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Transcending Language, Building Relationships



It was our last full day in Ghana - one final time to be with the students. Our team had spent the past four days getting to know the 12 kids in our Education program in Ankaase, and although the adults had been chatty and full of questions, the students had been quiet and careful with their words during our time together. Their first language is not English, it is the regional language of Twi. Not only is the language complicated, but the some of the required sounds are tongue-twisters for English speakers. The team had made little progress on learning any kind of communication in the children's native language, so we were depending on their limited bi-lingual abilities. Most of them are shy about speaking English, and we were skeptical that their blank stares didn't mean they couldn't understand us, but that they just didn't want to be pressured into speaking to us.

This final day, however, there seemed to be some breakthrough on their reserved demeanors. Instead of looking anywhere but in our eyes, they were suddenly studying us curiously. I love this photo of our friend, Mark, with Maxwell, Patrick and Caleb. I snapped the photo without realizing what was happening here. My lens didn't immediately give me the ability to see their expressions - delighted, curious, open, and trusting. I think the students we work with don't know what to think of us, and who can blame them? We come into their small community double-fisted with luggage and carry-ons, matching t-shirts, overly enthusiastic greetings and so many questions: What's your favorite subject in school? What do you want to do when you grow up? Favorite food? Favorite color? Our small talk quickly turns to deeper subjects because we only have five days with them. And only a few hours each day to learn more about them, share our hearts, ask them how they feel about school and friends and themselves. Initially, they stare at us in surprise, then they get shy and unsure and they look away for a while. And then, this moment in this photo. A little breakthrough.

We left the next day. Some of us returned about six months later, and we've kept going back. We keep writing letters and carefully entering their world, aware enough to know that even the little things we do matter. We are learning that sometimes it's enough just to bring a cold drink, a tiny wooden airplane, a silly song, and to sit and talk about nothing. Or everything. There is no agenda. Just hearts that are aware of the challenges these kids face and how we might be able to, for a few days, build some kind of relationship that communicates this: You matter, because you are you. And you are already loved, because you are you.

This photo gives me hope that these three boys heard a message that week, and maybe also the other nine children as they sat in their groups with team members. It motivates me to take the message out there over and over again - to Ghana, to Tulsa, and everywhere in between. SaveSaveSave

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