Spencer County FCA members visited Ghana to change lives, but did not expect the greatest change would be their own
First of two parts
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
TAYLORSVILLE, Ky. — There are times when a person decides to make a difference in lives, but the life made most different is his own.
Just ask several members of the Spencer County High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They recently traveled to Ghana to conduct basketball camps and help spread the gospel. While they spent a week doing just that, little did they know the changes that would be made.
We are talking about changes in their own lives and their outlook on the world. We are talking about growing up trying to serve Jesus Christ but now being on fire for Him.
“I don’t know how you can go and not be,” says Haylee Cox, who played basketball at Spencer and will be enrolling at Murray State University on an academic scholarship this fall. “In my mind, I thought I had been on fire for Him. There were times when I obviously struggled or strayed away from Him. But after this, it’s like the amount of things he taught me in a short time.
“Before I left, someone said to me to listen to the Holy Spirit and have an open heart and open mind. And they are going to teach you more than you can ever teach them. I didn’t really understand that until I was there.”
It was a sentiment echoed repeatedly as Cox, her Spencer classmate Alyssa Howie, Spencer County girls’ basketball coach John Howie and FCA Sponsor Roxane Perry shared some of their experiences this week.
Also making the trip were Becky Bruner, Jamie Newnam and Perry’s son, Stephen, a freshman at Spencer County.
“Ghana exceeded my expectations,” Alyssa Howie said. “It was so indescribable. Once you actually experience it, there are just no words.”
The natural beauty of the land is not what left Alyssa, who will be playing basketball at Kentucky Christian University this winter, and the rest of the group searching for ways to describe their experience.
“It was the joy the kids had,” Alyssa explained. “They just had this joy that you can’t describe. … There was poverty. It was real poverty, but those kids never fussed. They knew a lot about the Lord and they held onto that hope we have in Jesus Christ. It was just amazing.
“The kids we worked with, the common theme we all talked about each night while we were in Ghana was their joy.”
The group left Louisville on July 26, flying through Detroit, then on to Amsterdam and finally landing in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, more than 24 hours later.
“I expected it to not be as developed as America,” Alyssa Howie said. “Although when we left the airport there was a nice hotel and a KFC. I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Then the next morning we were traveling to the campsite. It was like what you can’t imagine. I don’t even know what a house looked like because they were all just shacks. Some were houses, some were stores. It was really hard to figure out what was what.”
In the times I had talked with Alyssa before, I was always impressed by how articulate she had been. But as we sat in her father’s office at Spencer County High School, she was genuinely having trouble putting her experience into words.
“It was such an indescribable experience. It was amazing,” she said more than once during the 45-minute interview.
But when the group arrived in Kumasi, a city of over 2 million, what had been planned for more than a year became that life-changing experience.
“We were having an FCA meeting after school and (Roxane Perry, the sponsor) took me aside and said ‘I think I am going to take a trip to Africa next year.’ I got extremely excited when she started talking about doing basketball camps.”
The opportunity to glorify God through basketball was natural. Perry, who graduated from Spencer County in 1981, had been the all-time leading girls’ scorer for 29 years. She’s in fourth place now.
At the top? Alyssa Howie, who along with Cox, had been part of some of the best teams in Spencer history with John Howie coaching, first as an assistant, then as head coach last season.
The other members of the mission group also had ties to the hardwood. Bruner was one of Perry’s teammates at Spencer while Newnam was a solid contributor to the Spencer boys’ team, graduating in 2016. Perry’s son, Stephen, will be suiting up for the Bears this year.
While in Kumasi, the mission team partnered with Shoot 4 Life, a sports ministry started by Vincent Asamoah, the head of FCA in Ghana, in 2009. Roxane Perry had met Mr. Asamoah during an earlier mission trip to Ghana with her church, Mt. Moriah Baptist. During that time, she learned that he had learned about basketball while he was a student at Baylor University and was using the sport as an evangelistic tool in Ghana.
In fact, the outdoor court the mission team used for two separate camps was one of the first built by Shoot 4 Life. “It was a very nice court,” Alyssa said. “I was impressed.”
The camps consisted of fundamental basketball drills followed by a talk about Jesus Christ. “I think that what’s weird or unique to me is they needed us more for basketball,” John Howie said with a smile. “This joy they had. The happiness. Their love for the Lord was amazing. They were using us to learn basketball, to learn the game, to learn drills and stations. They were videotaping us so their coaches there could learn to continue doing it to bring children in.”
And that joy was infectious. Even though the visitors traveled thousands of miles and began to tire, the campers provided the necessary spark. “When you go, the kids are running up to you and it’s hard not to be energized and as excited as they are,” Cox said. “Toward the end of the week, you start to feel it a little bit, the strain of it, but never while we were doing anything. It was always after.”
And the mission team saw its work used by God. “The first part of camp, I really enjoyed,” John Howie said, “but the last part of camp was when I was moved. You started to see the development of the kids. They were asking questions in the small groups.”
(While many of the campers understood some English, the lessons were translated into the native language, Twi.)
John Howie continues. “We had an altar call where 60 of the 100 kids we had made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. You just can’t describe that.”
That moment brought joy to the visitors from Spencer County. “How can you not be so thrilled to have young people accept Jesus Christ,” Alyssa asked.
And it gave Cox a perspective on how God can work the rest of her life. “I would say, ‘Don’t be afraid to listen to what God has to say to you,’” she said. “If you feel God is calling you to do something or calling you to help in doing something like this, you never know what that 20 dollars that you give or you answering the call to go, you never know what effect that is going to have.
“Those kids that accepted Christ, if they tell 20 others, that’s even more. We will never know the effect it will have.”
And Cox saw exactly why there was real joy with those she worked with in Ghana. “Because they have nothing,” she said, “Jesus is their everything.”
Coming in Part Two: The Spencer County FCA Mission Team reflects on how their trip to Ghana will affect their lives regardless of where they live and serve.