Published 9:35 am Friday, September 19, 2008

The Rev. Sherry Saunders is used to bringing spiritual enlightenment to people.

As the pastor of New Life Church in Franklin, she has made that her main mission in life.

But it was a recent trip to Ghana that opened her eyes to how others bring her closer to God.

The Rev. Saunders traveled to Accra, Ghana, with her parishioner and friend, Sylvia Barnes, through Marvelous Light Ministries, a covenant church, that has a mission site there and travels there often.

The women raised money for the trip through various fundraising projects, including selling candles and asking for sponsorships from family and friends. New Life Church also pitched in.

“I stepped out on faith and miraculously my ticket was covered and we got sponsorship from our church,” Barnes said. “I didn’t want her to go alone.”

The trip from Norfolk to Accra took 17 hours total and the woman went to church soon after arriving.

“We hit the ground running,” Saunders said.

They appeared on a local radio show while in Ghana and spoke at several churches. They also witnessed the ordination of several bishops and prophets there.

Though the women were able to stay in a nice, big house with a host family, they still considered themselves “roughing it,” enduring cold showers and foods they weren’t used to eating.

“It was not a two-week vacation,” Saunders said. “Believe me, it was a mission.”

The women traveled three hours into “the bush” to bring rice, soap, sugar cookies and other supplies to three villages there.

“It was miles and miles of bad roads,” Barnes recalled.

They said they would never forget the smiles of the villagers who openly welcomed their blessings and charity. Houses in the area were made of mud and had straw roofs. Toddlers scavenged around in garbage dumps for food. Many children walked on dirt roads without shoes and wearing tattered clothing.

“It was humbling for me,” Barnes said. “These people have nothing, but they are so grateful. The faith level was amazing. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.”

Despite the poor conditions, the villagers gave an offering to their guests — a small bowl of fruits and vegetables that they had grown — and they raised their voices in prayer during the church services.

“God is God,” Barnes said. “And he was already there when we got there.”

Both women said they especially enjoyed interacting with the children and giving them candy.

“It was a amazing to see a child with a gleam in his eye expecting a lollipop,” Saunders said. “They couldn’t speak much English, but they said ‘thank you.’”

Saunders said she would not hesitate to go back again next year.

“Everyone should make that pilgrimage,” she said. “While there’s a lot wrong with this country, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”