Learning and living with joy

Spencer County High School girls’ basketball coach John Howie, right, watches campers during passing drills at a camp in Ghana earlier this summer.

Spencer FCA group learned about living with joy on trip to Ghana

(Second of two parts.)

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

TAYLORSVILLE, Ky. — There are times when someone can be so pumped about something that he really has no way to unleash all the energy flowing through his body.

Such is the case with seven people associated with the Spencer County High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes these days. No, the Bears didn’t win a regional championship or dominate an all-state team. They aren’t christening a new state of the art playing facility. At least not this year!

What has them super-charged is even better. Their recent trip to Ghana, sharing Christ through basketball camps in Kumasi, has them ready for more.

“I never had been on a mission trip before,” says former Lady Bears’ basketball player Alyssa Howie, now enrolled at Kentucky Christian University. “It seemed like every weekend, we were gone to an AAU tournament to get college exposure. Now I have been on one and nothing is going to stop me now.”

The smile across her face as she recounted experiences was bigger than any I had seen during her six years as a varsity starter at Spencer, where she became the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Alyssa Howie holds a child at Kumasi, Ghana. She said her trip to Ghana exceeded her expectations.

The trip was not one that just exposed those who traveled to living conditions far below what they are accustomed to in the United States. They were not consumed by the extreme poverty, although it was everywhere. Instead, the travelers were overwhelmed by the joy they experienced, both from their work in the camps and the ways the joy flowed from the campers.

“It’s not about things. It’s about Jesus. It’s about loving life,” says Alyssa’s father, John Howie, who is entering his second year as head coach of the Lady Bears. “It’s to enjoy what you have, not looking for what you don’t have.”

John Howie recounted how the group would usually arrive at the basketball courts for camp at 7:30 in the morning but some of the kids had been waiting for 90 minutes or more. “Never once did anyone say, ‘Where have you been?’ It was more of ‘Yay! You are here!’

“They just love. They love life and they love participating.”

The group focused on teaching fundamental basketball drills before sharing a biblical lesson. After one camp session, approximately 60 young people made a public profession of faith in Christ.

Part of the excitement comes from a realization that God can use a game they love to spread His message. “That was awesome,” John Howie said. “It is just neat to see the things God puts in your life that he can use. I never thought God would use basketball.”

On the one hand, the group learned so much about what are true needs. “I did some agility drills and some of the kids just kicked their shoes off. Their joy when not having anything has changed me,” Alyssa Howie said. “I don’t always need a new pair of shoes. I might want them, but this has changed my mindset.”

Haylee Cox works with campers about the fundamentals of rebounding during her trip to Ghana.

Alyssa’s high school teammate, Haylee Cox, now enrolled at Murray State University, related the story of a coach named Francis who has a twin sister. While they are of college age, Haylee was moved that “he is stepping back so his sister can go to college.”

It changed her outlook. “I am not going (to Murray State) on an athletic scholarship but an academic one,” said Cox, who was a Governor’s Scholar in high school. “I was thinking how fortunate I am to get that help. It gave me a brand new perspective.”

It was part of the lasting impact Roxane Perry, the FCA’s sponsor and the trip’s organizer, had hoped to see. She’d been to Ghana before as part of a mission trip with Dina Hackert Ministries. She expected poverty on her first trip. “You knot it is a third world country and you know there are needs, but what grabs you is there is just mile after mile after mile after mile of poverty. Just stark poverty like nothing we have seen in America,” Perry says. “But at the same time — this is what got ahold of me — their joy in the midst of all that is unbelievable. There is a presence of Christ in Ghana.

Roxane Perry, left, talks with Shoot 4 Life Ministries founder Vincent Asamoah during the Spencer County FCA group’s trip to Ghana.

“When you see the joy they have in the midst of what they are living in, it just grabs ahold of you. For me, it’s hard to come back to America and see how ungrateful people are, including myself, with everything we’ve got.”

At the same time, John Howie said Vincent Asamoah, the founder of Shoot 4 Life Ministries, which combines basketball camps with evangelism and partnered with the FCA for the trip, gave him pertinent advice. “We felt pretty bad. Here in America, we have it all,” John Howie said. “But something Vincent said was, ‘Don’t you dare be upset. We live in two completely different worlds and cultures. In your world, you expect to have a different pair of shoes to play basketball.’

“They just live in a different world. That spoke to me and helped us have a new understanding.”

While the excitement already has the travelers ready for a return to Ghana, Perry reminded the group to take some time to reflect on what they had experienced and how they can better serve wherever they are.

“That was really good advice, but I really didn’t take it,” John Howie laughed. “On the plane (about 15 hours in the air plus layovers in Amsterdam and Detroit) I was devising how we are going to do it next year.”

Alyssa Howie is set to go to Spain with her Kentucky Christian teammates next summer, but also wants to go back to Ghana. “I would do anything to go back,” she says.

As for Cox? “Absolutely,” she says before laughing, “I told my mom I am almost like I would sell a kidney go go back.”

Perry says the lessons can be used in America too. “God will teach us where we are,” she says. “He may call us to the mission field permanently but we can take what we learn and apply it back where we are living. That hit me hard the first time I went. I want them to see that and use that where they are. God is bigger than America and he is bigger than Kumasi, Ghana.

“At the same time, I have no doubt God is calling me back to Ghana to do the same thing. We will just wait and see.”

As for John Howie, he says the experience of planning the trip to Ghana and then going will impact how he coaches. “The culture of the girls’ basketball team has developed has been about much more than just basketball,” he says. “Even last year, every Sunday after church, they went to their churches, but then would come to my house. Sometimes we would have film. Sometimes we just sat and talked. In the comfort of a home, they would pray or talk.”

And the trip served as a reminder about joy in one’s life. “You get that perspective of what is important,” John Howie says. “How should you live and be happy with what you have and not be dissatisfied. We talked about the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is something that is short term. It is something right then. Joy is lasting. You are happy if you get a new cell phone, but that wears off. Just enjoy life.

“Be grateful for what we have and use that.”

Roxane Perry talks with campers about Christ during the FCA/Shoot 4 Life basketball camp in Ghana. (All photos furnished.)


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