It was a hot Friday afternoon, when we arrived in Accra, Ghana. My husband and I were on an overseas service trip to West Africa, from South Africa. The traffic was thick and it was sweltering, slow moving and chaotic. We looped down busy main streets and finally out on to the main highway that curled up in to the Gold Coast where we were staying. Eight hours later we met our host Bishop E and settled into our beds for a good night’s rest.
The following morning, we stepped out on to the balcony and took in the palm trees, the goats and the houses. We could see far off into the distance and I breathed in the warm humid air. It was just another day for the locals passing by with sewing machines on their heads, water pitchers and food until they looked up at the bishop’s balcony. That’s when they tripped, started pointing, laughed out loud and just stared wide eyed at the white people on the balcony. When I waved, they became even more hysterical, with curiosity and surprise.
Over the next two weeks, my husband and I spent our days preaching and teaching the word of God at the main church and in local congregations. We used a translator and were quickly acquainted with the love and honour of the Ghanaian people but something struck me one afternoon. As we left the church for our afternoon siesta, we passed by a school where rows of children were waiting to collect their school reports.
A little girl was walking in front of us towards the other children, as we made our way towards our car. I tried to say hello but she hurried her steps, visibly frightened. She eyed us as she walked and almost started running away as we neared her. In the area where we were living, we were told many of the young children had never seen white people before and so it was frightening to them. I paused to consider the sadness in my heart, the sadness I felt that someone would feel afraid of me because I looked different. I thought about South Africa and how it is almost inbred in us to fear others because I come from a nation so racially divided that we fear what we perceive to be the other. Yet as I stood in Ghana among the children, I realized that we fear what we do not know. We feel powerless at what we do not understand. I stopped and took out my camera, as these rows of children stood staring towards us, something about them I felt I needed to capture and take away with me.
Until one little boy broke through the ranks and ran up to me. He leaned in to smell my hair. He was curious at this “ebroni” (that’s the word they used for white people whenever they saw us). It didn’t take him long to rally his friends around us until the whole school was literally shrieking with laughter and delight so much so that the teachers were unable to control the excitement. It took a single act from a brave child to overcome the barriers, and to render fear, powerless. To render perception, futile. Children hugged my husband and I and stood posing for photos. In that moment, we were one; from two opposite ends of the same continent, we had crossed a boundary and reached beyond our fears to embrace one another in innocent wonder.
I fell in love with their faces and warmth, and that moment remains framed in my heart. Crossing nations requires crossing physical boundaries and border control. Yet crossing ancient barriers and boundaries of fear, prejudice or perception, requires a deeper crossing. One we can do when holding the powerful passport of God’s Love and the desire to learn, understand and embrace what or who we do not yet know or understand.
How might you step out and cross a barrier?
What opportunity do you have to create trust and connection where there are deeply entrenched suspicions or fears?