Our first night sleeping on base in Livingstone, I was rattled from my jetlagged slumber several hours before any sort of glorious, Lion King sunrise. Now, years of early swim practices have accustomed me to eventful mornings to a certain extent, but after about forty hours of travel, this level of excitement was a little more than I could handle. Through my groggy perception, the monstrous man responsible for the pots and pans clanging in my face was beaming with joy over my tired confusion. While my state probably added to the entertainment, I would soon learn that crazy excitement was his default personality, especially that morning as we embarked on an adventure he had been crafting for months.
We found the following day and a half to be jam packed with intense challenges, team building activities and other games that require buckets of energy. The whole extravaganza reminded me of my weeklong ‘initiation’ to the swim team back at school. (Perpetual shout out. I love you guys.) After walking six or seven miles into the sun-risen African bush, we set up camp along the Zambezi River and gathered around Eyram Kpodo, who would proceed to lead us through an array of clap-jump-shout icebreakers before explaining the first five challenges of the day. Camp ministry is Eyram’s calling, electric positivity his medium. He proved it to me that day as he took a handful of too-cool-for-school-twenty-somethings from all over the world and pulled out the beginnings of a family. Beyond the loud and proud enthusiasm, he’s grown close to my heart as a personal mentor, seeking me out so we can share our joys and struggles. Believe me, we both have plenty of each. What truly blows me away about Eyram, though, is how far his heavenly father has carried him from a horribly difficult past of challenges and obstacles much more discouraging than any we faced in the bush.
The youngest of three siblings, Kpodo grew up in Ghana with both parents married, which is a blessing to any child. His father, however, was an aggressive man who made drunken physical abuse a regular occurrence in his home. Eyram bore the brunt of this treatment, and it traumatized him deeply. As he grew older and stronger, he came to believe that it was inevitable for him to become just like Dad. We all want to carry on a legacy, even if life hasn’t dealt us a favorable name. So Eyram started picking fights in and out of school, and even got used to habitually beating on his siblings and parents. Kpodo can even remember one particular fit as he jabbed a pencil into his sister’s leg. Before long, Eyram didn’t have any friends left and his family would hide when he entered the home. So he turned to womanizing and trying to find worth in that arena, which proved unfulfilling and left scars of its own. Convinced that change was needed but unsure of where it was hidden, he left home for South Africa to take part in a nine-month program called the Leadership Experience, or LXP. LXP is essentially a longer, more intense version of EXP (our internship) geared toward people who are sure of their call to missions and seeking substantial empowerment. This doesn’t describe where Eyram was in this point in his life, but God works in such roundabout ways.
Several months into LXP, Eyram found himself in conflict with those he had become bound to live among. This time, instead of lashing out in anger or violence, he reached beyond his past mistakes and spoke with others in the community about his frustrations. Not only did these brothers and sisters help to dispel his battles – the Lord also used his interactions with them to draw Eyram to himself. God showed him that even though he hadn’t received love from his earthly father, there was abundant love available in his heavenly father and in his bride and body, the Church.
Since that program, Eyram has dedicated his life to whatever God has in store. This commitment has proven to be a grand, unexpected adventure. He’s decided that the legacy of anger will end with his father; that his children will be remembered for something different. Scars from Dad have been redeemed as he has consistent opportunity to provide a father figure influence to kids in his community. Some of those kids are those of us in EXP, and I’m incredibly grateful to have Eyram as my assigned mentor, but he has bonds with young men around town that stretch far beyond the three-month confines of this summer. Specifically, there’s a boy named Andrew who Eyram sees on his morning walks. One day, he stopped and decided to get to know him, and learned that his father had passed away. “The next morning I went for another walk and saw him again, but this time he called out my name! I had only mentioned it once, and he remembered my name just like that! We haven’t spent too much time together, but I feel that I represent something in his life. He runs to me, and that makes me feel so good!” We don’t have to go far to experience this kind of love and impact in our own lives.
As I mentioned before, one of Eyram’s strongest suits is his ability to energize a crowd with engaging icebreakers. Early on, he taught our group a football cheer from Ghana, and the simple lines can get us on our feet and ready to roll without fail. He finds this part of himself hilarious, considering his previous well-deserved reputation as a no nonsense bully. “We live life with a lot of thinking and without joy. God has given me the opportunity to share joy with the people. I’m kind of like a heavenly clown, and I love that!” This goofy characteristic encourages me that God really can use any of us for anything he pleases – often times in spite of our faults or weaknesses. Eyram’s confounding transformation may be most evident in the telling of his first time visiting his mother after he met Jesus. This story’s so beautiful; I want to use his words in an attempt to do it any justice.
“Before I left Ghana, I was a very angry person and my family was scared of me. I was like a lion in my own house. When I left home, they were excited for me, not because I would experience Christ but because they were going to be free! Life would finally be good for them. Once I got to understand myself and know who God has called me to be, I decided to go home and visit my family. No one knew I was coming home. When I got there, man, the look on my sister’s face! She started screaming and screaming and gave me a hug. I’ve never gotten a hug from my sister in my life, and this blew me away. She went in the house and told my mom, “Eyram is home, Eyram is home!” I did not even speak, but she started crying because she couldn’t believe that it was really me standing in front of her. She just held me in her arms. I spent about six months in Ghana, and it was overwhelming because my mom now knows that I have a spirit of love in me. Every time I spoke, Mom would just keep crying. Now, any time there’s a decision to be made in the home, they call me to be a part of that. They say that without me, a decision can’t be made. That blows my mind because in my past life, it wasn’t like that. God has done so much in my life. At the end of my time there, Mom told me, “Eyram, I want you to know that I’m proud of you and I love you so much.” Man, you don’t know how good that felt. It’s hard because I never got a hug from my dad. To know that I’m important and loved feels so good. I feel like it’s just the beginning.”
It’s been a while since Eyram and I have been around each other, as we’re doing ministry twelve hours away in the Copper Belt town of Luanshya this week. Eyram’s commitments to his young people and a small business selling art in an Italian restaurant prohibited him from joining us, but we will be together soon. Our weekly one on one time is Saturday morning after chores, and we’ll have a lot to catch up on! So far, our team has molded scores of bricks, done hours of yard work outside a hospital, prayed with the patients inside the hospital and visited a housing compound for the elderly. The family we’re staying with opens their home to orphans and vulnerable children, so it’s tents in the backyard for us. Other than the distant yelping dogs and wailing roosters, we’re in very, very good company. It’s a shame that we can’t be with this family for more than a week, but I’m also looking forward to returning to Livingstone, Eyram and our longer-term commitments. Also, when we return to the city, I’ll have a better chance at finding some Wi-Fi to share this! Much love until then.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern