By Edie Brush, Oglethorpe Episcopal Campus Ministries
I had the honor of being 1 of the 15 people chosen to be a part of the pilgrimage to Cape Coast, Ghana. Our intentions were to learn more about the dark history of the slave trade and to work with our companion diocese in Cape Coast to take steps towards reconciliation.
A few weeks before taking off, I was visiting some friends in Memphis and we decided to go to the civil rights museum there. The museum is set up chronologically, so the first room is all about the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade. On the wall, there’s a small blurb about that Cape Coast Castle that reads “Cape Coast Castle was the hub of the British Slave Trade. Slaves were held in the basements until sold and shipped to the Americas”. That does not even begin to describe what I witnessed in the castle.
Cape Coast Castle is the worst place I have ever been to. There is nothing that anyone could have said to me to prepare me to walk into the dungeons under the castle. Hundreds of Africans were crammed into small, dark, hot cells for months at a time. On the ground, you could see what appeared to be dried mud. The tour guide explained to us that there was no way for the slaves to properly use the bathroom, so what we were seeing was solidified human waste. On the wall, you could see where slaves slammed their shackles against the wall. Directly above the dungeons, sat an Anglican chapel where the British regularly worshiped, despite the suffering that was happening directly below them.
Walking through the castle, I felt heartbroken, angry and guilty. Heartbroken for each African that was stripped of their humanity. Angry that something like this could ever happen. Guilty because the reality is, my ancestors were the ones in the chapel. They were the ones systematically dehumanizing so many people.
What I saw in the castle was a reminder that we have the capacity to be so evil to one another. While we were debriefing our experience, many described walking into the castle as a Good Friday experience. It was heavy and seemingly hopeless.
But what I also experienced in Ghana, was a reminder that our capacity to love one each other is greater. Our first night in Ghana, Bishop Victor, and his family came to our hotel to welcome us. They brought their sweet daughter, Mama Efua who is three years old. She came and sat right next to me. We sat there and quietly played with a little Jesus figurine she brought with her. After a few minutes, she picked up my phone and quickly discovered how to take selfies. Her smile and joy were contagious. Whenever we spent time at the Bishop’s Court, we were attached at the hip. We chased each other around the Bishop’s court, played with her little Jesus and of course took lots of selfies. As you could imagine, leaving this precious girl was so hard. As we were saying our goodbyes, Mother Superior pulled me aside and said: “She is your sister and you are family”. We exchanged addresses and are working to stay connected.
Abundant generosity is embedded in the culture. On Sunday, the pilgrims divided up and went to different churches around the diocese. I went to St. James with Suzanne, another pilgrim from Atlanta. After the sermon, three offerings were collected, and each time people joyfully gave what they had. Could you imagine if a church in Atlanta asked for three offerings? I could not tell you how many people gave so much of their time to make this pilgrimage possible. Father Theo, a priest in the diocess guided us around for the whole week. His wife and son joined us to help us find different places to shop. Mother Superior and other women from the diocess made us delicious meals, offered joyful hugs and incredibly thoughtful gifts. This does not even begin to cover the generosity and kindness we experienced. There is a lot of poverty in Ghana, but time and time again we were shown that it does not matter how much you have. You can always do little things to be kind to those around you and it goes a long way.
Within a week, I saw the worst and best of humanity. Every day we have a choice of how we treat each other. The racism that was present in the dungeons is alive and well today. Every day we have the opportunity to make the choices that will end this cycle. We can make the choice to put our ego aside and listen to our black brothers and sisters. We can make the choice to call our representatives and vote for a change.
It does not matter if we are just sitting in the chapel. What are we doing outside of the chapel to uphold our promise to respect the dignity of every human being?
Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.