries fades quickly when I step into a nice hot shower and is replaced with the joy of being clean for the first time in ten days. Plumbing and a clean bed don’t hurt, but it is the quiet and solitude that I appreciate above all else.
As I sat at the pool in the Bahamas watching the antics of the “spring break” crowd, I wondered who was more prepared to face the harsh realities of life. Those in Ghana who have to struggle for everything, where there is nowhere to go but up; or those who have lived a life of privilege, where there is nowhere to go but down? Witnessing the choices of both left me with more questions than answers.
During this most recent trip to Ghana (and the Atlantis too, but that's another story) the power of personal choice couldn’t have been more obvious. Despite the deplorable conditions at the orphanage, I had to remind myself that these were the “lucky” ones. They had a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in (though not one we would ever lay in), three meals a day, and access to an education - privileges many in Ghana are denied. Not all of the children are ”true” orphans. Some have one or both parents who are unable to support them. Some have been abandoned there by a parent. Some have a living relative but again without the financial means to care for them. Others truly are alone in this world.
Either way, you would think they would all share a singularity of purpose: to rise above their circumstances since their future is uncertain once they age out of the orphanage. It defies logic, but that is not what I observed. Not all of them choose to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to get a primary education, which would then lead to a potential sponsorship for Senior High School and University if they pass the entrance exams. Oddly enough, there are those that choose not to take their studies seriously either by not applying themselves or skipping school frequently. What’s to become of those children? I can’t say, but it is an interesting study of people in the same circumstances making dramatically different choices. I wish I had more time there to talk with them about why they would choose not to go to school. Could it be as simple as there not being an adult forcing them to? Would my children fare any better under those circumstances? Without anyone to help, encourage or motivate them, it’s probably a miracle that so many manage to learn anything.
I will share one other observation which has been consistent from my first visit. Above all else, their first choice is always prayer. Nothing happens quickly in Ghana, and before any decision is made at the orphanage, they always pray about it first and wait for guidance. And if there is one thing they do well, it is waiting. The fervency with which they pray is amazing AND they always begin with prayers of thanks. I was reminded of this piece of wisdom, “Thankfulness lifts you above your circumstances.” They may not have control over their situation, and their choices are certainly limited, but prayer is one choice no one can ever take away and they take full advantage of this privilege. What is so beautiful to watch is the obvious joy they derive from it despite their circumstances. Or is it because of their circumstances? They have nothing else, so their faith is their most valued possession. In our world, I believe our possessions often get in the way of our faith (regardless of what it is) or are certainly distractions and sometimes even become the object of our worship.
When my friend Lisa, founder of the Ghana Children’s Fund, first visited the orphanage she saw firsthand their deep dependency on the Lord. Upon her unannounced arrival, 64 children swarmed her screaming, “You are here. Finally you have come!” Confused, she asked what they meant because she didn’t even know which orphanage she’d be visiting when she boarded the plane to Ghana. The simplicity of their answer is a perfect illustration of their child-like faith, “We have prayed for you to come and help us, and now you are here.”
It’s no mystery why they choose faith. God is the only constant in their lives, the only one they can believe when He says, “I will never leave you ” because indeed He’s the only one who never has.
To whom or what do you put your faith in? What do you value above all else?