The Spark Plug

MFT's Trip to Ghana

We always love to share about what is going on at Spark. This is a chance to do just the opposite. We get the chance to put a spotlight on what some of our students recently got to do in Ghana. Our guest Blogger today is Marriage & Family Therapy Professor & Program Coordinator Chris Gonzalez who led the trip to Ghana. You can learn more about the MFT program by contacting recruiter Kathi Johnson here.


Marriage and Family Therapy Students go to Ghana


In May I lead a team of 10 Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) masters students to Ghana in Western Africa. It was the first trip for the program’s new Mental Health Missions specialization. It was also the first international trip I had ever led. Many of the students who went on the trip are in the program’s first cohort. For many of the students, it was their first international trip. It was a trip of firsts.

Mental Health Missions is what happens at the intersection off mental health and relational work in an international or cross-cultural setting combined with a missional impulse. It is similar to medical missions, but with therapists and counselors working with psychological and relational trauma rather than physicians and nurses working with physical wounds and disease.


We planned this trip for months. We prepared, role played, read books, and got loads of vaccinations, but we had no idea how this Mental health Mission trip would impact us or the people with whom we would work.

When the time finally arrived to put all of our training and preparation into action, we hopped on a plane and headed east. Twenty-four hours later we landed in the capital city of Accra, Ghana. Akwaaba! We were welcomed. After a quick night sleep, we were off to Cape Coast for a sobering visit to the Elmina Castle  to get perspective on slavery of the past. Then we headed to the Touch A Life Care Facility to meet the children – children who had been forced to work. It felt like historical whiplash transitioning from historical transatlantic slavery to modern day forced labor.


We were to conduct assessments of their stories of trauma and their understanding of family. It felt like walking on holy ground getting to hear the stories of these children. We learned not only of terrible challenges and trauma they faced, but also of their resilience and hope.

Wow! What an amazing group of children! Their welcoming and smiling faces were evidence of what can happen when a child gets rescued from hazardous and exploitive conditions. With a safe place to live, healthy food, good education, positive relationships, and lots and lots of love, children who have been in the worst of conditions can smile, play, learn, joke, create beautiful art, and pour out more love than any one of us imagined. The image of God emerges from them.


We did not expect to leave Ghana after two weeks having received more than we gave, but that is exactly what happened. We are home now, but our hearts are stretched across the Atlantic Ocean. When can we go back?


Posted by Durham, Steven -

Summer Travel Tips

Now that schools are finally out of session for the summer, many families are preparing for vacations. I know in my family our normal day to day schedule is very full. Unfortunately this leaves us little time to pack and properly prepare for our trips. Because of this, there are things that I try to do each time we prepare for a trip to make things easier. I wanted to share some things I've learned and hopefully some of these things can help you prepare for your family’s upcoming trip!


  • Keep a universal packing list – I have realized over the years that many of the things that end up being forgotten when packing for a trip are often the seemingly obvious things we use everyday. I have created a digital list that has items that are used on many of our trips. This list includes phone chargers, extra shoes, hanging clothes, our camera & our pillows. Some items on your universal list may not be needed for every trip, but it’s best to keep them on the list. It may help you remember that item for the next trip.


  • Specific trip packing list – Because each trip is different, you need a specific list for each one. Best-case scenario, a few weeks before a trip takes place you should start making a list of trip specific items. Examples might be camping equipment, items for the beach, or things you need to take to a family member you are visiting. Be as detailed as possible because even though some of these items will seem obvious, as I said before, the obvious tends to get overlooked in packing.


Extra tip: Does your family take a reoccurring trip? Keep a permanent list for that trip and keep it up to date. If you learn that your trip would be easier with another item, add it to the list. Or if you find out that an item is unnecessary for future trips, remove it. This will keep you from taking the time to create a new list each time.


  • Packing for flying – There are plenty of restrictions when it comes to flying. To help you pack for your trip, keep up to date on the latest restrictions. The TSA ( has a great informational site and a brand new TSA Kids page that can help adults and children alike learn more about flying. Something important to note is that many airlines are now allowing portable electronic devices to be used gate to gate in airplane mode. This can be very helpful for anyone to pass the time.


  • Packing for car travel – One of the easiest ways to save some time and money is to pack a cooler for your trip. Instead of having to stop to pay for food and drinks along the way, you can pack them to allow more flexibility for your trip. Having electronic chargers for the car can help keep those electronics you have become accustomed to using running for your entire trip. Sometimes traveling at night is the best option, so having blankets & pillows available for passengers who may want to sleep is always a good idea.


  • Traveling with Kids – I feel like this topic could be an entire blog post in itself. As a relatively new parent, I have limited experience with this on the parent side. However, I remember some things about traveling as a kid that helped me pass the time, and I have read a few things that I look forward to try in the coming years. Having plenty of snacks and drinks is a good start. Also, packing activity books, favorite toys, movies or other electronic devices can be crucial to a happy trip. Keep in mind that children do not have the same patience level for traveling that many adults have learned to have. Even though it may make the total time of a trip longer, sometimes it’s best to stop to get children out of the car for a while. This could mean stopping at a park, a playground, or finding another point of interest on your travel route that might be fun, interesting, and allow everyone to move around.


  • Safety first – Just like airlines go through a safety check on each plane before every flight, always check your car to be sure that it is in top running condition before your trip. This includes checking fluid levels, tire pressures, battery charge and windshield wiper blades. If you are getting close to your next oil change and you normally take your vehicle somewhere to be serviced, it’s a good idea to do it early. Most places that do oil changes will also check all of these things while you are there for service. Always know your travel route ahead of time. Even though using a GPS is a great tool to help with driving, not knowing your route ahead of time can cause you to make quick and unexpected turns. It’s also handy to keep a map or atlas in the car as well. There are times that a detour may be necessary and while maps on a phone are great, there are times where cell service may be spotty.


  • Make reservations – It’s always good to have a plan, and by planning ahead you can usually save some money as well. Make your travel plans early in order to save the most money and ensure you get to do what you want. This includes hotels, airfare, rentals, tickets to shows or activities, or even some restaurants.


  • Think about your health – Always keep in mind that it is important to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, use sunscreen, take medications and keep up with any healthy routines you keep at home.


  • Have fun and be flexible – Last but not least, make sure you make your trip what you want it to be. While it’s great to have a plan & schedule for your trip, be flexible. Plan some free time into your trip to give you options. You may reach your destination only to find something you want to include in your trip that you didn’t already know about. Since the weather doesn’t always cooperate with your plans, check it to help you plan your stay and if possible swap your plans to help maximize the good weather. However, keep in mind that in some cases a less than perfect weather day can make for a more enjoyable time since it will keep the crowds away.


I hope that you have seen something that can help you out this summer! Be sure to enjoy it!


Steve Durham

Posted by Durham, Steven -

Be Positive

Today's Devotional is from Lane Widick. Lane is the preaching minister at the Granny White Pike Church of Christ.  You can reach him at, or by visiting or


The One Where I Say "Be Positive"


Okay, I’ll admit it.  Sometimes, I can be a debbie downer.  I can’t help it.

Part of it is in my blood.  My grandma was a rather negative gal.  But let’s face it, she grew up in the depression era, so I think she had permission.

My family and I moved back home to Nashville almost 2 years ago.  I’ve made great strides in my negative attitude.  One of the greatest things that helped was ceasing to watch the news.  I used to be a FoxNews junkie, and then I would flip over to CNN to see what they were saying, followed by checking their websites.  

All they would do is yell and fight and bicker – and I have to tell you, it rubs off on you.  I’d watch it while I was getting ready, and then I’d listen to it on my XM radio in the car.  When I wasn’t listening to that on the radio, I’d listen to ESPN news or talk – and again, on my afternoon drive home, I’d catch the PTI (Pardon the Interruption) crew, and that show is all about yelling at each other.

Its so easy for this attitude to rub off on you, and sadly enter all aspects of your life.  We get short tempered with our spouses, our children, our friends, our church family, our neighbors, the people driving next to us on the road – and before long its out of control!

So for those of you who have been affected by my negative attitude that creeps out every once in a while, I’m sorry.  Being around negativity is like being around someone who smokes – you may not be smoking, but you smell like it later on.  You may not be negative at the time, but chances are it’ll put you in a sour mood.

There’s really no excuse for me ever being negative.  I have a 

1.  Wonderful wife who still puts up with me
2.  A beautiful little girl who still loves to cuddle with her daddy
3.  Super awesome parents, family, and friends who would do anything for me
4.  The absolute best church family any Christian or Minister could ever ask for
5.  A spectacular home that is more than we ever could have imagined
6.  2 paid off vehicles that are in top notch running condition
7.  Health – me and my family have no major problems 
8.  More than enough food to eat every single day

Well, you get my drift.  I’ve been blessed, and instead of letting things get me down, I’m going to focus on the blessings in Christ that I have.

Next time you put something on Facebook – ask yourself, “Is this building others up?”  Such as political statements, money statements, “i’m raising my family better than you” comments, and so on and so forth.

Next time you have a conversation with someone, be positive.  If the other people in your conversation bring up gossip, negativity, or comments about how they are not satisfied with something going on at work, home, or church – try to change the subject to something more positive, or if that doesn’t work, dismiss yourself from the conversation.

Negativity is a poison, one that we all partake of, but one we need to fight against.  May God bless us all with a positive spirit and attitude…INCLUDING ME!!

Posted by Durham, Steven -

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we are all preparing to be with our families for the Thanksgiving Holiday, we wanted to share our thanks to all of you who made our first year successful! 

From all of our families to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!



Posted by Durham, Steven -

Faith & Work

Today's devotional thought has been provided by Dale Jenkins. Dale is the Pulpit Minister at the Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tennessee. You can learn more about Dale on the Spring Meadows website or


Faith and Work...


Some say that “work” is rather evil, a part of “The Fall” but they are wrong.  In the garden before sin God gave Adam work.  Work has been a part of our existence since man began. Complicated, frustrating, unrewarding work - now those grew out of man’s sin (Genesis 3:15-17).   


For some it might provide a spark to shift your view of the value of your work. Rather than the daily grind, being on the treadmill, passing time, toiling away, your place in the rat race see the value of work in light of faith. Faithful people work (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Our work mirrors God (Exodus 20:9-11;).  It keeps us from becoming what God does not want us to be. It provides us an opportunity to help those in need (Ephesians 4:28). And it opens doors to share our faith with others (Colossians 3:22-25). 


I don’t know what work you might “go to” today but if possible do work you love. Do work that is rewarding. Do work that provides an opportunity to highlight your faith in God. Do work that serves God as it serves others. ~

Posted by Durham, Steven -