My name is Autumn Buzzell and I live and work in Ghana, West Africa with City of Refuge Ministries. Here, I run our school, Faith Roots International Academy, and get to be a part in rescuing and the healing of children who have been trafficked into the fishing trade, orphaned, abandoned, and those who just need a little extra loving. What an amazing gift this life is!

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Week in Big Bear

I have so much to write about my last week and I'd love to give you a play by play of the joy that I got to experience just living life with some of my best friends. But, as you can imagine, late nights of chatting and early mornings, have me wiped out.

So maybe tomorrow I will have the energy and time to go through pictures (of which I only have a few since I forgot to bring my battery charger for my camera with me to Big Bear, arggg) and go through my stories of this past week to share with you.

Let me just tell you...I have come away filled, encouraged, and more in love with my beatnik friends than before. I just love these people and am so glad that we were able to spend some time away together. It was beautiful...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Week 1--USA

I've been in the States a week and have been LOVING my time! It has been such a joy to get to be a part of my friend's life here.

Yona was one of my friend's from college. I remember when I first met her, I thought, "Wow! This girl is loud!". Little did I know that she would become one of my best friends, a confidant, an encourager, an inspiration, there through the good and the bad. We have shared ups and downs, apartments, hotel rooms, road trips, and long walks. We have shared tears and laughter.
I remember Yona's wedding, 4 years ago this week, to her high school sweetheart Eric, and seeing them more in love than I had ever seen them before.

And I remember helping them move into their new house right around Thanksgiving time their first year of marraige.

And then the news that Yona was pregnant (we were told on a roadtrip via text message) brought both tears of excitement and tears of loss. I knew I would be leaving for Ghana and would miss the birth of one of my best friend's child. I knew it would be difficult to walk through the pregnancy with her being so far away, and I knew that the birth of her little girl would happen without me there.

But the joy of meeting her around Christmas this past year was unspeakable. And this last week with Yona and Eric has been such a blessing. Isabella Grace Roberts is absolutely adorable. She loves to laugh. She loves to be tickled. She loves to be held by her mommy (or most anyone hanging around). She loves to play. She's almost walking (I know, OA like her mom and dad). She is just an absolute joy.

And time with Yona and Eric was absolutely a blessing too. It was good to just TALK with my friends. To hear from them the joys and pain of this past year. To hear from them, to pray for them, to walk through a week in their life...it was just a wonderful week.

Blabe came to visit me this week. It was wonderful to get to see her beautiful face again. Blabe and I were roommates in college, and then we stayed roommates after college. She is one of the most amazing girls that I know. She worked crazy jobs and hours to be able to get her master's degree and now works at Stanford University, helping the research department collect data on new technology to help both those with siezures and parapalegics. Simply brilliant!

Blabe is funny too. When we used to live together, she would sing my roommate and I to sleep, but her "talent" was so amazing that we would mostly break into giggles. She is an amazing dancer and with her dancing talent comes her need to stretch into the most rediculous positions, all while watching college football on TV. Blabe is a bit of a germ-phobe, and with a friend like Yona, the combination of those two were absolute comedy magic!

Blabe has had her share of troubles this year, but I continue to be in awe of her stamina and her ability to push through the tough things that have happened this year. She is strong! And I admire her for that!

Yesterday, Kat and Isaiah came to pick me up and I have had the opportunity to spend yesterday and today with them. They are such amazing, encouraging, and funny friends.
I met Kat in college. As a freshman, our roommates camped out to be able to get rooms in our future RA's, Kat Nix, hall. That year, our year in room 2.5, we experienced some of the funnest memory making times of my life! There were the road trips, the fire drills, the pranks. Little did I know that Kat would become one of my closest friends. We spent spring breaks together, holidays, and I event felt, at times, as if I was a part of her family as I was at her Arizona house more often than my own. Eventually, we became roommates and partnered in ministry and life together through the years.

Just yesterday, I was reminiscing about Kat and my road trip out to Arizona and our night at a bed and breakfast. We had such an amazing time together! We sang worship songs at the top of our lungs and I believe we were actually hoarse by the time we made it to the bed and breakfast!

And Isaiah, a fellow RA and musical officianado, became a fast friend as he and Kat walked through a dating relationship and into marraige together. It has been such a joy to be allowed the freedom to partner with them in so many ways, to be allowed into their lives, and to get to experience such rich relationship.

And with all of these memories behind us, when we come together, even though it has been a over a year since we saw each other last, it is as if time has stood still and we are back together again just as it always was.

T and Evan arrive tonight in Orange County. T was my roommate in college and afterwards. In fact, we lived together for 8 years, until she was married off to Evan. She is an amazing woman, with an amazing story, whom God has used in amazing ways everywhere she goes.
I remember when I first spent time with T. I had had my share of issues my last semester of my freshman year of college and they led to the culmination of a panic attack. Thinking that I couldn't breathe, I went to the only aquaintance that I knew with a vehicle--T. She took me to the hospital in the middle of the night and after that, we became fast friends.

Road trips, choir tours, musicals, roommate bonding time, pranks, late night TB/PH runs, laughter, praying together, mourning together, visiting each others families, being there when everything fell apart, and walking through the putting back together. We were there. We were there through it all. And that was just college!

Then, there was the journey of relationships with boys...well, one in particular. Evan, with his scruffy beard, his charming smile, his quick wit, and his stories...Evan stole her heart and eventually took my friend to be his wife and they moved to Stockton. I visited a lot the first few years of marraige and even more as marraige led to pregnancy and then pregnancy to the birth of my beautiful little Brylie Kaye Kolding. We've lived a lot of life together and we have cried a lot of tears. We've eaten a lot of dark chocolate together and we've prayed a lot of prayers together. And it is in this woman, that I have found deep and forever friendship!

Joanna comes in today too. I am sad that I'm missing her arrival, but tomorrow will arrive soon enough!

Joanna was one of my first friends in college, Hope International University. She says that we met when I walked up to her to ask her to be my friend, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it was the other way around (I wouldn't tell her that though *wink*wink*).

From romps in the rain on lover's lane, to late night talks about boys, New Year's parties, and graduations, roomates, roadtrips, flights from Portland and back again, laughter, tears, joy, and sorrow. This friend is as loyal as they come. We lived together for a year in college before she moved back to Portland, OR, but that wasn't the end of our friendship. Visits to one another, phone calls, letters (14 page ones at that), and roadtrips have kept us in the loop of one another's lives.

She is an adventurer. A motorcycle, hikes in the woods and camping with her family, going back to school to become a RN, and not letting anything stop her from her dreams. Marathons and camping on the street. Bold in everything that she does, yet gentle in ways you wouldn't expect. Joanna is a faithful friend and I am so excited to see her, to hear from her and laugh with her.

And Jake, ever-faithful Jake. A friend of Yona's husband, Eric, Jake joined in the group and has never left. Funny and sweet, faithful and kind, he is a friend that is as close as a brother.

Jake surprises us sometimes. Like the time that he sang kareoke with Blabe and they were awesomely terrible, but still got all the votes because they were so amazing together! And then with his skills with the camera (he's an amazing photographer). And people see the amazing in him all the time--like when he was given the job to oversee a whole program in a school district because of his success as a special education teacher. Or when he volunteers for this ministry or that one because he has a heart to change the world--to make it a better place for kids and the youth of this nation.

I like to tell others about these friends because, well, they're amazing, and I'm blessed to have them in my life. It's a priveledge really...

This next week, my college friends, the beatniks, and I are heading up to Big Bear, the mountains here in California, to enjoy time together. This is a tradition that we started back in college and continue to this day. Some have come and gone from our group, people moving away to different parts of the country and even the world, but this small group comes together each year, with added members, husbands and now babies, and we get to enjoy the fellowship of deep and lasting friendship once more. I am so looking forward to meals together, walks and talks (especially the late night ones with Joanna), nights of worship, mornings of quiet times and work outs, and laughter...always the laughter. So looking forward to time away, away from the busyness of life, and time to just sit and BE together. In awe, I look at the GOODNESS of God through the seasons of 10+ years together as friends. Life is rich these days...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I am loving time at the Robert's house this week so far. We were expecting Carmageddon on Sunday hearing that the 405 was shut down, so I took a shuttle from LAX to Yona's house. I was greeted by a happy little Robert's family at the door.

Oh man, Isabella is so cute! I just love her little grin. She still has issues with her stomach at times and that can be really frustrating for mom and dad, but she is at this pretty great age where she's pretty happy most of the time.

Sunday, Jake, Jenni (who was in town for the weekend), and the Whelpleys came over for lunch. It was fun to see everyone and such a great time to just hang out with some of my besties. After the Whelpley's left, Jake got out his camera and we did a mini-photoshoot of Isabella. That little squirmy worm was hard to capture on film, but you can check out some of them here:

Monday, Yona and I took little Isabella to the park and enjoyed a little train ride and a little time at the zoo. It was a fun afternoon and Isabella especially loved the train ride, while Yona especially loved the black bears. In the evening, Eric's sisters came and joined us for dinner.

Today, I got up early for breakfast with Priscilla Schubert (which was so fun) and came back to a little Rango (which I think was a little adult in it's humor, but the artistry was simply amazing!). In the afternoon, we went to lunch at Don Jose's (an Autumn favorite) and then to Micheal's to pick up a few things for 7 Continents. This evening, we went to the Matheny's house for Kat and Isaiah's meet and greet. That was fun and it was good to see some of the peeps from SoCal that I don't get to see very often.

It's been a joy so far to be here and I'm loving every minute of my time here. Now, off to bed. I think the jetlag is still hitting me pretty hard, so I gotta get to sleep when I can!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And all the rest...

So, I was trying to find individual shots of all the kids, but the ones I had were a bit outdated, and I haven't uploaded my newest batch of pictures. So, I'm going to finish my update on the kids based on the picture of most of our kids at school!

I've given you the story of most of our kids, so here is a follow-up on the ones that I haven't told you about yet...

DK (bottom right) is one amazing kid. DK was rescued with Abigail last June and he is a picture of what God can do in a child's life. He fished for 5 years on the lake (sold into slavery at the age of 5). When he came to City of Refuge, his muscle development was way more than what you should see in a normal 10 year old boy. His language skills were undeveloped as he'd never been to school and he was easily frustrated (often getting in fistfights when he was angry).

Dk is a different kid today. He is DEFINITELY a little brother! He enjoys being pesky, and he does it with a big grin on his face. He is very funny and makes everyone laugh! He loves to play football and he is really very good at it. He also loves to learn and took on the challenge of attending school head on this year. He was able to finish the year accomplishing kindergarten and first grade in one year.

He loves hugs and kisses and sometimes bothers the other kids by chasing after them with a hug or a kiss. You can only laugh at his peskyness sometimes! He is truly a joy and I love to see how God has restored him.

Gradually, I see more and more of God's hand at work in his life. When I told him about a couple friends who were having some pretty scary medical things happening to them, he was the first one to ask their names and he still prays for them every night (even wrote a letter to one of them). Sometimes, you'll catch him in this "sermon mood" where he will just walk through the house preaching. Since his English is still growing, sometimes his sermons are more funny than he even expects! And he loves to sing (usually never the right words), but this boy can praise God! It is just a joy to see the hand of God becoming more and more prevelent in his life as he begins to see that he can be ANYTHING he wants to be!

Mershak (second on the bottom right--next to DK) is such a loving boy. He was an orphan when he was brought to CORM and spent much of his time on the farm that his relatives owned. He didn't have much school experience, but let me tell you--give him a ball and you will see an amazing football player. This boy loves sports! And he is so successful at anything that he puts his foot to!

Mershak was probably the lowest kid in my class. He really had a challenging time this year, but his language skills grew and I know that we'll see more and more progress as time goes on.

Mershak loves to be loved. Whenever I walk by, this 14 year old will be the first one to hold my hand, or stroke my arm, or ask for a kiss at night, or want an extra hug. He just loves love! He is so sweet!

He has a bit of a stutter, but I think that his stutter has more to do with confidence than anything else. When he gets nervous or upset, it is much more prevelant. As time has gone on, I have seen less and less of his stutter and more and more confidence.

Ben (second on the left at the top) is an amazing boy. He loves to pester his other siblings here at CORM, especially Valentina. But, mostly, it's good natured fun!

One afternoon, Ben told me a bit about his family. He comes from a pretty well-known family in the Kete Krachi area, but they have a lot of witchcraft in their family. When his parents died, he was rescued by CORM and we are so thankful that we were able to bring him to live with us. He spent a lot of time on the lake and still suffers from a water-borne parasite that lives in the lake. It effects your liver causing you to urinate blood. A year and a half later, he is still dealing with this issue. We are continuing to pray for his body to be healed!

Ben had a bit of a struggle this year with school. He doesn't really like to pay attention that much and that caused some issues in his scores, but we're going to continue working with him to get him up to where he needs to be!

Aaron is Joseph and Theresia Brabi (our house parents) youngest child. Though he is 11 years old, he is TALL! Everything thinks that he has to be closer to 15 because of his low voice and long legs.

Aaron (third from the left on the top) is very smart and enjoys school. He can be a goofball at times, but you will only see this once you have earned his trust. He has experienced a lot of coming and going of visitors and children in our home and I think that has been a painful journey for him. Because of that, Aaron often distances himself. But, this year, I have seen him come out of his shell. He has really come into his own and I am so proud of who he is becoming!

Valentina (third from the right on the top) is a hard working girl. One night, after she had helped me wash my clothes, we stayed out in front of our compound and we chatted about her life in the Volta. She told me about her dad who died from a bullet meant for another man. And she told me about her mom who died from an illness not long after that. And she told me about her Grandma who raised her and loved her and cared for her well. And then, her Grandma died, and shortly after that, she was brought to CORM. She didn't know what would have happened to her if we hadn't taken her. And she says that she has learned to do more things with us than she had ever learned living with her family in the Volta. She loves her life and this beautiful girl is a joy to have in our home.

Valentina was one of my biggest challenges when I first arrived at CORM. She didn't want to learn from an obruni. She even told me one of my first weeks of teaching that if I caned her, then she would respect me. But, I told her that I would show her a different kind of love. And by the end of the year, Valentina was one of the most respectful girls in my class. What love can do!

I have a few more kids to tell you about, but for this morning (and for my battery), that is enough. I'm so blessed to get to live life with my kids. God is good...

Back on U.S. Soil

I'm sitting in the Washington/Dulles airport after a pretty decent flight from Accra. The only crazy part was the ride TO the airport last night.

Ghanaian taxi drivers just can't be trusted! The run on African time...to the extreme. We told our taxi driver to arrive at 5:30-6:00 last night to take me to the airport. My flight, leaving at 11, but having to go through customs and all that for a direct flight is a mess, I had to get to the airport by 8. The guy showed up right at 7. I won't lie...I was a little stressed out that I wouldn't make it in time.

The kids rushed the car for hugs and kisses and I was so sad that I had to miss putting them to bed. Some of my favorite times of the day is praying for them every night and giving them a kiss on the head. The boys especially like the kiss part. Too funny! But, they got multiple kisses before I left and I rushed out of Doryumu like a crazy woman!

I was more than a little frustrated with the taxi driver. We ran into a little bit of traffic, but he definitely sensed my frustration and we were able to make it to the airport in record time (though there were moments that I thought I wouldn't make it there alive...the driving was a little crazy to get me there on time!). We arrive at 8:20, still in good time to make my flight.

I had to reorganize my bags a bit because of the weight limit (the jewelery is heavy), but I switched it all around and made it fit. Let me just tell you...my carry-ons are pretty heavy!

My flight was fairly easy. At first I was seated in a middle seat and I was thinking, "Great, I'm never going to get any sleep on this flight." But, I had a great conversation with a lady sitting next to me and right before the flight left, a steward moved me to an empty seat (with more leg room--praise the Maker!). I watched Jane Eyre (upon Katie's recommendation--thank you Katie, it was great!) and then tried to catch some z's. I probably got 5 or 6 hours of very COLD sleep, but that's not too shabby!

Looking forward to time with friends when I arrive in LA. I have to battle CARMAGEDDON with the 405 shut down, so a shuttle is taking me to Yona's, but other than that, I think this trip has gone pretty smoothly.

More updates soon...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Leaving and looking back

Though I'm excited to go home for a little bit, leaving always is a little bittersweet. Today is no exception. The kids feel it too. About 6 of them came into my room this morning to play in my toy bag...yesterday, 6 more helped me pack my bags and clean up some of my mess in my room...some of them have even hid under my bed.

The joy they bring is so sweet.

I think back to a year ago when I was preparing to come here, unsure of everything and sad about leaving behind one of my best friend's who had just had a baby (my little girl Brylie) and my other best friend who had just told me she was pregnant. I was sad about leaving my job and the staff at Brentwood. I was sad about leaving behind my church, my house, my friends, my family. It was difficult and the season of "sadness" lasted so long. But, I know that I have been called here. I see that now. And I look back over this past year and see that changes that have happened in me and the opportunities that I have been given and though my life is SO DIFFERENT from the one that I lived in the States, I call this year a blessing.

I know that my life here is "on" 24/7 and I am excited for the rest that this trip will bring (Lord, I'm praying for REST and not for busyness!), but I will miss these children, my friends, and family here in Ghana. This year has brought change and I can't go back to how I lived before. My eyes are opened...

Now, I really see where Paul talks about our home not being of this world. My home has to be a longing for heaven, when all the people from all of my "homes" can once and for all come together.

I love this song that Sara Groves sings "Every Minute" and there is this one part that is my dream...and I know that it won't happen until we are all truly "home", but it is a beautiful dream. And so I leave you with these lyrics:

And I wish all the people I love the most
Could gather in one place,
And know each other and love each other well.
And I wish we could all go camping,
And lay beneath the stars,
And have nothing to do and stories to tell.
We'd sit around the campfire
And we'd make each other laugh,
Remembering when...
And you're the first one I'm inviting.
Always know that you're invited, my friend.
And at the risk of wearing out my welcome.
At the risk of self-discovery,
I'll take every moment,
And every minute that you give me.
Every moment, and every minute that you give me.
Every moment, and every minute that you give me.
Every minute...

Our Toddlers

Some of the highlights of my life are brought about by some very busy little toddlers. Justice, Malvin, and of course, Edwin are a part of my daily life here at City of Refuge. They are on the go 24/7 and keeping up with them is a job in and of itself!

Edwin, well, if you've been reading my blog long enough, most of you should know about Edwin. Edwin was brought to City of Refuge last spring. When I arrived, we hit it off pretty well and when we moved to Doryum, Edwin moved in with me. My blog has been pretty devoid of Edwin comments lately as he has been staying with Daddy Joseph and Mama Theresia since I was planning on leaving and the back and forth from my room to theirs caused some big sleep issues. In any case, Edwin is quite a joy! Everyday, I'm surprised by something new that he has learned to say. He certainly is growing up! Since I've come, he has grown so tall! We see more and more of the person he will grow up to be each day. He loves to dance and to sing. He loves to go on walks and he loves to hug and cuddle. His twos have proven to be a difficult stage and the stubborness and fit throwing can be overwhelming at times, but we pray for him dialy that this would be a stage that he would grow out of easily (and quickly!). Many of you know that I have been praying about adoption with Edwin, but there are so many things to consider as I look into the situation. His mom is part of our program for single mother's in Tema New Town and though she is HIV positive, part of our role with her is to empower her to care for her children. My prayer continues to be "God's BEST be done for my boy, Edwin" and I pray that he will reveal His best for Edwin when the time is right. For now, he's my boy and we'll see if it is just for a season or God's plan for my life!

Malvin is 2 today. You wouldn't believe that he's older than Justice, but he is! This adorable little boy has just started to be comfortable around me...it only took 8 months! He definitely gets attached to certain people and does not like strangers, especially if they're white. But, since we've been living together, he's grown to like me! He is pretty cute and has such a funny personality. The receding hairline and the fact that he is so mild-mannered makes him seem like he is an old man! He sits in his little chair with his legs crossed and tattles on the other babies. It's too funny. He loves to be tickled and will often come up to you with armpits exposed waiting for a good tickle and his laugh is just contagious! He is absolutely in love with Daddy Joe and Mama Theresia and when Daddy is home...no one else exists!! Since Mama Theresia has been gone at the hospital with Baby Princess, Malvin has been pretty fussy and it seems that only a few people can calm him down. I've been one of his "chosen" and have even backed him a few times to get him calmed down. I felt pretty African with him on my back and baking cookies and working with the kids. One of Malvin's funniest moments happens usually at night when the kids are getting ready for bed. He gets a little goofy and plays this funny "I'm going to hide if you talk to me" game and hides behind his hands or just closes his eyes with a funny little smile on his face. Too cute! He's turning into quite a two-year old!

Justice is the toddler's ringleader for sure! He has leadership skills up the wazoo, but the only problem is that sometimes he leads the other boys straight into trouble. Whether it's playing a game of "atooooo" (which means hug) where they all crowd around each other and hug (TOTALLY CUTE!), or whether he leads them in a game of pinch and slap (the trouble I was talking about, he is still as cute as can be! Justice is known for never wearing any clothes and it's difficult to even put him in clothes because of his distaste for them. So, most of the time, you see this little blond-headed cute waltzing around in just his diaper. Justice can also get dirtier than any of the kids in a matter of seconds! His favorite place to play is the dirtpile out front and the dirt usually ends up on his head. He is almost two and has an amazing sense of humor. He likes to laugh and tickle and play chase games. He makes hilarious faces and poses just like his Nigerian papa. Two of his most famous stories of silliness include his muscle man phase where he went around showing his muscles, the veins popping out of his head while he grunted to give us the best pic of his big muscles. To funny! Of course, all the other babies got in the action too. And now, the latest one has been his marching. John will call out, "left, left, left, right, left" and him (along with the other babies) get in a line and start marching. When "attention" is shouted, they all put one foot down with a stop and "salute" brings about a very cute salute (Justice's salute is done by grabbing his nose and them throwing his hand out--don't know how he got the nose idea, but it is funny!). In any case, this little leader will definitely grow up to do something fabulous!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Robert, my prayer warrior

I remember that Robert was one of the first kids at City of Refuge that I felt like I had an extreme burden for. Robert was injured in a football accident several years ago and endured nerve damage to his hip. Because of that, he had to relearn how to walk and still walks with a very bad limp.

I remember when I first came, I was searching for a doctor, somehow, someway, that would be able to repair the damage done. I wanted to get him adopted out to the States so that his medical care could be better taken care of (you don't even want to hear the horror stories of the hospitals in this country!). But, despite all of our efforts here, Robert remains--a boy with faith the size of a mountain and a contagious joy! (New development: Robert might possibly have to opportunity to be checked out by a doctor in Tennessee thanks to our friend Kristin.)

Robert is my goofball prayer warrior. This boy knows can pray! And he prays with great faith! And he prays all the time! I love Robert's heart for the Lord. He is sensitive to the Spirit and I've learned that Words of Encouragement are his love language. You say something negative to him and it sticks with him, but you tell him something positive, and it will make his day.

I remember one of my first weeks teaching here, when we were still living in Tema, Robert had gotten in trouble for something in class and despite his age (he had just turned 15 at the time), tears welled up in his eyes, but he absolutely refused to talk to me. After awhile, he came and said, "Auntie Autumn, when I got in trouble, it hurt my heart and when that happens, I can't speak for awhile. I'm sorry!". I melted at that. After that, I have found that it is easier to deal with any behavior problem with Robert with a soft word rather than a harsh one.

Robert is a HUGE class clown and as the oldest among the kids at City of Refuge, he definitely leads the boys into some goofy trouble at times. But, he has turned into a pretty decent student. He is extremely behind in his school work (only at a grade 4 level), but he works hard and I'm proud of the work that he accomplishes.

I pray, along with Robert, that one day, God will heal him. That one day, he will walk normally again. That one day, he will live without pain. But, until that time, I know that my boy will have faith the size of a mountain and contagious joy, bad leg and all.

Abigail, our beautiful girl!

Abigail, Abigail, Abigail

In so many ways, the greatest changes that I've seen this year have been in our girl Abigail. And in so many ways, there is still so far to go with her.

Abigail was rescued last June, about a month before my arrival at City of Refuge. She was enslaved, from our knowledge, for about five years. She was trafficked from a fishing village on the oceanside called Lalonya and taken up to Ada Kope where she and DK and their older cousin were all rescued. We know that she was primarily used as a domestic slave, drying fish and selling in the markets. We don't know in what other ways that she could have possibly been used, but we know that from her anger, she didn't live an easy life.

When Abby first arrived, her grasp of the Twi language was practically nothing and because of that, she had a lot of problems getting along with the other girls. Often, she could be found outside singing, lost in her own world, shedding tears for a childhood that had been stolen from her.

As her grasp of language began to grow, she showed a lot of behaviors that a small child would show. Portia would come running and shouting, "Carry Me!", and Abby would do the same. She would lay on your lap if you sat down next to her and she just longed to be loved, cuddled, held, babied. I remember one day specifically when Abby came shouting "Carry Me!", so I picked her up on my hip, just like I would do with the babies (except it's much heavier with an 11 year old girl), and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth as she laid her head on my shoulder. After a good fifteen-twenty minutes, we went inside and she laid down on my lap and I stroked her head. John and Stacy both had similar experiences with Abby as well and I have to believe that these sweet moments brought such healing to our Abby-girl!

Now, you will see Abby, for the most part, a happy child. She does still deal with anger sometimes and let me tell you...this girl has a powerhouse voice that you can hear from far away when she starts shouting. But, the laughter overpowers the shouting. And her singing now isn't filled with the longing for a childhood, but the joy of claiming back what rightfully belonged to her. She attended school this year for the first time in her life and began to learn to read and write and was very successful in mathematics. She's growing into a beautiful young lady.

I'm blessed to be a part of this beautiful girl's beautiful story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Portia and Paul

Today, I wanted to talk about two of our greats here at City of Refuge (and they are all great, so this is just a commentary of two of our kids here!).

Paul is 12, but he's almost 13 and man, has he grown this year. When we moved to Doryum, he was this chubby boy, and now his voice has deepened, his body has thinned out, and he's grown quite tall. What time and adolescence will do to a boy! Paul is doing a great job in school this year, learning a lot and really showing promise as a student of math and science! He is a great big brother too (though sometimes he's just a normal big brother and picks on Miracle). He helps out with Justice, makes sure Caleb and JJ get out their clothes in the morning, and he works well with all the other kids too. He is awesome to get to know and goof around with and everyone who knows him well will see what a joy he is!

Portia is my little firecracker. She are Caleb are best friends and worst enemies and they play off of each other in the best and worst possible ways! Portia is a ball of energy and can get into trouble in no time flat. She can also make you laugh in no time flat. When Katie was here, her favorite thing was bursting into my room each morning at 6:30 in the morning to jump into bed with Katie while I was out getting water for our bucket baths. One of my scariest moments with her bursting into my room was when she came in while I was taking my bath. I told her to go out and she said "NO!". Well, what can I do...I'm taking a bath! So, I told her to go out and she said, "No, I want to come and see you." Then, she proceeded to try to open the bathroom door. I think I screamed loud enough that she knew trouble would be coming if that door budged an inch (anyone who knows me knows that I'm not into nakedness!). All in all, Portia is adorable. Anyone who meets her, falls in love with her and you can't help but realize why...she's pretty amazing!

So, that's my update for today. More to come...

Monday, July 11, 2011

More on the kids

I'm returning to my blog post about the kids. Maybe I'll have the energy to tell about a few more before settling back in for an evening of working on next year's school programs.

This picture shows Miracle, Caleb and JJ. The Omorefe boys are balls full of energy, each with their own sweet personality, and they are so much fun! Today, I'll celebrate them in all their glory.

Miracle has this sweet way about him. He loves to be loved and because of that, he comes up with all kinds of stunts to get a little bit of attention. He's a funny boy though and he loves to laugh and giggle and especially loves to be tickled! He has shoulder displasia, but you wouldn't know as he is as active as he can possibly be and he never wants to be left out of ANYTHING! He is a competitive little boy and he never lets anything hold him back. His best frienemy is Micheal. They have this wonderful love/hate relationship--one minute playing together to their hearts content and the next minute, beating each other up. Such boys! My favorite things about Miracle are his hands in mine...he loves to hold hands to and from school and he's my little pal on the way home, usually chatting, along with Mary, about the latest and greatest story or tale of woe.

Caleb is a touch boy. He loves hugs, kisses, and loves to play rough. He has a spunky attitude and it's hard to keep up with him as he is going, going, going all the time. Sometimes the spunk is hard to control and turns into 4 year old temper tantrums, but when he's able to be calmed down, he turns into moldable jello. My favorite time with Caleb is right when he's going down to sleep, he wants a big hug and a kiss and wants to pray together before going to sleep. As much as his stubbornness can be frustrating, his sweetness melts my heart!

JJ is just flat out adorable! He is such a fun kid! This boy has learned so much this year in school. You can sit down with him to read and he can read just about anything that he sets his mind to. I'm proud of his accomplishments! He is such a funny boy too! He loves to dance and frequently gets lost in his own imagination. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be inside his head for just a moment. I'm sure his mind is filled with such adventures. JJ isn't what you call a risk-taker (he's a first-born after all and us first-borns are known for playing it safe), but when he feels safe, you can find him doing something a little on the wild side! He can be more reserved than the other Omorefe's, but that makes his shows of affection all the more real. What a sweet, sweet boy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Meet our Kids

So, I know that it's been a long time since I've given a post on all of our kiddos. I'm feeling sentimental today, so I'm going to give you a little taste of the joy we have in each one of our kids here.

Today, I stood out on the porch as the rains fell and watched all the kids outside with Nosa and John as they danced and played. There are moments here when I get these pictures of what heaven must look like...kids dancing in the rain with full joy on their faces with their Daddy. I love these little glimpses into heaven.

Evelyn is a joyful girl (on the left). She says that her favorite thing to do is laugh...and it's really true! She loves to laugh! Evelyn was challenging when I first arrived in that she was never confident of herself. She didn't believe that she could accomplish much of anything in school, so she wouldn't even try. Instead, she would copy off of other people. Today, she is confident--though sometimes she still doubts herself--happy, learning well, a hard worker and a joy to be around.

Mary is a ball of hyperactivity (second to the left). She will talk from the moment she wakes up until the time she goes to sleep, but I have to admit, she is pretty amazing! I love getting to teach her, despite all of the interruptions she tends to cause. And at the house, she pretty much has adopted me as her big sister. Every day, I hear "Auntie Autumn, a hug, a hug" and am squeezed so tightly I lose my breath. And though she is hyper, if I catch her in the right moment, she is beautifully teachable. Although her "little sister" attitude tends to get her in trouble with the other kids, she really is a joy and the house wouldn't be the same without our hyper girl.

Grace is definitely a teenager (second to the right). She goes through these crazy mood swings, but she is an awesome girl. My favorite part about Grace is her laugh. She laughs with her whole body and it is so awesome. Her legs come up, her hands fling out, and the laugh that comes from her body could shake the room. She is so helpful and loves to work in the kitchen. Her newest obsession is chewing gum--to the detriment of all listeners nearby! She chews that stuff with a vengence and I've had to threaten gum removal because of all the loud smacking. But, every day, she is begging for another piece, and who could say no with that big grin! She is a smart student too and really works hard at school.

Micheal has learned so much this year (on the right). As one of our 7 year olds, he is a pretty active little fellow! He's hard to keep up with...moving this way and that, playing ball one moment, playing swords the other. One of my favorite moments so far this year, though it probably wasn't that safe, was when Micheal and Miracle were caught at school "sword fighting" with machetes. All I heard was "FOOOOORRRR NARRRNIAAA" outside my window. When I looked out the window and saw what was going down...well, I had to keep my composure. I mean, in the States, you would never imagine such a scene...but mix up the cultures here and that is what you get! They're obsessed with Chronicles of Narnia. In any case, Micheal is our little mischievious guy. He's sneaky and therefore doesn't get in trouble probably as much as he should, but he's just so cute when he flashes that grin. I'm excited that I get to see him grow another year and see how much he'll continue to learn!

Well, as much as I thought I was going to write on each person today, my energy is gone and my work is calling my name, so I'll try to continue this blog tomorrow where you can get an update on another group of our kiddos here at City of Refuge. I love my Ghana family...what a pleasure to get to be a part of this life...despite all the struggles, it is such a joy and the work is so rewarding!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Walk in their Shoes

About once or twice a week, I take the little kids and we go for a walk. We just walk in the same big circle, down our dusty (and sometimes muddy) road, and through the field back to our house.

This week, Edwin came to me and said "walk"...his language is really growing and I'm surprised everyday what he's learning! So, I set off with Caleb, Portia, Edwin, Malvin, and JJ.

These walks are such a joy. The little kids don't mind the shortness of the walk, they just love to tell stories and walk around with their auntie. And for a moment, I'm transplanted back in my childhood--playing in the countryside around our house, imaginations going wild and just enjoying life with my siblings.

This week, our walk consisted of:

--hunting lions in the bush (Portia was the lion)

--chasing little frogs down the road (Portia, Caleb, JJ, and Edwin were the frogs)

--leading my pet puppies back home (Caleb, Portia, and Edwin were the puppies). That one lasted long enough for Caleb to "walk" into cow manure with his hand and then we had to head home for a little clean-up from our walk!

When we go for walks, I see the beauty of being a child out here. I see the joy of a run full force down the road. Every stick as a sword, calling out "For Narniaaaaaaaaaaa!" with a full voice. The sand on the road is an excuse to take off your shoes and run your toes into it. The high weeds are a good hiding place, and of course there are always "snakes" to kill (we've never really had a snake...but lots of pretend ones are killed admidst the bush on our little walks).

Even if I get caught up in the busyness of life here...I'm grateful for these moments where the clock seems to stop and we can just BE...I'm living grateful for these kids, for the freedom to BE kids, and for the joy of simplicity.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kindle Distractions

So, I got a new toy. This year, I had a great tax refund and used a little part of it to buy a Kindle. My mom brought it with her when she came to visit, and it has sat unused in my room for the vast majority of the time since I received it.

Last week, at JJ's birthday party at the mall, I took a few minutes out to work on my kindle with the wireless internet there. Now, that my Kindle is registered, my books are all downloaded and I'm ready to read.

It's been a fun new distraction...and I really mean distraction. I have a million and one things to do before I head out this next week and yet, most afternoons, you will find me reading Pride and Prejudice instead of writing tests and working on paperwork for the school.

I suppose that it is a little bit of an escape for me from the craziness of life here, but I think I'm going to have to hide it from myself to finish up what I need to get done to be ready to get out of here by next weekend.

So, thank you IRS for the Kindle and the welcome relief that it brings. Now, I must set it all aside to get ready to come home.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July

It's the 4th of July and we took the day off of school today because I wanted a chance to celebrate with the kids.

Here are a few of my 4th of July cravings today:
*BBQ'd food
*family gatherings
*fresh corn on the cob
*red, white, and blue
*Cherry Days
*mini-truck racing
*jamming on guitars (thanks to my brother Chris)
*chasing kids around (mostly Kayden)
*scavenger hunts
*singing songs
*and so much more

It makes me a little homesick to think about all these things that we do to celebrate the 4th of July in the States...I miss that summer feeling of excitement and the smell of the BBQ grill and the fresh fruits and vegetable piled high on the table every night for dinner.

The past few years have been filled with very memorable 4th of Julys!

Last year, I had an amazing summer with friends traveling out to Colorado to spend the holiday with me at the Buzzell home. It was a blast! I picked up Bristol, Katie, Jenni, and Lauren from the airport in Denver and we met up with Sarah on the way over the mountain. Yona and Eric (pre-Isabella) also drove over from the Nix Ranch to join us for a couple of days. We had such a blast on the 4th--doing team activities like a scavenger hunt and mini-truck decorating.

The year before, it wsa Bristol, Jenni, Charmaine and I making the trip out to Ohio to hang with Lauren and Katie at their home for the 4th. What an awesome holiday that was! We had a new adventure everyday and I think I experienced more in that week than I did that whole summer. We ate ice cream from just about every shop in Cleveland and ate so much we ended up in food comas almost everyday. We saw the beautiful countryside and enjoyed time with the Majewski's crazy family. What a blast!

And the year before that, the Koldings were married on the 3rd. So, naturally, most of us stayed around to celebrate on the 4th. It was such a blast to celebrate with friends that are like family and watch the fireworks that covered the whole valley of Pheonix from the balcony of the Preston's house. Then, I made the road trip up to Flagstaff to hang with Jenni's family, along with Katie, Lauren, and Christy Lynch. What a blast that was! We roadtripped all the way back home and that was an awesome memory with some of my most amazing friends!

This year, my 4th of July is completely different. But, perhaps this year, I experienced just a taste of what it felt like for the forefathers to sign our Declaration of Independence. No, I didn't sign any documents to free an entire country--but I work daily with children who now live in freedom when even a year ago, they were enslaved. And I'm praising God that I get to see liberty first hand...in the eyes of a child named Abigail...and DK...and Mershak...and all the rest. What a priveledge!

Two Weeks

In two weeks, I'll be heading home. I can't believe that it will be a full year since I've come here and that I'll be coming back again. I can't imagine just leaving this place after one year and saying that my job is done. The work here is HUGE (and can I say that the workers are not many?)!

I have quite a bit of work to do before I take off. By the time I return, at least this is our prayer, we'll be moved into the new house at the land, so I need to have my room packed up as well. I also have to get the school packed up as we'll be moving out of the building by the end of next week (Wow, this year went fast!). I have twice-weekly meetings with our new school administrator, so I will have to make sure that he has enough to do while I am gone to see that the school is well set for when I return. And I have my own packing to do for my trip home. I want to bring some things back to sell (which means, I'm working on a lot of different jewelery designs and we're working with the ladies of 7 Continents to produce better quality products). I could keep the list going and going and going...but I won't. Pretty much, it comes down to the fact that these next two weeks are going to be busy!

I'm excited about the chance to go home though. I can't wait for my beatnik week away--to see my little baby girls growing up so fast (Brylie and Isabella) and to see the Whelps and Joanna who I haven't seen in an ENTIRE YEAR. I'm so excited to see friends in SoCal that I haven't seen in awhile and to catch up with what is going on in their lives. I'm excited to hang with my NorCal friends and to get some one on one time with some of my closies. And I'm looking forward to time at home with my family before returning here. I'm excited about telling people about the work that is happening here and the things that we are seeing God do.

And...honestly...I'm excited for the rest! I'm just weary...this year has been amazingly good...but it's also been amazingly busy and I'm looking forward to a small season of REST.

But, until then, it's back to work! Let's see how much I can actually get done today!