July 4th is a big holiday in my family, as it is for many families in the U.S. My brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews gather at my parents’ house in Merced and have a Burger Cook-off that is incredibly competitive and creative. I missed it this year for the obvious reason of being in Africa. But my sister made sure I was included by video-calling me at 2.A.M.! She passed around the phone and had each family member describe their burger to me. I was bleary eyed and half-asleep, but I think I made out that my Dad made a bruschetta burger on grilled sourdough and my mom did something exotic with caramelized onions. Inexplicably this year my brother didn’t enter and no one used grilled pineapple! Very unusual.
I was also without Joy and the kids this year, as they all flew back to the States to visit Joy’s grandma, whose health is failing, and a few other family members and friends. So how did I celebrate the 4th of July, 7,600 miles from all my family?
I took a short term mission team from Eastern Hills Bible Church in Syracuse New York, a long-time friend and partner of the IJM Ghana field office, to visit an aftercare home for IJM clients, boys we rescued from a childhood of slavery on Lake Volta. This is the home I’ve visited twice before and so I’ve become a bit familiar with the boys. In previous visits, I taught them a few call and response cheers I learned at my kids’ soccer academy in Accra. It is a real joy to see their eyes light up when they see me as they began calling out those cheers!
After an initial gathering time with the staff and kids, the Eastern Hills team broke up into four activity stations: football (soccer), tag, music, and dancing. The kids’ caregivers broke them into age groups and took them around the stations, 20 minutes each. It was great fun! Each time I have been to this home, football has been involved! But it was really fun to see the kids do things I had not seen before such as playing drums, doing singing/rhythm games with a music therapist, and busting dance moves in both American and Ghanaian styles. It was hilarious and fun and beautiful to see them smiling and laughing and joking and playing. Six months ago, there was so much less smiling, laughing, joking and playing. The difference is freedom and love. They are now free and surrounded by people who uphold their dignity and worth and defend their freedom.
After a prayer and presenting of gifts (large bags of rice, cooking oil, tinned tomatoes), we climbed on the bus and hit the road through the countryside to a city a few hours away for a Justice Conference we were putting on in the morning. As the evening faded into night and some on the bus began to drift off to sleep, a few of us in the front were led in singing by a local pastor in some Ghanaian worship songs.
At some point on this bus ride, I first realized it was the 4th of July. It occurred to me that perhaps it was a fitting way to spend the 4th of July after all!