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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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

T-Shirt Contest!!!!!!


We need YOUR help to SPEAK UP for those who can’t speak for themselves and to advocate for the children at City of Refuge Ministries in Ghana, Africa through t-shirts. We will choose the top 3 designs and have all 3 printed to be sold to raise money for CORM! In addition to having your design printed, the top 3 designs will win a gift from CORM.

1st place- African print

2nd place- 7 continents bag

3rd place- 7 continents bracelet

Contest Guidelines:

1. You may do front and back

2.  It must have the CORM logo somewhere on it (just write in CORM logo goes here J)

3.  You can’t use any trademarked characters

4.  It must be emailed to stacy@cityofrefugeoutreach.com by June 15, 2012!

**Please note that we may have to reduce the amount of color based on price J

Monday, May 28, 2012

Healing Hugs

Today, I sat in my office and hugged my girl Rosemary for a long time.  She gets in these moods and can be extremely dramatic at times, so today, when she walked around with a frown on her face for the better part of the morning, I was concerned that something was going on, but she wouldn't say anything.

Finally, when Portia was finally asleep for her nap (she frequently naps in the office as she is a little energetic for her classmates), Rosemary asked if she could talk to me.  And then, the tears started flowing...

She told me about an argument she had with her mom before her mom passed away and her guilt in feeling responsible for her mom's death.

She told me about her uncle that heaped blame on her head.

She told me about the abuse she experienced from a "trusted" friend.

And she cried about it all...feeling guilty, mourning her parents, longing for connection.

She turned and looked at me and asked, "Do you think my mom is still angry with me?"

Oh, the pain of the past.  Does death ever get easier to deal with...perhaps the pain fades, but it's never easy.  And at 14 years old, Rosemary is just longing for a mother.

So, when I reached out to rub her back and speak truth to her, she fell into my arms for a hug.  One of those gripping...never want to let go...pain-ridden hugs.  And so I prayed truth over her.

Her identity is not found in the past, but in her future.

She is loved, safe, treasured, brilliant, a leader, a friend, a woman of God...she is no longer the one that her past has determined her to be.

And it's with that hug, and those tears, and these truths...that I hope she will walk forward in today.

So often, I forget that most of the children that we work with are orphans on top of being abandoned by family or trafficked into slavery.  I forget their past pains because I see so much hope in their future.  But, their past has been a part of bringing them to where they are now, and therefore, healing from their past is necessary.  We can't cover it up and expect them to just return to "normal children".  Yes, they're resiliant, and God does so much work in them to give them back their childhood, but there has to be real work--talking and praying and believing truth.  And I suppose there will be occasional tears.  And lots of hugs.  Because that's what healing requires...it requires touch and love and grace and truth.

So, I'll keep praying over our kids, and today, over Rosemary.  And I'll give her some extra hugs today...the really tight ones...to know that we're sticking around for her!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Spider woman

Last week, I woke up with some pretty crazy bug bites on my thigh and one on my forearm.   I just assumed they were a spider bite or something and that they would go away with no problem. 
After a day, the one on my arm had formed a little whitehead, so I pushed it out and then thought that would be the end of it.

But, by Friday, the bite was so infected that it had puffed my arm up.  The whole arm was hot and I was getting nervous.

Here is a very bad phone picture of my swollen arm...you can't really see how big and red it was...but you get the idea
John and Stacy got back that night from the Volta and I showed Stacy the bite, but she wasn't feeling too good (had been pretty nauseated the whole trip back...which is no fun on that trip from the Volta).  And later that night, my arm was getting really sore, so I thought I better check it out in the light of the bathroom, and sure enough a little trail had started creeping up my arm and it was sore all the way up to my upper arm.  Scary!  So, I hollered at John and we sped off to the pharmacy for an anti-biotic. 

I was on the antibiotic for a few days and the swelling and soreness had gone down some, when I decided it would be worth a try to get some of the infection out.  So, I started pressing, and it started draining like crazy.  But, the weird part was, there was this hard thing that started pressing out of the hole...so I got some tweezers and started to pull it out.  Seriously, there was this "thing" in my arm that was about a quarter of an inch long.  I'm guessing it was a larvae of some sort.  When I pulled it out, it left this hole in my arm.  I had to have it bandaged for two days before it stopped seeping and the hole closed up enough to leave it unbandaged.  So gross

The hole that was left when I pulled out the "thing" from inside
After that thing came out, the swelling went down, the soreness left, and now I'm just left with the itchy feeling that comes with healing skin.

As we say here...TIA...This is Africa!  Never thought I'd have some bug planted in my skin...but there you go! 

Sorry if I grossed you out, but you know...this blog is all about life here in Ghana for me...so there's a taste of it! 

When I told the kids that I thought I had gotten bitten by a spider and that it had gotten infected, they started calling me spider woman.  They wanted me to "proove" that I had gotten bitten by shooting webs out of my hands.  Mary Osei said that if she had gotten bitten, she would use the webs to come to my office and take all the crayons and coloring books before I would even know it.  That girl is too funny!

But, this spider woman has no powers...unfortunately!  If had the power to shoot webs out of my hands, I think the kids at school would be a little quieter in their classrooms for fear of the web!  Oh Mary!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Just another day with City of Refuge

Yesterday, John, Stacy, Ale, Daddy Joe, DK, Dora, and a couple other staff members headed out to Laloyna for an investigation and education about Human Trafficking.  It was an exhausting day, but in the end, it was such an encouraging day.

We arrived in Laloyna and met with DK's grandmother, who sent her son David, whom Stacy and John rescued with Abigail and DK almost 2 years ago, back to the lake.  Our staff member James, had to go to the lake to get David again, so when John say DK's grandmother, he really gave it to her!  And she was fighting back...sometimes it doesn't matter how much you talk, people close their ears to what they don't want to hear.

After that, we went to a village that we had visited previously.  I think that I talked about it in another blog where there were so many kids in the village and so few of them went to school.  We went to check up on a couple of kids that we were investigating.  In the end, those children's parents were convinced to send their children to school and hopefully, they will stay true to their word. 

We also met with the chief of this village and talked with some of the older boys there.  The lack of education in this village was appalling.  With 10 young boys there from about 12-16 years of age and only ONE of them knew how to read.  It was really surprising.  When John got to talking with them, he stood up and pointed out the worth of an education or trade to each boy.  They really listened too.  Hearing about John's experience as a footballer in Nigeria...or the fact that a steel bender can earn 500 cedis in a week...or a mechanic can earn more in one day that a fisherman can earn in 2 weeks worth of work.  Those boys need to value themselves so that they can bring honor to that village. 

I was especially proud of DK during our chat with the chief.  He got up and introduced himself, said that he was from Laloyna and that now he lives in Doryumu and attends school.  He talked about his life with us and he did so well.  I could just see a calling over that boy's head.  He saw the horrors of Lake Volta and now he is speaking out against it at ELEVEN years old!  His voice had been stripped away from him, but he has been given a voice to speak out, and we'll continue to encourage him to speak!

We'll be going back to that village in a few more weeks for an education.  I'm looking forward to that opportunity.

After our visit with that chief, we headed into Laloyna to meet with some families who had identified kids as children who were "at-risk" last time John and Stacy came through for an education.  John headed off to meet with one lady, while Stacy, Ale, the kids, and I went over to the ocean to see what was going on and meet some of the kids there.

DK took off running ahead of us...in his nice dress shoes, jeans, and blue button up top.  He ran up to a group of boys who had just come in out of the water and were busy catching crabs.  As Dora, Ale, Stacy and I took our time climbing up to the oceanside, we saw DK running to and fro across the beach, chasing crabs and laughing.  And when we made it to the top, Dora began to do the same thing.

I think about their lives, well, for Dora it hasn't even been a full year since she's come to live with us--and for DK, almost 2 years.  I think about their lives and how much has changed for them.  Dora, neglected and uncared for...living with pigs...not given the opportunity of an education.  DK, working 14 hours on a lake...going the job of a man three times his age and size...alone.  And here, they are back at the very place where it all began...their home villages...and instead of the quiet, trapped, angry, sad children that they came to CORM as, they are happy, joyful, able to play, and able to express who they are now. 

As I watched Dora and DK play, it brought tears to my eyes.  It seemed to me to be so redemptive...the place that brought such pain for so many years in their young lives, can be a place of healing AND they can be a part of speaking out and stopping the same thing from happening to so many.

We met a couple of kids that we're planning on adding to our family there in Laloyna yesterday.  One was a boy named Rapheal.  His story was absolutely heartbreaking. 

His parents moved away to Cameroon, leaving him with his elderly great-grandparents.  They quickly took us to meet the grandparents and it was unbelievable.  The two ladies sitting outside the house had to be close to 100 years old, and the grandfather (the actual caregiver) was probably in his 90's and was blind.  They said that the boy hadn't been home to sleep in about six months.  He roamed about the town and spent most of his time with begging food off of a Gollywood (Ghana's Hollywood) movie crew that were filming down the coast.

After meeting with the families of these children, we moved on to our education at Goi, another village near Laloyna.  In Goi, we found a small group of mothers gathered to hear what we had come to discuss.  John started out talking about human trafficking and then the life on Lake Volta.  He talked about the long work days, the abuse the boys experience, the lack of proper food, the parasites found in the lake water...and in the end, he asked for names to be brought forward of those who know of someone who had sent their child to the lake to work.  They came in droves.  We were busy for probably an hour afterwards, collecting information and talking to families. 

We had to show a lot of discernment as we talked with families at the meeting.  So many just wanted the burden of orphaned children released from their shoulders.  But, we aren't about to take children away from the only family they know.  We want to be able to help equip and encourage families to step forward and help the orphaned in their families, and we can be there for those that have nothing.  But, it did get me thinking about the possibility for a "community school fund" that we can start.  Donors can donate a one-time gift or monthly gift and those monies can be used to pay for school uniforms, exam fees, new shoes, etc, for the government school in these communities.  That way, the risk of being sent away is eliminated, they can stay with their families, and the children can be a helping hand to those in the house as well.

Right before we were about to leave, we met a young mom and her two daughters.  The mother was partially blind and her first-born was completely blind.  John picked up the small girl, who wouldn't have been more than six years old, and called me over and John, Stacy, and I began to pray.  That is the part of my job here that I love...getting to pray for Jesus to heal...pray for the blind to see...for the lame to walk...for the deaf to hear...the mute to speak...

In March, at a crusade in Larteh, we prayed for a woman who was deaf to hear, and by the time the prayers were over, she was hearing.

And so we prayed...in FAITH from what we had seen before...and in faith that God could do the same for this young girl.  When we left, the young girl had begun to see shadows...could point at the nose on your face...so I know, I have faith, that God will continue to heal.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that at this education, Dora saw her father.  I asked her what she talked with her father about and she just said that she told him about school and about Mary and then her father left.  The whole experience was a funny thing for Dora.  It's difficult for Dora to really remember her past.  She lives fully and wholly in the present, so her trip back was a bit strange I think.  She remembered where she used to live...she remembered her father and her sister...but she couldn't remember her sister's name and she had a hard time speaking some of her language (which is a bit funny since it's the same language that most of our student's speak here).  For DK, it was about coming back to speak out.  For Dora, the trip back was merely that...a trip back and then a trip home.  She asked off and on throughout the day when we were going back home.  I'm so glad we could provide that feeling of "home" for her.

By the time we made it back home, we were exhausted.  The day was emotionally draining.  There was so much to think about and pray about and prepare for.  So, by the time it hit 8:30, I was getting ready for bed and I was asleep before 9.

But I love that I'm meeting some of our future children.  I love that we're working on eradicting this problem at it's ROOT.  I love that our Father knows exactly WHO and WHEN and WHERE...so I'm just going to be praying that everything will be revealed in his time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Beauty of a Smile

My friend Ale is here from PCC and we have a family here visiting with us from Tennessee as well.  It's been really great to have visitors come and get to hear our stories, build relationships with our kids, and see what we are all about here. 

In many ways, our jobs here sound pretty magnificent...sounds like we're accomplishing something great all the time.  But, in reality, the day in and day out of our work here is about accomplishing small things.  Daily interactions with our kids.  Daily building up of our staff.  Daily pouring in to our different ministries.  It's just small things...and that is what I hope our volunteers get to witness...the daily life here...the same old same old that leads to the amazing healing of so many.

In any case, today, it was a pleasure to get to watch the Boggs family at work in our KG classrooms.  They read them a Dr. Suess story and then set about painting the faces of all of the kids.  And they loved it!  Just getting to see the smile on the kids faces, the joy of experiencing something new, the chance to just be kids...I love that!

And then, getting to Ale at work with our kids as well has been so fun.  She has been helping some of the kids write letters to their sponsors...a challenging job for me to complete with so many other things going on here, so it's helpful to have someone else do it for me!  All of the kids have been saying how funny she is and they are loving their time with her.  I mean, it may not feel life-changing to be doing volunteer work of that nature, but to that child...that time issued some change in their life! 

So blessed to get to see the beauty of a smile today in so many because of volunteers and their willingness to come and spend themselves on behalf of the poor, the orphaned, the abandoned, the needy, the trafficked, the lonely...the children of Ghana.

Monday, May 21, 2012

To Note...

A few random thoughts to note:

1) Ale Caballo is in!!  We picked her up last night at the airport and she came ready to work.  Got a good night's sleep last night and I walked her around the campus and told her a little of the City of Refuge story this morning.  Then, we got straight to work unpacking her boxes and I put her on a project to help with our Term 3 sponsorship letters.  So awesome to have her here!

2) Have been totally encouraged and challenged and loved on by some amazing emails and facebook posts and messages that I've recieved lately.  Thank you for thinking of me, praying for me, encouraging me, and loving on me.  It's been so wonderful and speaks right to me "quality time" love language.

3) The walls of the school that blew down in Saturday's storm have begun reconstruction today.  We have two workers over here, deciding which blocks can be reused, which have to be thrown away...it's actually quite a discouraging process to look out my office window and witness, but it's begun.

4) A big thanks to Debbie Anderson and Jenni Ingram who sent me cards and items.  Made me feel loved and remembered.  Thank you!

5) Going to finish up some teacher training stuff today and then get ready to begin my work on my curriculum standards study.  Whew...my next project begins!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

And the walls fell down

Yesterday, we sent the Concordia group up to Aburi to work with an organization called Aban.  A former student of Concordia started up the organization a few years back and it is a program that reaches out to street girls.  We have seen such an immense need for help with the street girls in Accra, and it was an absolute priveledge to get to see the program in action.  I think one of the most memorable quotes from the day was when co-founder Rebecca Brandt told us that the focus of the seamstresses that they hire is to sew, while the focus of the girls that they bring in (who learn a trade, recieve an education, take classes on a variety of issues, etc) focus is to heal.  I loved that!  Even more, I loved chatting with Rebecca.  I am looking forward to more hang out time in the future.  I've been praying for another friend here in Ghana, and she is amazing, so I would love to get to know her better, to know that there is someone outside of our ministry to go and chat with, but also understands the nuances of working here in Ghana!  Looking forward to ways that we can partner with them in the future.

When we were leaving the program yesterday, a massive storm came through.  Crazy winds, pouring rain...we saw trees down, power lines down, signboards blown over...on our way home.  It was a little nutty.  And then we got home...

A couple of weeks ago, we put up the walls to our school building and this next week, they were planning on pouring the concrete corners...but because of the rains, we'll have to start all over again.  The walls to all of the classrooms were blown down.  One of the gables on the guest house was blown down.  It must have been an incredibly windy storm here at CORM.  We found out that they kids had been pretty frightened.  JJ and Caleb told us that they cried when the winds came through.

We just sat in our car and stared at the mess for awhile, not really knowing what to think.  It's easy to see the work that goes on here, the speed at which our buildings go up, and think, "Wow!  This is so fast!".  But, nature has a way of slowing things down too.  And rainy season is now fully upon us.  I wonder what else might happen during the course of all of this development.

But, we weren't left to dwell on the walls of our school too long as a group of students from AIS came out and blessed us with presents for the kids, games to play, facepainting, and all other kinds of fun, fun, fun!  They were amazing to have with us on such a dreary day! 

And Uncle Josiah (a teacher from AIS that has spent quite a bit of time with us) hung out the whole night, making movie night extra fun!

So, even though the walls fell down on our school, the rebuilding process will start again next week...and all in all...it was a pretty good day!

Friday, May 18, 2012


I posted a couple days back about one of our student's mother who passed away after a short illness (a couple of months). 
Vincent and his brother, Wisdom, joined our school at the beginning of the year this year.  Vincent, at 8 years of age, and his brother of 5 years, had never attended school before.  Wisdom joined in our our KG1 class (preschool) and began to show immediate progress.  He was a quick learner and enjoyed school.  Vincent was another story.  His abilities were remarkably low.  Because of his age, he was placed in the 2nd grade class, but his teacher had to start at the beginning with him.  Holding a pencil was even a challenge at the beginning.  Writing looked more like drawing pictures.  He had no English skills and he had a difficult time even concentrating in class, making it seem that he was unable to learn or unwilling even.

But, Vincent has made excellent strides.  He's not at grade level, but with the help of special classes and his classroom teacher, he knows all of his letters and sounds, can count, speak in basic conversational English, and he is showing progress if every subject, not proficiency, but definitely progress.

With Vincent's mother gone, his primary caretaker, I am worried about what is in store for him and Wisdom.  I fear that their opportunity for an education might be taken away from them. 

Wisdom is currently sponsored to attend school here at Faith Roots.  Would you prayerfully consider sponsoring Vincent?  It is a $40 a month sponsorship which covers school fees, book fees, and uniform fees.

As time goes on, we might consider doing more to help Vincent's family.  Keep your eyes open for future updates!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A little encouragement goes a long way!

Yesterday, I was a little overwhelmed by how things were going our first week back in school.  I was frustrated about so many different things, but yesterday, after my venting posts...I recieved some awesome encouragements.

Two friends wrote to me on facebook and that made my day.  Sometimes, it's so easy to just feel like the battle over here is just us...we're facing it day in and day out and that we are alone in the battle.

But, I so easily forget that I'm not alone in this.  This is God's vision...these are His children...so why would he leave them alone?

The immense number of people who give, pray for, encourage, visit, promote, and think about this place...well, I don't even know if I could count how many people City of Refuge has touched in the time that I've been here.  And even more, the people that I used to live my daily life with, that still pray for me everyday and check in on me and give me that "quality time" through emails, texts, and the occasional phone call date...and now the new people that have become my extended family as well--YGAP and FTO, the many volunteers that have passed through here that continue to live their lives changed because of their time...

I'm not alone.  We're not alone.  And the battle is not just being fought here on Ghanaian soil, but everywhere across the world.

So thank you to my encouragers yesterday...today, I feel fresh and ready to start again.

And thank you to the many, many, many who follow my story here and walk along beside me in friendship, prayer, and encouragement.  Your words mean more than you know.  And your prayers are a powerful weapon against the many things that are happening here!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Life is Fragile...

Yesterday, we found out that one of our parent's has passed away.

Last term, Vincent and Wisdom's father came to visit with us when we asked to speak with him about Vincent's poor attendance at school.  When he came, he explained that his wife, Vincent and Wisdom's mother, had become sick and they sent her away.  This is a common practice here, so we pressed in, asking where she was sent.  He told us that he had sent her to a shrine in Ada (a fishing community near where Abigail and DK came from). 

I was so frustrated when I heard this news.  There is such a strange mix of traditional religion and Christianity here.  If prayer doesn't work, many times families won't even consider a hospital (usually due to lack of funds, even though health insurance here in Ghana is approximately 8 cedis, or $5 a year), they will just take their family member to the nearest shrine.  They will pay for chickens or goats to be sacrificed on behalf of their sick family member, pray to idols, perform dark magic, make them drink many different concoctions.  Honestly, it is scary. 

Dark magic is alive and well in the Western world, but there, it is part of an underground culture.  Here, it is out in the open...accepted and oftentimes welcomed or preferred.  When I first heard of some of the things that happen in Shrines, it felt so impersonal...dark and scary, but not something I thought I would see much of.

And then John pointed out a hanging chicken in front of a lady's stall where she sells food right down the street from our 7 Continents Tema New Town location.  And after that, I saw it everywhere.  A shop named "Jesus Redeemer" with the dead chicken hanging from it's rooftop.

And then came our trip to Keta for the woman's conference with Apostle Judy in March.  There, fetish priests and priestess' walked around out in the open, the darkness could almost be physically felt.

And now, it has touched one of our own.

I'm not sure what this means for Vincent and for Wisdom.  This was their first year in school and they both had made so much progress.  I don't know who will care for them now, especially since they were already living in pretty neglected conditions prior to their mother passing away.  And the father has a second wife which usually means that if these children are brought into the other family, they will no longer be given the opportunity to attend school, but will be asked to work to help provide for the other children's needs.

City of Refuge has more than just a battle of justice over those who have been trafficked and enslaved on their hands.  Here, we have this immense darkness to face.  The uneducated to walk alongside.  The orphaned to uphold.  The single mother's to encourage.  And most of all, the light of a Kingdom that exists to bring about all these truths to carry.

School Frustrations...

School has started up again and with it comes a whole load of new frustrations, busy schedules, thoughts, and obligations.

Yesterday was our first day back and I had a whole hassle of problems to deal with our first day back in session.  A teacher was out as her mother had to be taken to the hospital.  We heard of the death of one of our student's parents.  We had to meet with one of our parents, Pamela's mother, and stress to her the importance of Pamela's care.  There was a myriad of staff problems that had to be dealt with as well.  And then, we got a call from Ghana Education Service and they were calling to let us know that some items that we needed to pick up were completed and available at the head-office and we needed to go in.  Besides that, the woman was upset that we had just resumed school and that we weren't following the public school schedule, which I don't understand why it is such a big deal since we are a private school.

So, I left school frustrated yesterday at everything that happened and feeling a little overwhelmed at all that is on my "plate" when it comes to leading, guiding, and overseeing this school.

But, this morning, I came in and Mr. Francis talked to me about the meeting with GES (Ghana Education Service) yesterday and said that while she still wasn't happy with the information we provided about our curriculum, she was fine with the documentation that I provided about the number of days our students are in school (they go to school 180 days out of the year, probably 20 days more than most students in Ghana).

Unfortunately, frustrations came anew looking over the syllabus for the Ghanaian curriculum programs and knowing that I somehow have to put together a standards comparison between their curriculum and ours and see if I can get it approved.  I've never done something like this and add to it the current writing of our summer program curriculum and preparing for next academic year and looking into starting up a teacher's training program and all that that involves...whew!  I don't know when I'll be able to slow down!

I was talking with Stacy yesterday about my frustrations with GES.  I told her that for some reason, I can handle most any criticism, but when GES starts coming down on me, I have a really hard time handling it...just makes me really stressed out.  The relationship with them is such an up and down thing...one minute thinking that they are happy with what we are doing here and the next attacking us for the number of days our students are in school. 

So, this post pretty much became my vent-fest for the day, but sometimes, you just have to get it out, huh?

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little bit smoother and I'll be reminded that this isn't about GES, but about these kids...maybe one of these kids will grow up to be the head of the GES department and then we'll be free!  haha!  I mean, that's the point right?  To raise up leaders for tomorrow?  So, I guess I'll just have to pray that one of these kids grows a heart for the education of Ghana's children!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Cost of Being a Disciple

It's funny how God often reminds me of different truths during my time here...and often during timely seasons.  I have felt a little lonely through this break time off of school.  I have missed time with friends and just longed for some family around me during my time off of school (partly just to distract me from having to do work all the time...hahaha!).  But, I ended up having a pretty great break.  The first week was a little rough, but after that, Stacy and I spent a lot of times chatting, playing games, hanging out and laughing, we took a trip to Kumasi, got a pedicure...just enjoyed life.  It has been a good break! 

This Sunday, I was reading through this passage of Scripture and was just reminded of God's truth.  Sometimes, I just long for something familiar here, and God is so good to provide that familiarity through the Omorefe family and through the many visitors that pass through our home during the year, but ultimately, God called me here for HIS purposes and the cost of being a disciple isn't always easy.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Sometimes the cost of my cross seems too heavy to bear, especially when I'm lonely and longing for my family and friends back home, for the comfort life in the States, for chocolate (haha!).  But the rewards are so sweet.  Everyday, I get to be a part of something SO GREAT!  So, when I measure the cost of leaving my home in the States and carrying my "cross" here in Ghana against the rewards of life as a disciple of Christ--there really isn't any choice.  I've been called and all I can do is respond knowing that God will meet all my needs.

How is God challenging you as you walk out your faith in discipleship?

Thursday, May 10, 2012


For those of you who know me know I love the music of singer/songwriter, Tyrone Wells.  He attended my alma mater, Hope International University, and because of that connection, we saw him a lot in concert.  In fact, he used to sing almost every Thursday night at a local coffee shop in Fullerton, CA and I had the opportunity to sing once with him there.  My one moment of "fame"!  (Well, I've had others, but we won't talk about those...haha).

His newest album "Where We Meet" is kindof a back to basics album for him--back to his typical singer/songwriter style and I love it!  Wanted to just post a fun video of his song, Freedom.



Kumasi and Sweet Rest

Last Saturday, John, Stacy and I went to Kumasi to visit Aunty Louise.  It was quite a journey there, which I think that I already wrote about that whole trip.

Our long weekend was simply so wonderful.  The gardens were gorgeous and the atmosphere was so relaxing!  I got to take naps, play games, eat amazing food, and left on Tuesday morning feeling so rested. 

Sometimes I forget that even just being here at the Children's Village...even if I'm "resting"...there is only so much resting that can be done.  The rest that I experienced away from it all was just so much more complete.

It was just what I needed before having to be motivated to get back to work here at school.  Thank you Lord, for knowing just what I needed!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Going to Kumasi

Today, John, Stacy, and I headed to Kumasi to hang out with our friend from Australia, Louise Atkins.  Louise has been part of City of Refuge family since her visit to CORM in 2009 (I believe that was the year).  She has been working here in Ghana, in Kumasi, for 8 months or so working on several different projects, but primarily one on women's empowerment.

We decided that this would be the perfect time to come up and see where she is staying since our Term 2 holiday break is almost over.  We wanted to take a break from the norm and just spend some time relaxing away from home.

We got up early this morning and drove to Tema to catch a bus out here to Kumasi.  It was this nice big bus with plenty of legroom and comfortable seating. 

When we got settled in, a man stood up in the front of the bus and from Tema to Accra (a 40 minute drive), this man preached in Twi.  I think he tried to sneak in a little English to help us Obruni's understand what he was saying, but he was primarily speaking in Twi.  He was preaching up a storm and when the bus was beginning to slow down to let him off at his stop in Accra, he came around and gathered his offerings (a common practice here for "bus preachers") and hopped off the bus, and then, we were off to Kumasi.

Now, I knew that Ghana roads were bad.  I mean, I've been up to the northern Volta region...I live in Doryumu...but that road from Accra almost mid-way to Kumasi is some pretty rough road.  Stacy and I kept ourselves busy by playing Phase 10 for the majority of that rough road, but it was so crazy you had to hold on to the seat in front of you at times for fear that you would simply throw yourself forward into the person's lap in front.  And playing a card game on a road like that...not an easy task!  Let's just say that John was sent after flying cards a few times!  (But, I won the game in the end...big time!)

To keep ourselves occupied, we started up a movie "While You Were Sleeping".  It's one of my favorites!  I think I seriously watch that movie almost on a monthly basis!  So Stacy and I jumped and bounced and laughed along to Sandra Bullock until we came to the mid-way point and had a little time to get out and walk around.

We got out, got a little snack, and were quickly back on the bus as it was honking to leave.  No rest at the rest stop!  The rest of the road from that point on was paved though.  No dust.  No crazy bumps that threw you to each side of the bus.  The only problem was the extremely annoying and violent Gollywood (Ghana's Hollywood) movie.  Let's just say that they are like the spanish soap operas...times 10.

But, finally, we made it to Kumasi and to Louise's little flat.  She is staying in a beautiful little place back away from the main road.  The flat that she is renting is owned by a couple that own a plant nursery.  Their gardens are absolutely amazingly gorgeous.  We had such a delicious fresh salad and our spaghetti for dinner had basil straight from the garden.  So yummy!  But besides just the veggies, the flowers and plants and all the rest are just gorgeous!  It's been so restful just being here, chatting, hanging out together, and enjoying a little company.

Tomorrow's plan...more of the same.  Sleeping in (with no crying children to wake me up or no small kids barging in to get chalk from my room at unusually early hours), taking walks, enjoying quiet time...I'm excited and the break and look forward the days of rest ahead!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Community Entry 2012 Begins

This is sure to be a doosy of blog, so settle in and get ready to READ!!

Today was a really amazing day and the first time that I’ve gotten to do anything remotely “rescue-like” in almost a year!!  Getting Faith Roots up and running has been such a priority to me, to all of us here at City of Refuge, that we haven’t had much time or opportunity to do many community entry events, investigations, negotiations, etc for quite some time.

But, as the second Children’s home gets closer and closer to being completed, we have begun to prepare for child rescues…and today was our first day of community entry.
In the past, we have been primarily working lakeside.  We see a child who is fishing out on the lake, find the master, and then negotiate with the fishing master for the child’s release.  This is a looooong process and in some cases, we are still negotiating for the same children’s release YEARS after our first community entry into certain areas.  But, we are all about relationship instead of paying off a slave-owner.  We are about development and education.  And in no way to we ever offer a bribe or pay off to the fishermen for a child’s release.

But, this time, we wanted to come at it from a different angle.  You see, the problem of slavery here in Ghana is two-fold.  We talk about it from the angle of “sending communities” and “receiving communities”.  The coastal fishing communities are where the Volta fishermen will come down, purchase children, and bring them up with them.  The coastal communities are what we call “sending communities” while the Volta fishing communities are what we call “receiving communities”.  We realized several years back that while we can do continual work at the lakeside, rescuing endless numbers of children and doing development type projects and education among the people there, unless the problem is stopped at the ROOT…the coastal communities, then the problem will just continue.  And out of that idea, 7 Continents was birthed.  A single mother’s women empowerment program in coastal fishing communities aimed and empowering and educating women so they can provide for their families and selling their children never becomes an option.

So, this time around, we wanted to try that ROOT approach in even our rescues.  Ultimately, the goal of City of Refuge is not necessarily to bring gobs of children here to live with us, it is to reunite children with their families and enable the families to provide an education for their children.  So, we headed out to Lalonya and its surrounding communities, where both Abigail and DK were from, and Dora and Mary were rescued from.  We have hired Abigail and DK’s uncle, James, to help us during these investigations as he is from that area and was a child slave himself (now he is 29 and just finished senior high school).

We arrived in Lalonya around 11 am this morning and picked up the assembly man (like the mayor of a given area) and went to the first village where we were to do community entry.  The journey to Lalonya was such an interesting one for me.  I kept thinking about Dora and Mary and their many tears leaving that place last August and what they must have been thinking during that whole time.  I think about Abigail and DK—DK so strong that he said he had to check out City of Refuge before agreeing to move in with us.  I see so many changes in them, so much good that has come of our guardianship of them, and I see so much promise in what they could do in this country—when they finally have a voice to speak up.  

As I looked around at the scenery before me, it was unlike anything I’d seen before.  Lalonya is surrounded by salt fields and lagoons.  The salt fields are places where ocean water has been pumped in, the sun dries it out and hired workers go out to the fields to harvest the salt into large piles, where they bag it and sell it.  Piles of salt were everywhere…some pure white like piles of snow…others covered in the dusty sand of the ocean nearby…and some covered with branches sewn together to prevent it from blowing away.  You could see the workers out in the fields…no telling how old they were, but I can guarantee that there are children working in those fields.

The lagoons were just as interesting…a mixture of fresh and salt water, the lagoons are places for small tilapia fish to reside.  The lagoons are shallow waters, some only reaching ankle deep, while other places are probably waist high.  Groups of children were gathered out in the waters with large metal bowls.  They step on the small tilapia fish with their toes and pull them up and put them in the bowls.  They stand there forever just marching up and down on these fish and putting them in their bowls.  Out of all the people we saw in the lagoons, only ONE was an adult.  A fishing trade entirely run by children.

When we arrived in the first village, our community entry begins with meeting with the village chief.  There are all sorts of rules that govern meeting with the chief.  First of all, you always have to greet in a certain way, which I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it because it’s a call and response type of greeting in the local language!  You also have to be careful not to cross your legs (especially girls), have to only gesture with your right hand (otherwise you are being offensive), need to shake hands from right to left (or is it left to right…I never can remember!).  

After that, we discuss what we do and talk to the chief about the laws that govern human trafficking and child labour in this country (it was made illegal in 2005, not that it is actually prosecuted very often, but it is there!).  Finally, we find out what the chief knows about the situation in his own community, if anyone had sent their children to the lakeside for payment, and discuss the importance of education for children—that children should have the freedom to BE CHILDREN and not have to do the work of an adult at an early age.  

The first chief that we met with was a younger guy.  Usually chiefs are quite old, so I was surprised when the chief came to the door.  We followed our usual protocol for community entry and when we got talking about if any families send their children away, the chief was adamant that they hadn’t.  But, he made sure to let us know that HE himself, sends his own children away to be shepherds (those that wander with the cows) until they are 14 and then he sends them to school.  We really got after the chief about that situation.  We come to them and talk about the importance of education, and the chief himself sends his own children away to wander around with the cows.  They are practically adults by the time he sends them to school, which leads to all kinds of problems (early pregnancies, marriages, etc).  In the end, we told the chief that we would not provide help for his family until he showed an attempt at being an example for his community.  But, we did discover three children from that community (even after the chief had originally said that no one sends their children away to the lake) that had been sent away (3 girls, ages 3 years to 10 years approx.).  We were able to get names and contact information for those children so that we might be able to locate them.

The next village we came to was completely FILLED with children.  I mean, FILLED!  We saw probably three times more children than we saw adults.  And we noticed the lack of a primary school.  The whole time I was there, I saw only ONE child in a school uniform, even though government schools were to have started back up today.  When we sat down with this chief, he said that the biggest problem that they had in their community was lack of education.  It wasn’t that the people sent their children away to the lakeside, but that there was only a nursery and kindergarten school available and even though it was a government school, it was run by the community and the lack of money kept children out of school.  And it was true…the kids weren’t attending school!  But, it wasn’t because of lack of desire to attend school (as the chief put it), but lack of putting their “money where their mouth is” on the parent’s behalf.  So, we discussed future education with the chief, about coming to their community to put together a workshop on the issue of education, and then we gave our well-wishes and left the chief’s house.

As we were walking out of the house, we noticed three young boys who had just brought in a load of fish to a woman who was standing outside of her house shouting at the three boys.  Right away, we could tell that these kids were not being treated as normal children (there are all kinds of signs to tell the difference between slave children and a master’s child).  We discovered that one boy was living with his grandparents and that he had spent several years on the lake and was just brought back to fish here.  He was only about 10 years of age, but had never been to school in his life.  We talked with the grandfather and found out that the boy was from his mother’s first marriage.  When she remarried and moved down to this village, this boy was used as a slave to help the step-father (a common practice here) so the other children could attend school.  We spoke with the step-father and will continue to educate and negotiate with this man for the boy’s release (whether this means that we will help get the boy to school or take him to be here with us, it is yet to be seen).

After talking with that man, we immediately saw this young girl, probably 8 or 9 years of age, cutting fish at a nearby house.  We had seen her earlier with her bucket of fish and went to talk with her mother.  Apparently, she works for a neighbor man collecting fish, is the second-born of her mother, doesn’t attend school, and the mother doesn’t really care much that she doesn’t attend.  She is also from a previous marriage, so the new father probably doesn’t see it as important either.  We spoke with the mother and will continue to education and negotiate with her for the girl’s release (whether this means that we will help the girl get to school or take her to be here with us, it is yet to be seen).

And finally, we ran into three little boys on our way out of the village who looked very mistreated (distended bellies, peeling skin from the salt, etc).  We went and met with the grandfather who said that he was sending them to school (which might have been partly true, but you could tell that they fished with the majority of their time).  The grandfather was very frustrated with our line of questioning and eventually, we ended up leaving, but we did get the children’s names and we’ll be back to check up on the boys and make sure that the grandparents have them in school and not solely out in the ocean fishing.

The next village we went to was Lalonya proper.  It is a larger village and I suppose the “capital” of that area.  We went and met with the chief who knew about the issues of child trafficking and labor and quickly agreed that something needed to be done with it.  He was a very wise and well-spoken man, so we were excited to be working with such an open and honest chief.  We set up a time next week to return to meet with the families of that village.  We will do an education event and discuss what the issue of child trafficking is, the laws that govern this issue in the country, and ways that they can be supported to do the best for their children.  This will also give us room to identify the neediest families (perhaps grandparents with orphaned children who have sent them away) and see what we can do to bring them here with us and give them a better chance at a brighter future.

The same thing happened in the next village, Goi.  We wanted to visit the chief there because we’d heard that the grandmother of the first children that we had talked about in our first village that morning, was in Goi.  She knew where she had them taken, so we wanted to check in with her and see what we could do to bring the children back.  We also heard news of an infant who was delivered several weeks ago by a young mentally handicapped girl in the community.  The baby, a boy I think, was left at the hospital as the young girl wasn’t able to breastfeed.  They’re unsure of what will happen next for the baby and aren’t sure if the next of kin are able to care for him.  Finally, we discussed a community education event and we will conduct one in this village next week as well.
All in all, the community entry was very successful.  We were able to identify about 8 children that have the possibility of being rescued (and either returned to parents or brought to live with us) and the possibility of actually dozens more.  

So, it’s begun!  The floodgates have been opened and we’re ready to bring them in.  Let’s see if we can get this house finished and house parents found because I have a feeling, these kids are going to be brought in FAST!

One more side-note that has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything in this post...usually on trips like this, I have been known to dehydrate myself so that I won't have to pee somewhere really random.  Well, I didn't do that this time...and both Stacy and myself had to find some pretty random places to pee.  Stacy had some kids lead her out into the bush and I had one of those three walled "bathrooms" found in most villages, expect the bathroom wall only camp up to my waist.  Good thing Stacy kept them occupied!  Go squatty potty!