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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Sunday, April 29, 2012

War...and what I learned from the Mockingjay

So, several years ago, my roomate Kirsten handed me "The Hunger Games" to read and immediately, I was hooked.  We patiently waited for number two to come out and then anxiously awaited number 3 to come out...just waiting to hear what would happen to Katniss, Peeta, and the gang from "Catching Fire".

Well, knowing that the movie was coming out in the States, I have been hoping that our Accra Mall movie theater would bring it in.  And finally, we heard the news...it would be arriving in May.  So, I looked up the books on my kindle and reread the whole series.

It was an interesting experience reading it through again this time and I think a big part of my strange emotional journey through the series had to do with the work that we do here.

When I first read through the series, I thought a lot about the Roman arenas and the desire for entertainment leading to the shedding of blood...ultimately the shedding of blood from hundreds of Christian martyrs.

But this time, I really felt the battle of the "child" inside this story.  Katniss and Peeta would probably be considered teenagers, but when you get to the Mockingjay, there is just so much pain and disillusionment, confusion, anger...all of it.  It makes one wonder if there could ever be complete healing from such an ordeal...

And then I look here in the country that I live and work.  Childhoods robbed as young as 3 and 4 years of age in exchange for hard labor on a lake.  Names forgotten.  Parents forgotten.  Excruciating pain from waterborne illnesses and disfigurements, deaths, abuse--so much pain. 

And I look at the happy faces of my children here.  I see DK who spent five years out on the lake and the amazing, smart, happy boy that he is today (though he can be moody coming into his pre-teen years).  I look at Abigail and her huge smile.  I see Dora and the funny way she laughs and falls down and loves so purely.  And Mary and the way that she has grown so much academically that she has blown her teacher away! 

There is healing to be had, but there will always be a story to be told.  And it's in those moments when the story of what WAS is so overwhelming for them, that we have to watch out for...it's in those moments when we need to be present and ready to speak truth and love purely...it's in those moments that we become the hands and feet and voice of Jesus.

We are planning on rescuing 18 more children in the upcoming months.  Our investigations have already begun and I'm praying about the kids that will come and live in our new house.  I'm praying that the battles that they have lived through won't define them, but will make them even more determined to see that FREEDOM is available to more children.  I don't want them to be disillusioned with life, but learn to understand the love that is available through Christ.  And I want to see them brought into healing...powerful healing.  I'm praying against the WAR that they are living in now and praying them into a future...a hope...a love that will change their lives.

Birthday Lovin'

Today, we had a long overdue dance party birthday bash.  We had the dirt in-between our house and the new guest house paved over with cement this week and we set up tables and benches and we partied!

It was so fun to finally get to have our first official birthday celebration here at the new place.  I looked around the circle at our kids and was so happy.  The kids were so happy.  I think the happiest of all was our newest addition, John Apaw--an orphaned boy from Doryumu who joined our family in February.  His birthday was just a few days ago and he was so excited to be celebrated!!

We danced, cheered, ate, danced, cheered, and danced some more.  Portia and Justice fell asleep right in the midst of it all, and in the end Valentina won the dance contest, but all the kids WON because they left with a few new "prizes" to add to their collections...all the kids got socks and underwear--something we're in constant need of with over 20 kids to be watching out for at any given time.

Today was an absolute blessing and I'm so glad that we finally had a celebration at our new place.  It's really begun to feel more and more like home!

Exactly Where I'm Supposed to Be

There are some times when I am here and I just get this incredibly overwhelming sense of loneliness.  It's weird to say that since there are SO MANY people that live here, but this loneliness is different.

I was writing in my journal that sometimes I just long for my friends, my family...long for something normal.  I read on facebook yesterday that one of my besties was going to the farmer's market.  And another wrote me an email about something exciting happening in her life.  And those are the moments that I just wish I were with them.  That I could experience life with them.  I become lonely...longing for those people who know ME.  They know me for me...not the City of Refuge me, but just ME.

And then, in our worship gathering this morning, I read this passage:

"All these people [Noah, Abraham, Abel, etc] were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for has prepared a city for them."
--Hebrews 11:14-16

And I realized that so often I make this place, this loneliness, this mission...about me.  And this isn't about me.  This whole thing--my life--City of Refuge--my friendships and my family--it has to be about God.  Because in the end, even if I haven't received all the promises of God that He has spoken over me, I can stand firmly in the truth that He has called me here and that even the work that we are doing here is not for ourselves or even for these children, but it is for HIM.  And I'm working for a heavenly city.

So God, even in the places of loneliness, I lean on the fact that YOU know me...that YOU have called me...and that YOU are my home.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Little Touch of Home

It has been a weird break for me so far.  I have felt a little homesick and also desire a lot of resting time, but then feel guilty when I take a nap or do something "unproductive" like watch TV all afternoon.

I remember my break last April with Katie Majewski home with me and us spending hours of time locked in my little room hammering out summer camp thing.  Laughing and chatting about life and all the things that were happening.  I really miss Katie this April break...I miss a little touch from home. 

But, today, it was so nice because I had a scheduled phone call with Christy Lynch to discuss the August Day Camp and it was such a nice refreshing breeze of HOME!!  Sometimes, I just need that! 

It's kinda funny how Christy and I became friends...I mean, she's quite a bit younger than me, but a few years ago, I lived in her parent's basement with about 5 other people.  That summer was amazing!  I had come out of my first year of teaching and it had been REALLY TOUGH.  My roommate and one my best friend's was getting married, so my living situation had to change and I moved into the Lynch's basement.  Needless to say, after I moved out, they instituted a "quiet hours after 10" rule in their contract.  Whoops! 

Christy was a big part of that summer though.  Coming downstairs singing showtunes, horror night Thursday (I hated that one!), kidnapping friends with pantyhose on our heads, and so much more!  It was a fun summer, and a much needed summer of laughter after such a hard year of teaching.

And then, as time went on, our friendship/aquantaince continued to grow.  But, it really began to blossom when Christy told me that she was going to come out last August for our day camp and help run the program.  I was so grateful as I knew that I would be in the States at the time I needed a little help to run the program while I was gone.  And when I finally arrived back at the end of August, I got to spend nights chatting with her in my room, talking about Ghana...about our kids...about CORM...about life...and we became sisters!  Ghana does that to people...makes them family.

So, when she told Tom and I that she was IN for my planned trip to Australia in February, I was excited to spend my days with adventurous Christy!

And today's conversation was just a feeling of home...a time to laugh about a few things...plan for the time when she will head back to Ghana...and just a little bit of what I've been hungering for this break.

I am so lucky to have such an amazing support system back home in the form of some pretty amazing friends and family.  God is good!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story Time

Last year, when I was teaching our kids, I would spend about 15-30 minutes a day reading from a novel.  The kids loved it!  We started with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Each day we'd read a little bit, and then on Fridays, we would watch just the part that we had read that week of the movie.  Oh, they would get so excited to see if the book and the movie were the same and when I had to shut it off...the groans that would come were so funny!!

We read all kinds of books last year...some with movies and some without.  But, all in all, the kids began to enjoy reading and because of their English language skills, using the movies to give them a picture of what the books were saying was so fun.

Well, this year, I haven't been able to do any reading to them.  I'm not in the classrooms anymore (at least not as a teacher) and so I don't get that "book" time with the kids anymore.  So sad!  But, this break, I thought it would be fun to read to the kids, so we started Story Time a couple days ago.

I'm reading the book "Matilda" to the kids and so far, they're loving the fact that Matilda is just this small girl who is thinking up all these crazy ways to "get" her parents (who are incredibly mean, by the way). 

Last night, we read how Matilda put superglue in her dad's hat, and how she put a bird in their chimney then made them believe their house was haunted, and finally, how she could add incredibly difficult numbers in her head at just 5 years of age.

They're loving it!  So, hopefully, next week we'll have time to finish the book and watch the movie.  They're excited for that part!  If we finish it soon, maybe I'll have to track down another book and movie...I think I have Holes somewhere...


I'm on my break from school and I have been looking forward to a little break for a long time.  Learning to have the motivation to get OTHER things done while on this break is the problem that I'm having.  My goals for this break were to get back into my exercise routine (my last week of school, I was so busy that I couldn't even work out once...boo), work on the curriculum and plans for the August Day Camp, and put together a few things in preparation for my next academic year.

Yesterday, for instance, I worked all morning answering emails and getting a few things out that I've needed to do for the past few weeks.  Then, I came back to the house and by 2:00, this massive wave of tiredness came over me and all of the sudden I'm in my room taking a nap for the next couple of hours.  I missed my time frame to work out (our "cool" hours here where there is still light is about 4-6) because I just wanted to read.

I keep telling myself that it's okay and that I need to have some grace for myself.  Maybe my body really did need a nap, but overall, I'm just lacking motivation to do anything worthwhile.

So, I'm hoping that today is the day...that motivation will just be easy to come by.  That I'll get some work done that I've been needing to get done and then, I'll feel productive at the end of my day instead of lazy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Term 2

Today was the last day of Term 2. It was a crazy day...well, a crazy week to say the least! Yesterday, I think that I had about a 14 hour day. Wow! I had so much to do yesterday with getting student bills together, signing off on report cards, making sure our kids were prepared for the program. It was a crazy, busy day yesterday and then today, another busy day of finishing up the school term.

I was just thinking of the highs and lows of Term 2...here's my list!

1)Andrea Elizondo coming and being a part of our school and PE and Health program and being a part of our lives here at CORM.
2) My trip to Australia and all that came with my time there!
3) Seeing some of our kiddos skyrocket in their understanding (like Mary Aboanor...so amazing!)
4) Meeting with the parents of our kids and hearing their stories and being able to offer them employment or sponsorship
5) The support of our parents with our PTO
6) CORM kids being top of their class academically!

1) Having to discipline a couple of teachers and talk with Mr. Francis about some difficult issues
2) A meeting with Ghana Education Service that was incredibly frustrating
3) Some loooooong days!
4) CORM kids getting into trouble when they should be an example

Yeah, that's pretty much my school term in a bundle. There were some amazing things that happened at CORM during these past couple of months, but my highs and lows with Faith Roots...you've got them!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Help Me Win a Free Flight!!!!

Did you know that it is Volunteer Week this next week? In honor of this week, VolunteerCard (a company that I use for insurance over here) is offering a free flight to a nominated volunteer. So, I put it out there...and my friend Jessica Mahan, nominated me. And guess what? I made the TOP TEN list for volunteers.

That means that this week, they will be putting out a survey where you can vote for the volunteer of your choice to win a FREE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT!!!

So friends, get ready...cause I'm calling on you to put in your votes.

Go to: http://www.volunteercard.com/blog/ and get the survey link on Monday, April 16th. You are welcome to fill out the survey as many times as you want! You can vote everyday, multiple times a day!!! Help me get a free flight and there might just be a surprise trip home sometime soon!

Thursday, April 12, 2012


This year, I've transitioned into a role of full-time administration at our school. But there are times, like today, when I really wish I were back in the classroom.

I got to spend a little bit of time today with some of the kids that we're doing choir with at school and then some kids that I'm doing a drama with. It was so fun and I miss spending time getting to know my students.

And then, I was chatting with our volunteer, Josiah, and he was just telling me about sitting in on one of the classes and how the teacher was teaching the class. He said, "I'm not a teacher, but I could teach in this school." I know he meant no harm, but it was frustrating to know that our kids just aren't getting what I could give them because they just aren't trained well enough (and honestly, can be a bit lazy in their teaching). Sometimes, I just want to get in their classrooms myself and see if my teaching could make a difference. But, ultimately, I want these teachers to WANT to see these children succeed (which means that they have to figure out ways to get these students to understand what they want them to understand).

Someday, I'll probably be back in the classroom, but until then, I need to find a way to make teaching a passion for these teachers. To teach them the joy and beauty of seeing that "aha moment" when they finally GET it or seeing a child's eyes light up when they read for the first time or the laughter that comes with relationship. These children are our future and if education is the key...it's got to become a priority for those that are teaching them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Allowing some room for the Holy Spirit

So, it's been a couple of incredibly discouraging weeks here and sometimes I've wondered whether or not I'm doing anything lasting here...

I had some good truth spoken to me in the past couple of days via Graham Cooke (well his was spoken via a podcast sermon from Churchlands...) and via Kristin Miller (someone I love very much for her willingness to endlessly encourage and support my work here!).

And then, this morning, I was spending some time in the word and read Luke 12:1-12. Kind of a weird passage to speak to me this morning, but I got to verses 11 and 12 which read:

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

And for some reason, this just spoke really loudly to me. So often, I trust in my own abilities to make things happen, but I shouldn't have to worry or defend myself and the vision that has been gifted to us at City of Refuge...instead, I should trust that the Holy Spirit will give me what to say...after all this whole thing is God's anyway! So today, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I'm at peace. I just need to continue to remember it is HIM in me that makes me strong!

Monday, April 9, 2012


We moved to the Children's Village November 30, 2011. Since then, we've been living on 2-4 hours of generator-powered electricity per day.

Saturday, April 7, 2012--WE GOT ELECTRICITY. For the first time in 129 days...City of Refuge is sleeping with fans, refrigeration, and all that comes with having electricity!


Easter Fun

Last Easter, my friend Katie Majewski was here in Ghana. This Easter, I was reminded of my time with her and missed that feeling of "home" that she brought with her. I remembered her vegetarian frame of mind as we prepared the chickens and goat for our big feast. I remembered baby John and baby Princess a part of our family at that time. I remembered our endless games of "Beans" and our easter egg hunt and the jello that I made that turned gray (don't ask me why)...I missed her this year!

But, her traditions are still kept alive. This year, we had some volunteers come through a couple days ago (thank you Paige from FTO) that brought some more easter eggs and some candy for the kids. So, with Louise (YGAP), Josiah (AIS in Accra), Stacy, Andrea, Edgar (SAS or Finding Refuge), and I--we organized a pretty amazing Easter Egg hunt yesterday! In fact, the whole day was pretty fun!

We had our service in the morning with a lot of dancing and a message of hope, and then the food preparation began! Aunty Andrea and Uncle Josiah even chimed in to help pluck the chickens (some of the TOUGHEST chickens I've ever eaten-or tried to eat-in my life!!!). When we finally ate (around 4), we were all hungry for all the yummy foods...fufu, pounded yam, agousi soup, pepper soup, potatoes and chicken, and goat (lots of goat).

After that, we toasted to electricity (the fact that it FINALLY CAME on Saturday!!!!!!), Easter (and all that Jesus did to conquer death), and to each other (it was an extremely long and stressful week!).

And then...the egg hunt of the century. I think most of the kids came down off of the sugar high right around 8:00 pm...I didn't know if I would survive the sugar high, though...it was pretty crazy for awhile.

In any case, it was a great Easter (minus the missing home factor) and I was so happy to get to celebrate it with my friends and family here in Ghana!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Team Support!

Yesterday, we had a day off of school for Good Friday. I wasn't sure what to expect as usually when we have time off of school, it becomes this day of craziness for us trying to entertain the kids with other things.

Well, everyone showed up at the house around 8 am to color and write letters (to send back with Auntie Andrea to send as she leaves on Monday). But, I was still able to sleep, for the most part, until 8:00 am which is really unheard of around here!

When we finally made it out, Stacy had started the kids beading their own bracelets. After that, the kids wanted to KEEP beading and when we told them what we were doing with the bracelets...wow! The kids got right to work! We explained that we're sending the bracelets back to Aunty Christy and Sister Sydney to help us raise money for the new children's house so that we can bring in more kids from the fishing trade.

Grace and Valentina put in double time work. And I think that DK even made 3 or 4 of his own. And Mary and Mary and Dora all got busy. In the end, all of the kids made a few and we ended up with a whole bag of bracelets to be sent to the States so that we can raise money to finish this house.

I love that our kids understand what we do here and want to be a part of it. They are on the FREEDOM TEAM and I'm so proud of them!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


So, today, we got to interview women for the water project. It was fun to see all of the mom's from our school that we had invited to come in for the interview and to actually have something that we could tell them that might help them.

Today, we interviewed 5 women. Some of the interviews went really well and the ladies were able to make a really good impression. Others didn't go quite as well as perhaps the single mother was too old for the kind of work that we'll have to do, or their current work will earn more than the job that we are offering. And some didn't even show up...we'll have to follow up with them on that!

But, for the most part, it was encouraging to discuss options with these women. We'll meet with them again next week to inform them of our decision of who to hire. It's exciting to have some viable employment for some of these women who are just struggling to make ends meet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Frustrating Work of a School

Today, we met with the GES department regarding our school curriculum. Let's just say that it was an incredibly frustrating meeting.

We discussed with them that we would like to run a Ghanaian/American curriculum concurrently. It was a battle the entire meeting to get them to understand why we wanted to run an American curriculum (our ideas have to so with the quality of the curriculum in particular) for their Ghanaian children. In fact, they had problems with almost everything that we do...

We talked about the issue of child trafficking and slavery here in Ghana and the work that we are doing to stop it in the Volta region. First of all, they said they didn't agree with our terminology, stating that slavery has been abolished, so there is no longer slavery here in Ghana or in the world as a whole (to which I wanted to reply, "Closing your eyes to issue doesn't make it disappear", but I kept my mouth quiet). Secondly, they told us that the work that we are doing there isn't where we should be focusing but should be focusing on children from our own region. I felt like I couldn't even cast the vision without them interrupting to put in their own opinion of what we should do.

Then, when it got to the school and our operation, they just kept shaking their head at us. We talked about how our parents are aware of the current curriculum and what that might mean for their child and they only commented on our parents lack of education and that even if they signed a form, they didn't understand what they were signing so it doesn't mean anything.

The whole conversation was frustrating for me. I felt defeated when I left.

Yes, I want our children to have access to their culture and curriculum, which was why we came in the first place. But, I also want them to have a quality education. I want them to leave our school able to read and write and know a great depth of knowledge.

I felt like I had to sacrifice some of my dreams on their altar...but (and there is always a but!) I know what God has said about this school and I'm going to believe the things that He spoke to me about Faith Roots over the things that these people are trying to require of us.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Weekend Fun

This weekend, we celebrated John's birthday in Johnbull fashion!! Every year, we've done something different with the kids to celebrate John's big day. It's always fun to see John so lighthearted and excited about the adventure of the day ahead. Life around here can often be so busy that sometimes it robs us of the excitement and joy of day to day living with kids.

In any case, on Friday night, we raced out of school and headed to Accra with the Omorefe family to celebrate. We ate...and ate...and ate some more and then we went and watched a movie. The only one that was semi-child friendly on a Friday night was Disney's John Carter. Let's just say that I spent a lot of time laughing...and it's not a comedy! It reminded me of some of the old Star Trek episodes from my childhood...80's cheeeese. But, it was fun to get out of the house and do something different.

Saturday, we took ALL the kids to Accra and we went swimming at the Ramada hotel. The kids had a BLAST!!!! We all jumped in the water and splashed around. I went swimming around a bit with DK, Mershak, and Robert...they were the only ones who could swim fairly well. Everyone else just splashed and splashed and splashed. We loved time teaching them how to swim, pulling them around on our backs, splashing each other and playing together. It was an absolutely magical time with the kids. They had a blast and it had been such a long time since we last did anything together that it was really good for them to get out and do something fun.

Sunday, we had a great worship gathering service at our house and danced and danced long past the usual time and then pulled out John's birthday cake and sang and danced some more.

It was a really fun weekend, though I was tired by the end of it all and just wanted a nap...instead, I decided to play some April Fool's fun on my family and friends back home--telling them that I had started dating a Ghanaian man. EVERYONE was fooled. It was awesome! Everyone's texts back and forth were so funny!

Anyway, despite the lack of rest, we had a good weekend and it was such a blessing to get to do some "family" things that we don't usually get to do.