Now I am nearing the time of my departure from Ghana. Nearing the end of the most challenging experience of my life. It is going to take many attempts for me to be able to effectively synthesize and dissect this past year, but I think I am going to enjoy every moment of that. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed by. (Well, actually I can, but we must respect the formalities.)
Looking back on this experience from where I am now one thing is quite apparent if it were not for the spiritual growth that I underwent in the first three months I don’t believe that I would have had the strength to complete. But that is the whole thing!
My spiritual development in Ghana came from reading great spiritual works from Merton, Chardin, and St. John of the Cross. It came from learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning, evening, and at night. It came from going to Mass every day and becoming dependent on the Eucharist. It came from developing a longing for prayer. These things could have happened anywhere at any time, but they happened here.
If I were in the US right now doing some other kind of work would I have read those books? Would I be going to Mass everyday let alone once a week? Would I be committed to my personal prayer life? Would I have the mental and spiritual strength to love others when I am hurting inside? Would I have the ability to even be honest with myself about the times that I fail to serve selflessly?
My preparation for this experience was about 26 days in Ghana over the course of two international experiences while I was a student at Holy Cross College. Both of those experiences were with groups of 26 and 10, but this time I was going to be in Ghana for a year virtually on my own. Besides my own personal reading and research I had nothing else. (But that never really bothered me.) I was not required to pray with the community nor was I assigned books to read and discuss with any spiritual director.
I was inspired to do it. I chose to do it.
I reflected long and hard on themes of seeing Christ in the face of the poor and the ignorant, being aware of the presence of God everywhere I was, being aware of God as the ultimate source around which all life revolves, and internalizing the idea that “there is no greater proof of love than laying down your life for your friends.” Another of the most important things that I often reminded myself was that God’s graces are always there for us; but it is up to us to accept them.
From all if this newfound insight I was able to discover a strength within myself to endure whatever struggle or trial that would come to me. I accepted that I could not do it by myself and that is how I overcame them.
Also, if it were not for reading the psalms on a daily basis I would still find myself a slave to a host of vices, mainly the power of my ego. I had a hard time in the beginning of my experience accepting my ministry. Constantly looking for a way to involve myself in something else that seemed “bigger and better” than teaching high school age boys English and Religious and Moral Education I was blind to the fact that it was my ego, my selfish desire to serve others on my own conditional terms, that was causing me such torment. In the beginning, I used to dread going to school and facing my students.
It wasn’t until I realized that it was my own ego that was causing me these problems that I was able to fix the problem. It got to a point where I was even considering requesting for another ministry to participate in or the unthinkable, give up entirely. I was able to recognize my selfish ways and correct them. I don’t think that is something I have done many times before. It was an action that saved this experience. Of course, as I said back in December, even during the worst times when I was considering giving up I knew that I couldn’t.
The past couple months, the “home stretch” if you will, has been equally difficult, but for a host of different reasons. So much of what I have struggled with has been due to the great need that exists here in Ghana. I am still just beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the different global and humanitarian issues that need to be addressed in the developing world and in Ghana. As I begin to better understand them I feel helpless when so many come to me in need. That is something that will never go away. While recognizing that you cannot help everyone you still cannot help but feel frustrated when you do not have the resources at your disposal to more actively deal with these problems.
How has it affected me? I feel burned out. I feel helpless. I feel like I have done nothing. Has that affected the way I interact with Ghanaians? Somewhat. But if it were not for my new spiritual strength I wouldn’t even be dealing with this. I would be back in the States…probably feeling lost. If it were not for what happened all those months ago I wouldn’t have the vigor to keep going, to still smile, to listen, to give freely, or to tolerate the incessant catcalls of all the villagers just to visit a friend’s home(ha ha). Although at times I feel a bit numb, cynical, or hardened I am fully committed to this work.
It has all been "nyame adom"...by God's grace. Before I was inspired to pray with the community or read those books I don't think I was ready to deal with what I have. There is a good chance that I would give up. But I was inspired which tells me that I think I am on the right track.