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?