by Emma Barrett - posted Monday August 21, 2017
Late on a Saturday evening in Accra, Ghana, kids who live on the street gather together for the night. At the same time, volunteers from an organization called Future of Africa (FOA) regularly go out to be with these kids, hand out dinner and attend to any cuts and scrapes they might have. I and another member of our team had the opportunity to join FOA leaders Nikki Horne and TK Azaglo in this during our stay in Ghana through The Navigators’ Mission Immersion Project.
In the darkness of the evening, we could barely see the faces in front of us, but we were on a mission. With a first-aid kit in hand, we walked past people and cars to meet kids who were sleeping on a roadway median under an overpass. When we reached them, we provided basic care, such as checking for fevers, giving them medication and bandaging their sores and scrapes. What hit me during this surreal experience was that, for these kids, this is their reality. When they are sick, they don’t have homemade food or a parent’s love - they sleep on a cold median under an overpass.
In this moment, I realized the importance of Nikki and TK’s work in their Ghanian communities - loving and encouraging children in desperate need of meaningful connection.
This experience came about through my involvement with The Navigators’ Mission Immersion Project. Earlier this summer, our group of students from southern Ontario spent two and a half weeks in Ghana for the program’s international component. We had the opportunity to visit and learn from Nikki and TK, whose work revolves around investing in the lives of kids living on the streets of Ghana’s capital Accra and developing a school in the village of Lolito, a few hours east of the city in the Volta Region. Our time with Nikki and TK focused on exploring what it looks like to live a lifestyle of mission. Within their ministry among Accra’s street kids, Nikki and TK invest in and empower young leaders, mainly university students, to serve these kids in their own communities.
In Accra, we spent time with kids living on the streets and in Lolito we built a bath house and ran group games for kids. Through these experiences and time spent with Nikki, TK and other FOA leaders, we learned what it looks like to live a lifestyle of mission. I see living a lifestyle of mission as being one where we love, serve and invest intentionally in those around us to help them realize their value and see themselves the way I believe God sees each of us.
Throughout our trip we had many conversations about the importance and relevance of living missionally in today’s world. Our reason for doing this all made more sense as we were going through the Bible in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 18-19)
God is all about bringing transformation to people’s lives so they can experience healing and wholeness. As followers of Jesus, we are also called to join in this mission and help others experience God’s transforming power through loving and serving them. Interacting with the kids in Accra and in the village of Lolito reminded me we are all searching for belonging and connection with those around us. The only difference is that for some of us, the need is more obvious. We join in God’s mission of showing people their value by loving, investing in and caring for them.
I had a lot of time to think about mission and what it looks like to intentionally love and encourage those who experience oppression, especially in our own Canadian context. When we talk about service in a place where mission and serving seem obvious, it can help us see what it looks like to address the needs in our own communities. The need for a meaningful connection may be more obvious in the lives of Accra’s street kids than it is in the lives of the people back home, but it’s still there and needs to be addressed.
This trip reminded me that people experience oppression in many different forms, such as material, relational and spiritual.
Oppression in our Canadian communities can look like not having the means or resources to eat well or live in healthy conditions.
It can look like broken relationships within families or situations of abuse.
It can look like rejection or isolation.
These scenarios can happen to anyone in our society, regardless of whether they live in poverty or affluence. Throughout the trip, I was reminded that serving and loving those in our immediate circles is just as important and meaningful as serving those overseas or in more extreme contexts. In our own communities, we understand the people, culture and history far better than in any other setting.
How can we love and encourage those who experience oppression in our own context?
What does it look like to invest in these people?
One way I’ve experienced in Ottawa has been through the Running and Reading program, where a group of university students provide exercise and literacy activities for kids in impoverished communities.
It can also mean volunteering to interact with those who don’t have homes or connecting with refugees.
I believe it can also be as simple as being present with those we encounter on a regular basis, being available and ready to love and give encouragement.
When we start to think practically about mission, we naturally find ourselves gravitating to places where our passions and skills meet the needs of our communities.
I recently finished my first year of a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, and I’ve been looking into places and contexts I can become involved in that incorporate both my passion for people and providing health care for individuals who need it in my community. In downtown Ottawa there is a high population of homeless individuals, many of whom are First Nations. I have been exploring how I can invest the skills I have, and the ones I will acquire, into the people around me who have the need for it.
The Navigators’ mission is to see people’s lives transformed by God’s love through Jesus, and then go on to help others experience this as well. This Mission Immersion experience allowed us to explore what it looks like to join God’s mission for this world by investing in and loving those who experience oppression and injustice, no matter what form.
Emma Barrett is a nursing student at the University of Ottawa. The eldest daughter of Chris and Heather Barrett, she has grown up in Ottawa around The Navigators' student ministry with her four younger siblings. She enjoys making music, being active, and intentionally connecting with those around her.