By: Aleatha Bedard-Poole
Today marks two months since I returned back from my travels to Ghana with Youth Challenge International. It feels much longer than that and that’s mostly attributed to the fact that I deeply miss all that Ghana offered me in such a short period of time. During my 5 weeks there, I learned a lot about myself and had plenty of time to reflect on where I am and where I want to go in this lifetime. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you one of the many teachings I received while in Ghana specifically, on the matter of faith.
This is a scary topic to approach and note immediately that these are solely my views but believe they are worth sharing. Prior to our departure I did some research on Ghana although never delved deeply enough to know the level of faith that exists in this country. Being forewarned prior to my departure that Ghana was seen as one of the most religious countries in the world, I simply did not believe it! Honestly, I am unsure which countries I would peg as the most religious but I definitely did not anticipate the level of worship I experienced while there. This quickly became apparent even before I stepped on Ghanaian soil; it actually began on the lengthy plane ride to Accra, Ghana. My neighbour for the next 14 hours was a pastor and he did not hesitate to delve into the discussion of faith. Admittedly my relationship with God then was non-existent, simply put I would find myself in a church usually only for weddings and funerals. Notably, I can appreciate that faith is experienced far beyond the church yet, those unexplained events I would encounter were usually deemed a coincidence. Now that you can see which end of the spectrum I resided at, I can confirm some concern that my many hours on the plane beside this gentleman were going to turn into a lengthy discussion on why I should bring God into my life. To my surprise, the exact opposite occurred – we spoke about many aspects of faith and through the hours I divulged more than I ever had to anyone in my life! He offered me impeccable insight and in the end challenged me to challenge myself. With a shift in my mindset, I approached my time in Ghana differently than I had previously. I know his kind and thoughtful words made this trip much more than it could have been – a gift in disguise that was far from coincidence.
I found the pastor in my thoughts regularly once I was in Ghana, especially during those tough moments. While there my health was challenged at times and at one point I needed to be hospitalized. That was quite an experience which I won’t attempt to share in detail, but faith yet again played an unforgettable role. A nurse began to take my information naturally beginning with my first and last name followed by the question of which religion I self-identify with. Confused and feeling quite unwell at that moment I quickly responded “next question.” She looked at me seemingly confused with her pen remaining on that question box and clearly adamant that this question required a response. Unsure why my religion would be her second question to me during the triage period, I then proceeded to ask “what does religion have to do with my health?” After a gasp and assessing the shocked look on the nurse’s face, it became clear that faith had everything to do with my well-being! The coordinator thankfully stepped in and handled the conversation from there but I could not shake that situation from my mind. Did faith really have everything to do with my health or more importantly the health of others? If so, why do the most faithful still suffer? Fortunately these questions were addressed the following Sunday…
We were encouraged to attend church while there and experience various denominations. Although my experiences in church have been quite limited, I found it important to experience and undoubtedly the pastor on the plane played a big role in my curiosity. During the service attended with our home-stay mother, the pastor spoke on the topic of self-pity. I can note that it is easy to revert to feeling sorry for yourself when things do not go as initially planned, I know I’ve found myself asking “why me?” at times. The pastor noted – if not you, then who? This hardship would have made itself onto someone else if not you and would you want anyone else to face your struggles? Personally, for the most part my answer to him is no. He continued to note that whatever we face whether it is good, bad and everything in between, it is for a reason. We are given what we can handle and struggle was placed upon us to overcome and remain resilient. For me, this was quite an epiphany and one I surely can’t deem as solely a coincidence. It was a simple teaching yet one that will remain with me forever, yet another gift.
The concept of “managing the bouncing balls” was once explained to me and quickly discounted until recently as I finally understand what that person was trying to tell me. The concept is that we are all constantly receiving, returning, dropping and missing all together experiences (the balls) in our life – good, bad and everything in between. If we do good, this ball and possibly other good balls are likely to come bouncing back our way – same with the bad which is similar to the idea of karma. Notably, if we aren’t aware of these balls, we can miss catching them meaning we miss out on opportunities to return them to others and back to ourselves. In addition, we also miss out on appreciating these balls for what they have to offer if not caught and if we don’t catch the ball someone else will. As such, it is ever important to pay it forward as well as back and help others do the same if they’re open to doing so. What I have learned more than anything in Ghana is that we simply can’t take anything for granted. There is always a reason for our experiences although unexplainable at times, coincidence for me is no longer an explanation in itself but merely a missed opportunity to be grateful. I am challenging myself to be more self-aware and have since witnessed several times over that these figurative bouncing balls do in fact exist.
The impact Ghana has had on me is tough to put into words, but I am trying to articulate it. Perhaps this is why I have held off sharing many of my stories and pictures with most. With that being said, I am forever grateful of my time in Ghana and the experiences will remain close to my heart and deep in my mind.
Below is a photo of one of my favourite spots visited in Ghana – beyond the gorgeous view, it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect! This was our last weekend in Ghana and we decided to go visit Cape Coast where we spent the day touring the Cape Coast Castle. An incredible experience and plenty of history that I am sure to share with my future children regarding their roots!
Aleatha Bedard-Poole worked as a YCI Youth Ambassador during the summer of 2014. To learn more about YCI’s Youth Ambassador programs in Ghana, check out our program calendar.