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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Friday, August 31, 2012

One Child at a Time

When I first started this blog, a friend asked me to introduce one of our kids every week so they could get to know the children that I spent so much time with each day.

So, every week, I would spend time sharing about each child.  Their funny ways of communicating and how they operated.  It was a joy to reflect on my kids each week and share what I got to experience with my friends back home.

But, eventually, I ran out of kids!  At that point, we had 16 children, plus the Omorefe's 6.  Once those ones were done, we were quiet on the children front for quite some time.

But, I would like to start again.  To introduce you to the kids that I get to spend my days with.

One child at a time.

One life changed by the offer of freedom...freedom from the chains of slavery and freedom in Jesus.

Keep your eyes posted for my first child-introduction this next week!

Saying Goodbye Again

This has been a season of hellos and goodbyes.  I don't even know if I could think of all the volunteers that have come through here the past few months.  There have been so many!

So many familiar faces--people that have been a part of our Ghana family coming back to visit.

Faces from home that brought notes and love from home that shared that love with our kids and CORM family here.

And new faces--so many new faces with so much to give.

It's been a season of hellos and goodbyes.

But, tonight was a tough one.

Israel came a month ago, but his process has been a year in the making.  He wanted to come to just pray for people--build relationships with people and pray for them.  And he did that, with a gentle love.

And Steve...well, what can I say about Steve.  Humble, gentle, protective, servant-hearted.  He left tonight after three months with us and when he left, I could honestly say, "I love you my brother".  My family has expanded again.

Expansion is always good, but it's also painful when those who you have seen invest, love, laugh, and live here leave.

I know that God will bring them back at some point, but it was sad to see them go. 

I am praying that it will be the last goodbye...for a little while at least.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile...

So, this blog post might be a little bit of vomiting my emotions online (as my friend, Robin Beebe and I like to say about disclosing too much information), but for the sake of being real, I wanted to talk about something I've been struggling with for some time.

For those who have read my blog for awhile, you might remember me talking about our dear friend Andrea who came as a volunteer during February and March.  She was this amazing little package of encouragement and she was an absolute blessing to us during her time here.

Stacy and I often talked about starting to work out together, but for one reason or another (many of those reasons having to do with our love for chocolate), we never were able to actually buckle down and begin the process of losing weight.

But, with Andrea here...that all changed.  That little 5 foot tall girl got us working out almost every day and in one month, I was 10 pounds lighter and 10 times more sore than I had ever been before!

And then she left, and with her leaving came the April school break, and then the May rush of volunteers, which have yet to have stopped.  And so stopped our workout sessions.

I could feel my body and the weight coming back on.  But, I never knew what to do about it.  My life is just busy here...when is there ever time?

And then, this morning, I spent some time looking over pictures from the past few months and was just so disappointed in how much weight I have put back on in these past few months.  It's completely discouraging.

My weight has been this incredible burden that I have struggled with ever since I was 8 years old.  An up and down roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain, it's almost a constant thought in my mind.  It has separated me from relationships, has taken my confidence, has forced me to compensate with other things--leaning on my sense of humor or loyalty towards friends and family, believing that that is why I am loved.

I know this season has been stressful for me.  It has definitely been one of the hardest ones for me since coming to Ghana--the stress of running a school and the responsibility of 185 students in my hands, overseeing a staff of 18 teachers and other staff--this is not a job for the faint of heart.  And I know that that has contributed to my issues with my weight.

And it probably hasn't helped to have volunteers bring in the dark chocolate that they know I love!

But, really, I have had to come to the real root of this issue.

I can be a prideful person.  I can take on all the responsibility of this job, not asking for help or handing any of it off, afraid to be a burden or that someone else won't do it the way that I want it to be done.  I can make this place about me.  And it's not. 

I can lose my identity in my work.  I sometimes forget that it was God who gave this vision and it will be God who equips and leads this place.  There is only so much I can do and I can't do any of it without HIM!

And so, I have realized that I've taken myself from my place as "God's Beloved" and made myself the savior of my own life.  And honestly, it's just not working.  The stress...I don't want it.  And the weight--a physical manifestation of this stress--I don't want it.

So, I'm stepping back into my identity as God's Beloved...and letting him have the reigns again.

God, forgive me.  I surrender.  it all...

Long Vowels and Dipthongs

This "summer" has been an incredibly busy one and looking back over the month of August, I see this haze of back to school prep, frustration, and burn out.  It just hasn't been an easy season. 

That's not to say that there hasn't been significant good things that have come out of this time though.  I think of the volunteers that have kept our door revolving and out kids entertained and well loved.  I think of the changes that have come about in our new kids--the transformation in their eyes, the language development, the hugs--it's been powerful!

Needless to say, I wasn't too excited that I'd committed myself to training new teachers in a week long phonics training.  But, this past week crept up on me and my teachers arrived for training.

Last year, I taught a week long training for all of our teachers.  It was an incredibly frustrating experience.  They were overwhelmed by expectations and I was overwhelmed with the lack of interaction.  I was worried that this time, it was going to be exactly the same.

But, I came in to a room full of new teachers, a few teachers from last year, and teachers from other ministries that we work with--open and ready to hear about phonics.

And it went so well!

I felt confident in what I was teaching and teacher participation was awesome.  We had lots of different interactive activities that taught the lessons and I feel like, for the most part, my "class of students" left with a greater understanding of these concepts.

They now know their digraphs and r-controlled vowels.  They learned how to blend words and the importance of explicit sound instruction. 

And this week, though it left me incredibly exhausted, it also left me encouraged.

It was a completely different experience from what I saw last year.  The teachers were....well...teachable.  They were interested in learning and they desired the training.  And I think they were really receptive as to how to put it to use in the classroom.

There is still so far to go with teachers at our school and I know that there will probably be lessons where phonics content will have to be corrected, but we are one step closer to having our teachers approach learning in a different way.

It's got me excited!

Thank you long vowels and dipthongs for bringing together our teachers for the purpose of stronger instruction!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Going Away for the Weekend

My dear friend, Christy Lynch, has been in country for almost three weeks and I have been loving having her here.  Even with her here though, the busyness of summer camp and preparing for the next school year has really left us very little time to spend together.

This weekend, we are away from City of Refuge resting together at a hotel in Tema.  We are actually in Community 5, just around the corner from the old Freedom Center.  It brings back so many memories being here.  Walks with the kids.  Driving in each day from Community 3.  Ball games in the street.  My first 4 months in Ghana were spent HERE, and now I'm back relaxing at this amazing hotel.

It has been wonderful...reminiscing about Australia and life at home...chatting about friends and family and relationships and travels and life...and resting and enjoying time together.

Today, we woke up at 10 am...I mean, I don't know the last time that I slept in until 10 am...ate a late breakfast, and peeked outside to see whether we had pool-ready weather.  It was raining, so we went and got pedicures at the Accra mall instead and bought take-home chwarmas for dinner, and have just been hanging out, chatting, watching episodes of Parenthood and New Girl, and laughing.  It has been refreshing.  I just love quality time and this has been the perfect day.

This has been a breath of fresh air and a much needed escape before the school year begins.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Form of Relaxation

It's always an interesting to figure out ways to relax here.  I mean, we have 41 kids now here at the City of Refuge Children's Village...relaxation isn't the easiest thing to obtain.

But, today, I did a little relaxing doing one of my favorite things...cooking.

Chili...yummmmm...a little bit of home today with some black and pinto beans.  Perfect way to spend my day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Be Me

This season has been challenging for me, but I finally feel like I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

No, nothing has really changed about my situation.  I still have PILES of work to do and not enough time to get it all done.  I have teachers to finish hiring, the school year to plan, trainings to complete, curriculums to write, paperwork to finish...and all before school starts on September 11, with a school administrative staff of...well...me.  Mr. Francis is out with a dislocated shoulder.  Let's just say that I'm so glad that Stacy and Robin are around to give an extra helping hand and so glad for the team of volunteers here to keep the kids busy!

In any case, I think I'm starting to see and feel a little more freedom by realizing a couple of things.

1) This isn't about me.  Which happens to be what I keep hearing over and over and what God keeps showing me...this is about surrender.  The school is going to be fine with or without me.  God is going to work with or without me.  Yes, I want things to go a certain way, but God will do what He needs to do with or without me.  So, this STRESS about getting things done...it just has to be surrendered because if I'm being honest with myself...it's not about me.  And that is actually a relief.  I wasn't the one who has done all this work...God has.  And without Him sustaining me, well, this wouldn't have happened.  And without His faithfulness, this school would not even exist.  He gave the vision and He will bring it to pass.  I'm thanking God for that.

and 2) I have to protect my time so that I can fully engage in my ministry here.  And it's ok to take that time to take care of myself.  Sometimes, that is the hardest part about "taking time" is the guilt that comes with taking time instead of hanging with the kids or working at the school.

This week in Bible Study, we had some visitors with us from an organization that works at putting in wells in communities here in Ghana.   We were reading through Hebrews 4, talking about the Sabbath day of rest, and what that looks like for everyone.  One of the ladies spoke up and said that at her church, they operate on these three ways to take a Sabbath:
*Disconnect daily--turn off the computer, put away the paperwork, take out your Bible, a book or music...and disconnect from the world.  Take an hour before heading back into the ministry (whether that means heading home to minister with your family, or to our children's house to say good night, or whatever that looks like for you) to disconnect from everything that you have been doing that day.  (This is separate from your daily time with God.)
*Withdraw Weekly--take your family or yourself and pull away once a week from anything ministry-oriented so that you can make your family (or in my case...myself) a priority.  This doesn't even have to be a day away, but just withdraw from ministry-oriented stuff and make you and your family a priority for that day every week.
*Retreat Bi-Monthly--Get away for a weekend or even a day every other month. 

This was really great for me to hear from a woman who is a pastor at a church and who understands that great dichotomy between ministry in church, ministry in your family, and ministry for yourself.

Sometimes, I feel like I've lost me in the midst of City of Refuge Ministries.  I love my role here, that I've been welcomed in here as a director, that I get to be a part of the vision of this place, that so many amazing things have happened during my TWO YEARS here in Ghana, but I don't want to lose ME in the midst of all of that.

And those three key things really gave me permission to not lose me...

Yesterday, Stacy and I went to Accra to look for curriculum for the upcoming school year.  We wanted to get stuff done this week so that we weren't waiting until the last minute for all these things to be completed.  With the traffic in Accra, we ended up spending the majority of the day driving around in a taxi, but it really felt like that day to withdraw.  We ate some yummy chinese food for lunch at a restaurant we've never been to before.  We bartered our way through curriculum at the market (I got this compliment..."This isn't your first time buying books."  I felt Ghanaian as I got lower prices than our taxi driver, Joe, could get!).  And we waited for John and our friend Suzanne at a hotel eating french fries and drinking sodas.  It was actually a pretty fun and relaxing day.  A day to do something different.  To withdraw from the ministry, have a little bit of independence, and just be me.

I'm learning.  And it's feeling good.

Monday, August 6, 2012

GhanaAugust Begins Successfully!!!

Today was our first day of camp.  It was busy and full of kids and laughter and fun and running around.  The kids are tired out and I think the volunteers are even more tired!

This morning started with our opening and then the kids were split up into teams to practice soccer skills.  It was a struggle for some of them as they learned how fast…and sometimes…how slow time can move when you are doing an activity.  But the volunteers worked it out.  They did awesome!  I was so impressed with Christy and all the hard work that she did to get these kids working!

Bible time brought back so many fun memories.  Yes, it looks completely different from Swim and Gym’s Bible Time, but all in all, it’s the same.  The kids love to sing.  They love to dance.  They love to hear stories about God.  And it doesn’t matter what culture you are in, you are going to find opportunities to tell children about the love of God on their level.

So, we danced, we sang, and we told stories.  This summer, it all about being “Storytellers”.  We want to teach these kids the art of storytelling.  Jesus told stories to his audiences to help them understand more about the kingdom of God.  And these children can tell their own stories to those around them to help them understand the kingdom of God. 

After that, Kenneth and I took the community kids back home.  Our driver was gone, and I needed a little help with that huge bus, so he took over driving and I came with him to show him the way.  The kids helped a lot too.

When we got back, it was a mad dash to eat and then shoo the kids over to the basketball court for afternoon activities.

It was sweet to see all the kids working together to create team names and posters.  Even with the struggle of the English Language barrier (many of our new kids don’t yet speak English), the volunteers really did a great job leading them through the activities that Christy had planned.

When it was all over, Christy came to debrief a little about the day.  We talked about the staff participation (how to have them help us better), the volunteers level of exhaustion (pretty “up there”), and finally, she mentioned a sweet moment she was able to witness.  Israel was leading a team of older kids and before they left any activity, they prayed for the leader of that activity and prayed over the room for the next group to come in and participate.  What an amazing example of how to live in community for these older kids…and how to create a culture of prayer.  Sweet…sweet…sweet.

So, day 1 GhanaAugust Day Camp—Totally Successful!!  I am certainly grateful for all of our volunteers who freed me up to be able to get a little bit of work done and all the work they did with our kids today.  What an amazing blessing!!!

Our August Volta Trip--A trip of Hope

This weekend, we went to the Volta with our volunteers that are here for the GhanaAugust Day Camp.  For the first time on one of our trips up there that I have taken…it was actually quite slow.  We didn’t do a feeding program.  In fact, we didn’t have a lot to do at all.  We just focused on the rescue of one particular boy and a small education program with a local village what we are working with.  It was pretty relaxed, which is nice for a trip to the Volta.

The trip to the Volta always begins at midnight.  We leave then so we can make it to Dumbai where we catch a ferry at 8:00 am to the other side of the lake.  Then, the journey continues to Benjamase, a two hour journey from the ferry.  Once we arrive, we settle in, eat a little bit, and then sleep…something that we are just not able to do much on the bumpy, long, middle of the night ride up to the Chimaru district of the Northern Volta region.

In the afternoon, we walked down to the lakeside and boarded the boat for the OuterBank, a village called AdaKope.

We have been working in AdaKope since early 2010, when DK and Abigail were identified, negotiated for, and released.  Since then, we’ve done education in that community, visit there once a month, and have negotiated for the release of several other children. 

This community has been incredibly difficult to penetrate and it is with great frustrations that we have been returning time and time again, only to find the child trafficking situation worse than before and highly negative reactions to our arrival (like hiding the children, or even snatching them away from our very hands). 

We were hoping to rescue two particular children from AdaKope during the course of the 18 child rescue that began in May, but these two particular children (trafficked by slavemaster Delali), have still not been released.  Yet, others were identified and have been fought for.  We were able to identify Sammy and his older brother Kessi, which we had discussed with their slavemaster years ago when DK and Abigail were rescued.  When they had been identified several years back, we had been told that they were the children of one of the slavemasters, though their physical condition showed otherwise.  This time though, we found out the real story, and their mother signed over guardianship to City of Refuge for both Sammy and Kessi.  Unfortunately, though we had been able to rescue Sammy the day the mother signed over release, Kessi remained trapped in the debt of his father.  Time and time again, he was fought for, only to be left behind again.  The mid-July trip, Kessi was leaving with the CORM group, and he was literally taken from out of the hands of our team and led back home, his mother receiving beatings along the way.

So, John and Stacy went and met with the head of the household in a community down here on the oceanside and begged them for release.  They granted the release of Kessi and let the slavemaster and the mother know that he was to be released.  So, upon our arrival in AdaKope, we headed straight to Kessi’s mother to find out where he was, to issue the release agreement from the head of the family, and to bring Kessi home.  We found out that he was out on the boat and was headed in soon, so our boat went out to meet him and his feet did not even reach his village, but went straight into the boat.  We didn’t want to risk him being taken again, so his mother came out to the boat to wish him farewell.

Through her tears, her heart was clear…get him to a safe place.  And we promised her, when she is able to find a way to run away from that place, she can come back anytime to get her children.  She loves her kids, cherishes them, but the cultural guidelines for marriage have made it impossible for children to do anything but work for the future of the new marriage’s children.  We are praying for her freedom, so that her family can be back together again.

On our way down to the boat, we saw two young girls.  One was brought to the village chief (who ran away when he heard the boat engine coming across the lake) to receive healing from the fetish priest in their village.  She is mute.  Israel came and prayed over her, but we couldn’t take her with us until permission is granted by the chief. 

The other girl was a young girl names Agnes, maybe 13 or 14 years old.  She was brought from the north (a primarily Muslin region of Ghana) to work for a man in AdaKope.  He knew that he was in trouble when we identified her and quickly signed over her release.

The next day, we slept in, hung out with the kids outside the gate, and then went to a village called Grubi to meet with the village chief.  A couple years back, John and Stacy went to that village to discuss the issue of trafficking.  When they arrived, the people didn’t want to listen as they were worried about their crops.  It hadn’t rained in a long time and as farming is the primary source of income in the area, the people needed rain.  So John and Stacy prayed, and that night, the rains began.  They rained out the crusade that John and Stacy were leading the next night.  The rains came and didn’t stop until late in the evening.  And then, the people POURED in for the crusade.  They came to hear the word of an almighty God that can answer prayers for rain.  They came to hear about the issue of trafficking.  Their ears and eyes were opened. 

So, we’ve returned to this community to begin work with fishermen who have moved into the community and have trafficked kids in.  We discussed with the chief the work that CORM does and then offered a solution: teaching the fishermen how to do fish farming instead.  So, that community will be our pilot community for fish farming.  Now, we need to find trained individuals who can help us to pilot this program, can train our on-the-ground volunteers how to oversee the project, and then begin the work of eradicating this issue from this community.

After the meeting and spending some time playing with the children of this community, we took off for home and spent the rest of the day napping, playing with kids, having conversations with each other, reading, and even into the evening, catching fireflies.  It was a reflective journey for me as I watched a very scared Kessi and kept praying for understanding and healing.

We left early on Sunday morning to meet the ferry for the trip over to Dumbai.  We got on the road and with all the rains that had poured down during our time in Benjamase, we realized that the roads were in very poor condition.  Covered in puddles and slippery mud, we began the careful journey to meet the ferry.

At one point, the entire road was covered in a puddle, so the driver chose to drive through on the right side of the road, only to discover that the puddle was extremely deep on that part of the road and the bus immediately gotstuck up past its wheels in mud and water.  So, next, began the adventure of figuring out how to get our bus unstuck and still make it to the ferry in time.  Amazingly enough, about 10 women just appeared on the road to help push us out and a couple of motorcyclists stopped as well.  We flagged down a four wheel drive vehicle, hoping to hitch up our bus and have them help push us out, but they sped on by.  So, we all got out of the bus and with 20+ people along the sides and at the back of the bus, we pushed…and pushed…and pushed.  In the end, it looked like the bus just kept getting deeper and deeper and we were going to be stuck for a long time.  But, we tried again…forward, reverse, forward, reverse…push, push, push…and suddenly, WE WERE FREE!  Covered in muddy water, but free. 

At that point, we had about 15 minutes left to get to the ferry, but the ferry was going to be arriving to load in only 5 minutes.  So, John called the ferry captain and told him to wait for us.  We arrived late and pulled straight to the front of the line as Johnbull ran up to the ferry to convince him to let us on.  (As a note, if we didn’t make this ferry ride, we’d have to wait until the evening to go.)  And we got on, with a lot of grumblings from the others who had arrived two hours before to wait for the ferry, but we had favor and made it on!

Our arrival home from these trips is always one of my favorite parts of being away.  We pull into the children’s village and the kids begin jumping up and down, wave their hands, and run after the bus.  When we all unload, we are in for hugs and kisses and stories about the weekend we were away.  I love all the loving.  It is a feeling of unadulterated joy to be given so many hugs and so much love!

It was fun to see Sammy following the bus in bouncing steps, hoping for a sighting of his brother Kessi.  And Kessi had saved him some of his Sprite, happy to see his little brother.  Abigail saw Kessi and ran to the house to let DK know that he was here, smiling ear to ear, happy with the release of yet another one of her friends.

And sweet Agnes looks like a different girl even one day later.  The girls celebrated the arrival of a new girl (of which there have been only a few with these 18 rescues) and got her clothes and settled into the new room.  The quick smiles and goodnight hugs last night were such a joy to experience. 

I talked to Stacy this weekend about the hard work of after-care for these kids.  The childlike freedom is such a pleasure to witness, but it’s the after-care, the actual healing that becomes the hard part.  To confront their past, allow grace and love to do its work in their life, and walk forward ready to take on the world…that is the hard, day in and day out process of after-care.

I celebrate these children’s rescues.  I celebrate the smiles and the freedom.  I celebrate.  And I look forward to the day when they are grown and can look back and say, “That was the day I became free!”.  Praise God that he is a God of Justice…and Freedom…and Love.

More Heart

It’s been awhile since I’ve written as I’ve been busy with new volunteers coming in, the planning and preparation of the August Day Camp, and a trip to the Volta.  It’s been nice to get my mind off of school business for awhile and it has been wonderful to have friends here.  It is just a breath of fresh air to see a familiar face (or eat some familiar dark chocolate!!).

As I wrote in the last blog post, I have been stuck in this period of time where I have just been discouraged by so many things.  Discouraged by my missing computer.  Discouraged by the overwhelming amount of work that I have to get done this month.  Discouraged by the fact that my camera wasn’t working right.  Discouraged by my broken Kindle.  Discouraged because I simply need to find more of “me” here.  Discouraged…discouraged…discouraged…

It hasn’t been an easy season.

This weekend, one of my friends was asking what God has been teaching me through this all and I just felt like all I could say was that I feel as though I’ve been walking through a season of “stripping away”.  So often, I find myself here, plugging along, working on projects and finding myself too busy to even find time with the kids…to find time in the Word…to find time to rest…to find time to play my guitar…to just find time.  But with a stolen computer, a lost internet USB drive, a broken Kindle…well, I’ve been given…time.  Frustrating time, but time all the same.

This past week, I keep coming back to a story that Stacy and John have mentioned many times.  Have you heard of Heidi Baker?  If you haven’t, you have to check her out.  Their website is www.irismin.org.  A beautifully passionate woman and her husband pursuing Christ for the people of Mozambique. 

Stacy tells the story of a friend of hers from her hometown in South Dakota who went to go hear Heidi Baker speak back in the States.  He went expecting to hear two hours of stories about the work of God being done in Africa, the miracles of healing, the joy of the children in their children’s home.  And when Heidi Baker came to the stage, she said the same six words for her whole talk, and then walked off the stage.

Pointing to her head, she said, “Less of this”.

Pointing to her heart, she said, “More of this”.

Over and over again…less of head, the thinking, the doing, the working, the trying, the people pleasing, the busyness.

Over and over again…more of the heart, the love of Christ, the hugs and kisses, the laughter, the time spent listening, the wiping of tears (some sometimes behinds), the healing of the sick, more, more, more of the heart.

The man left the conference so frustrated with the money that he had spent to go and hear these same six words over and over again...until he realized that the reason he was so frustrated was just what Heidi Baker had addressed...less head...more heart...and it transformed his life.

And so, I keep trying to replace my discouragement with this perspective.  It isn’t about me.  It isn’t about this school.  It isn’t about these teachers or my administrator or trainings or computers or broken kindles…it is about the love of Christ.

Less head…more heart…

It isn’t easy to overcome discouragement.  In fact, it’s a battle.

But, I seeing the smiles of the kids from the windows of our bus as we arrived home last night…receiving the endless hugs…dancing with the girls…laughing with volunteers…these are the reminders to live more with my heart and less with this crazy head of mine.

Lord, continue to remind me how to live like your Son…less head…more heart.