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, September 25, 2012

Made to Crave--Post 1

So, today, I wanted to start a series of posts of things that I'm learning from this book called "Made to Crave" by Lysa TerKeurst. 

I was given this book by a dear friend of mine after she read my post about struggling with weight gain.  I think I wrote the post just a few weeks back, but I so appreciate her support in helping me pursue health.

If you know me at all, you'd know that my weight has been a life-long struggle.  Ups and downs...frustrations and times of peace...lack of motivation and gung-ho going for it...confidence and despair.  Let's just say that this has been something that has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. 

From the way that things have worked in my life, I have realized that honesty and openess are one of the first steps towards true healing.  So, today begins my journey through this book...and hopefully towards a healthier me!  And I share it with you in hopes of the healing that will come through this process, but also to welcome you in on the journey (and perhaps encourage you to come alongside as well!).

Last night, I had about 20 minutes to myself (before story night with the kids began and before I fell asleep) where I got to read a little bit of this book and I was convicted and challenged.  Here are some quotes and thoughts from my reading last night. 

"I think we all get to a place sometimes in our lives when we have to give a brutally honest answer to the question, 'How am I doing?'.  It's not really a conversation we have with a friend or family member.  It's one of those middle-of-the-night contemplations when there's no one to fool.  There's no glossing over the realities staring us in the face.

I know certain things about myself need to be changed but it is easier to make excuses than it is to tackle them head on.  Rationalizations are so appealing."

And then she went on to give a list of rationalizations that we say to ourselves as an excuse instead of dealing with the problems...things like:

"I'm good in every other area.

I make so many sacrifices already."

I, too, can add to my list of excuses for not finding a healthy balance to my life.  Things like:

I'm so busy.  How will I make the time to make the changes?

The food here in Ghana is so different.  How can I create a healthier diet for myself when I'm not in control of the foods that are cooked?

After a full day at school and then a full night at home, how do I get the motivation and the energy to work out?

But, I suppose it's time to just come to the truth.  I, and I alone, am responsible for the way that I look and feel.  And I, with God's help, can make a change.

She writes:

"The cycle continues day after day, week after week, year after year.  A whole lifetime could be spent making excuses, giving in, feeling guilty, resoling to do better, mentally beating myself up for not sticking to my resolve, feeling like a failure, and then resigning myself to the fact that things can't change. 
And I don't want to spend a lifetime in this cycle."

I don't want to either.  I'm tired.  30 years old and struggling with the same thing I struggled with 20 years ago.  It's frustrating!

She goes on to tell the story of the rich young ruler whom Jesus asked to give up everything and come and follow him.  She writes:

"Jesus didn't mean this as a sweeping command for everyone who has a lot of money.  Jesus meant this for any of us who wallow in whatever abundance we have.  I imagine Jesus looked straight into this young man's soul and said, 'I want you to give up the one thing you crave more than me.  Then come, follow me.'"

It reminds me of this beautiful song by Meghan Isaacson.  It starts out:

If the sunset today is the last one I see
I will praise You, Lord
If this note on my lips is the last one I sing
I will praise You, Lord

You have my worship,
You have my adoration
You have my praises, Lord

If the lessons you bring don’t fit within my plan
I will praise You, Lord
If the nearness of You never soothes me again
I will praise You, Lord

I remember a particular season in my life when God was really speaking to me about whether my "future partner" was more important than Him.  I feel like God really walked me through that decision.  If I had to choose between a husband and family and a relationship with God...which would I choose?  And that decision of faith changed my walk with the Lord. 

I think this is very much that same decision...what do I crave more than God?

When I think about it...sometimes I do crave a good book more than God's Word.

And sometimes I do crave chocolate instead of time in worship.

And sometimes I would rather watch a little bit of a movie than spend time in prayer.

And all of those things have added to my weight problem...the chocolate (and a variety of other sweets), the sedentary ways that I choose to "relax", the cravings for "more" when I'm already satisfied.

To these things, Lysa writes:

"God made us capable of craving so we'd have an unquenchable desire for more of Him, and Him alone.  Nothing changes until we make the choice to redirect our misguided cravings to the only one capable of satifying them....But Satan wants to do everything possible to replace our craving for God with something else."

My soul resonates with this so well.

How easily I am led toward something that just doesn't fill, but ends up leaving me hungry for more.

As I look back through my journaling from the past few weeks, I see over and over again, my hearts cry...

Lord, I want more of you.

And yet, I choose more of everything else.

Lord, today, will you remind me of where this craving for more comes from?  Will you show me your presence, even in changing my desires for foods and exercise?  Will you come?  I am longing for more of you!  Help me to find those places where my cravings are misplaced...misguided...lost...and help me to bring them into your presence.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Faith Roots International Academy--Year 3 begins

School has started up again and it has been a couple of crazy weeks for me, settling into the overseeing of 16 teachers and 185 students.

I look back often and think of how far we have come.  It’s hard to even imagine that all this has happened so quickly.

I came here in July 2010 to be a tutor for their newly rescued children.  John and Stacy had told me that the children were enrolled in school, but struggled because of their very little previous school experience.

So, I came, with a handful of assessments and ideas of how to get these children up to grade level.

I didn’t know what I was in for.

I stepped off the plane and John and Stacy let me know that the kids wouldn't be returning to school that year, but we'd be starting our own. 

And then the dreaming began.  We talked a lot in the beginning about what we want the building to look like.  Stacy, our visualizer, drew rough sketches on scrap pieces of paper as we drove down the bumpy roads of Ghana.  Together, we came up with the name of the school, Faith Roots International Academy...rooted and established in love.  Ephesians 3:14-21 are the theme verses I've chosen for my life, and to see us come together to envision a school that will raise up children who can live fully in God's love and calling for their lives.

We recruited a couple of teachers and started up in our house in Tema, community 5.  I had 10 students crammed into my little room at the house and we struggled those first few months to understand one another.  Not only was there the challenge of understanding one another literally (our accents were so different from one another), but also the challenge of understanding a different way of instruction and learning.

I will never forget the day that Valentina, our tall Vale-girl, told me that if I wanted respect in the classroom, I would have to cane them all.  I explained to them that that would never happen.  They would have to learn to respect me for me...and not for the cane.  And...eventually they did.

That year was an adventure.  Overseeing teachers almost twice my age.  Overseeing students on many different grade levels (I had four different grade levels in my class of students).  Behavior problems.  And then, came our big move to Doryumu.  We all moved to ONE HOUSE...our staff, our children...all of us together.  40 people in one place.  It was a recipe for sleep-deprivation, that's for sure!

We had school in a little house down the road that we painted bright blue.  The building had no electricity and no water.  I didn't have a curriculum, but taught to each of the children's needs.  I But, I saw such growth that year.  All of my students grew by leaps and bounds, several grade levels ahead of where they were before.  And this past year, I saw even more growth.  I think that skills that were taught that first year, has brought about amazing success in their now-present classrooms.

The next year, we moved our school to our Children's Village.  No more blue school house.  No windows.  No doors.  But, an office.  Electricity eventually came.  Running water and toilets (though I sometimes didn't dare to use them after the children had paid their visit there throughout the day).  And we added students...100 more students from the community.  Which meant more teachers...and training.

So, last year, it was 121 students (the 1 was my Rosemary, who was doing her own class in my office all year long).  We had 8 teachers and I was busy trying to memorize all of the students names, create an environment of love and support for our students, and provide the training that was necessary for our teachers.

It seemed as if the obstacles were endless.  Parents and teachers alike were not used to the "no caning" policy in our school and I was challenged countless numbers of times by parents and staff desiring a more "disciplined" approach to education.  This arguement still continues.  It's a one step forward and two-steps back with this whole issue.

And then there came the overwhelming desire to be a part of what City of Refuge was doing on a daily basis and still needing to be here to oversee things as well.  Staff stepped out of their roles and into other roles in our school, which put our students in positions of being shamed in class and me in the position of constantly correcting staff.  Desiring to see staff who are so transformed by Christ that they look past the culture of Ghana and past my own personal culture and see that Culture of Christ that we want to instill in these children.  It doesn't come with shame and guilt and canes---but with a love that fearless.

And this year, yet again, we have expanded and things have changed and we are beginning to look more and more like a school and less and less like an uncompleted building.  We have added a whole wing to the school, seperated some double classes out, and added new classes to our school.  We have a few new teachers and a few returning teachers.  And now we see a staff of 16 teachers in and out of our school on a daily basis, teachers of different cultures and backgrounds working together to see that these children recieve the BEST that they can get.  We have 185 students on a daily basis come through our doors.

It has been incredibly busy for me...overseeing all of these things and trying to keep up with the exponential growth that is happening in this place!  Any given day, you would see me in a whole lot of roles---from holding crying little ones, to helping sub in a classroom, to discussing behavior, conducting interviews, helping with naptime, providing keys for our numerous doors (yes, we do have doors and windows in many of our classrooms now!), and a variety of other things.  It's hard to keep up with, but it is also good.

As I look ahead to this next year, there is a mantra that I keep repeating to myself.  "These children are the future of Ghana."  Every problem I run into with GES, or getting ripped off in the market, or dealing with dishonest people, or struggling to help teachers obtain the vision...I have to remember that these children are the future of Ghana.  They are going to be our next legislatures.  They are going to be the next assemblymen and women (like a mayor).  They will be in the eduction system, in the police departments, in the social welfare departments, in the courts.  They will be the leaders of the next generation and that is where my hope is stored.

Two weeks into our school year, I have already faced my share of tough challenges.  They continue to come and I realize that this job has less to do with overseeing the education of these children and more to do with developing people into an image of Christ.  And that is hard. 

It's not easy when the common response to illness is to take children to the shrine. 

It's not easy when children and families in our school face the HIV virus each and every day.

It's not easy when our girls, at 13 and 14 years of age, are being challenged to give up their education and start a family with any number of boys.

It's not easy when we look at our village and see and hear the same stories again and again...the story of the fatherless home.

There is so much to be done.

So, what does year 3 for Faith Roots hold?  It holds HOPE for the 185 children attending.  It holds the education of 35 children who wouldn't have had the option before.  It holds the key to a future...not just for the children, but for this country.

I'm continually overwhelmed at what this year might hold.  Everytime I look at what we do here, it seems so vast, but God is good...He will do what he wants with this place. 

So, here is to year 3 of Faith Roots and all that is in store for us here.

My Girl Portia

Portia is going home soon.  As many know, she has been going through the process of being adopted for close to two years now.  A beautiful couple that we love and are a part of our CORM family have been pursuing her adoption and we are so excited for the future that is ahead of our little Portia-girl.

But, it can also be a challenge to let go…

I think back to the time when we had to say goodbye to baby Princess, knowing that she was going to loving parents who would give her the best care.  It just isn’t easy when someone has grabbed your heart, to let them go, without pieces of your heart going with them.

I think that was what was going on with me this past week.  A case of assessing my heart.

I look at my girl-Portia and know that her life is going to be this beautiful picture of God’s love for her…giving her a family…choosing her…adoption.  Adoption is the story of redemption for us as believers in this crazy world.

And yet, I will miss that little ball of energy.

When I talked with Robin and Reid about it the other day, with tears in my eyes, Robin told me that the reason we feel so much for her leaving is because Portia has been loved so well.

And it’s true.  You can’t escape from Portia’s little grasp.  She forces her love on everyone, and it’s easy to reciprocate.

Her cuddles.  Her kisses.  Her hand holding.  The hours that I have sat with her when teachers couldn’t handle her wild energy in class.  The conversations that have made me laugh with her frank vocabulary.  Her quick sayings that express such character like “Put your hand in my armpitty”.

Her love is simply…unescapable.

And I suppose when you experience a love like that, you can’t help but mourn the loss of it. 

It isn’t as though I won’t ever see her again.  In fact, I’m planning on visiting her in Tennessee this New Year.  But distance is challenging.

And I do know all about distance and its effect on relationships.

So, while I mourn her leaving (though it is still awhile out), I am also taking advantage of all the hugs and kisses and hand holding and flying leaps into my arms.

Last night, she came to visit after dinner.  When it was time for her to go back to her house, I picked her up and held her close.  I tickled her tummy as I walked with her back to the house.  We talked about school the next day and getting a good night’s rest.  And then she asked for a hug and kisses.  And so we hugged and kissed and then hugged and kissed again.  And then Malvin, Edwin, and Joel wanted to join in the hugging and kissing, so they got their fair share too.

So sweet.  And yet, walking home, I felt the loss again.  A little bittersweet.  The sweet hope of the future for my girl, Portia.  The sadness of losing the everyday touch of one of my loved ones.

Alex and Hannah

Alex and Hannah were rescued in June from a small Oceanside community called Kpitchakope.  If you remember my story about Florence, they were rescued at the same time.


They were living with their grandmother, a common tale in that community and in this culture as a whole, and fishing each day.  Hannah had been attending school previously, but when times turned hard, it was back to work for both of them. 


Each day, they were sent out to the lagoon to bring in small fish that their grandmother would then gut, fry, and sell each day.  For a six and seven year old, it was not a childhood at all, but a day of losing track of time, forgetting how to smile, and salt-water.


The first week that they came, it was fun to see them light up at Justice’s toys, playing ball together outside, laughing at movies, and overall, enjoying life! 


When they first arrived, I thought that Alex’s name was Alice because of how they pronounce the “x” so softly here.  Eventually, I figured it out.  Which is good because Alex is ALL BOY!  He loves to play ball, rough house with the other boys, and overall, he is a very easy-going little boy.


Hannah, on the other hand, is not quite as easy going as her younger brother.  Everything easily makes her cry.  The second day that she was with us, she saw all the older children heading out to school and snuck over to the front door of the school and cried and cried and cried, wanting to go to school and thinking that she wouldn’t be allowed.  Of course we would put her in school (as she is in now), but we always give our new kids a transition period to learn a little bit of the English language before placing them in our English immersion program at school.  She is a super-sensitive little girl, but tough as nails as well and laughs with gusto.


They have been placed in school now. 


Today, I watched as Alex, with his high top sneakers, wrote his ABC’s in his kindergarten class and then turned and helped Amenyo with his once he was finished.


And Hannah is full of smiles each day as she heads out to her first grade class.  She is in love with learning and wants to impress her teacher with all the new things that she is learning.


They still struggle with the language.  They struggle with the transition.


But, I really see their transformation more and more as I watch them Sunday mornings at our church gatherings.  Alex will come up to the front and dance the freedom dance with all our little boys.  Hannah will clap away with all the other girls, singing at the top of her voice.


It’s a joy to see them become the children they were created to be.  I thank God for their freedom every day.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Yesterday was one of those days...

I came in to the school office after three solid days of registration, registration, registration...and I finally had a little peace and quiet. 

That meant that it was time for me to catch up on my emails that I haven't been able to get answered in weeks.  So, as I sat down to get some emailing done, I dealt with the craziness that is slow internet access.

I tried to attach documents to emails only to have my email bring up an error message, my entire email erased. 

So, I tried to figure out another way to do it.

On top of that, different behavior problems came in and out of the office.  We're seeing who our problem kids are going to be this year. 

Lots of sick kids coming to sleep in the office.

Quite a few coming through to purchase books.

By the end of the day, I still hadn't had a chance to leave the office, hadn't gotten all my emailing completed, and since our bus driver wasn't back yet from taking Lucy to the market, I needed to go and take all the kids home in our school bus. 

So, I trekked over to the house for the keys, only to find an enormous Omorefe boys fight happening which I needed to deal with before I headed out to the bus.  After putting a few problem solving skills to use, and giving the boys jobs that needed to be done before I returned, I was out the door to drop off the students.

Our school bus is a pretty big bus and I am always a little more nervous while driving that bus than any other vehicle.  But, it wasn't too bad yesterday.  The students guided me to the places that I needed to go and I actually had this strange experience...feeling like this was such a normal thing for me...a white woman driving a school bus full of children in Ghana.  It wasn't until I got strange looks and some "obruni"'s called out that I realized that my life here...well, it's just not the norm.

In any case, I made it back an hour later and then had to rush back to the school to finish up a few things there...sorting through the feeding fees, transport fees, and stationary monies that came in for the day.

Afterwards, it was back to the house for dinner and then getting the kid's homework finished, chores completed, baths taken, and storytime before bed.  By the time all that was done, I was exhausted, and it was only 8:00 pm.

I turned on some worship music, hit the shower, and then was in bed and asleep before my clock turned 9.

It was just one of those days...busy and sometimes frustrating, exhausting, and altogether...I was happy to finally close my eyes and declare that day finished.

One super sweet moment though was our storytime before bed.  All the Omorefe boys gathered on pillows to hear a story, count the raindrops, look at the colors.  That was definitely a sweet way to end the day.  And they all went down to sleep without so much as a peep.  That is one good thing about having school again...they're all exhausted!

Here's to finishing out the week strong...and hopefully a little brighter than yesterday's frustrations...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Encouragement of Friends

More and more, I realize my need for my love language to be met through quality time with people that I love.

I quickly get overwhelmed by the craziness of my office, so knowing that friends are coming this weekend to spend their time cleaning and organizing where I don't have the time to do it...such a blessing.

Our weekly Bible study is a refuge to me as we connect over the word and laugh together and cry together.  That connection is an answer to prayer.

A long newsy email from one of my best friends and one from my sister is just what I needed to feel connected to those back home.

Many times, I get questions from my friends about things that they can send for me through those traveling through.  I always give them a list of items that I'm craving...
-peanut butter
-dark chocolate peanut m&m's
-tortillas (flour and corn)

But, the thing I crave most is that connection...that quality time...a handwritten letter...and thoughtful gift...words from a friend...

I'm so blessed to have so many in my life who are a constant source of encouragement.  I know that while I am far away, for many, I am never far from their minds.  That is a true blessing.

Gamali and Amenyo

It's sometimes hard not to have "favorites" when you face so many children day in and day out.  And perhaps favorites isn't the best word, but there are certain children here that I connect with differently than others.

As promised, I wanted to give you a post every week about one of our new kiddos so you can meet the precious faces of the kids I am lucky enough to spend my time with everyday.

Gamali and Amenyo are a couple of those children that I just connect with.  They are just flat-out adorable!

Gamali and his brother Amenyo were rescued from a village in the Volta region and were being used to bail water in their step-fathers boat.  Their mother is the sister of a fisherman that we have been working with for over 2 years for the release of his fishing children. 

When Gamali and Amenyo were identified, the primary concern was the treatment and health of the boys.  Besides the distended bellies from worms and the child labor conditions, both boys had severe nutrition problems.

Amenyo, especially, faced some pretty dire consequences of the poor nutrition.  His big belly, poor teeth, knobby knees, and protein-deficient hair, were enough to convince the mother to release the boys into our care.

The first day I met the boys, I was surprised at their size.  Gamali is probably about 4 years old and Amenyo around 6 or 7.  Usually, we don't see many boys Gamali's size out on the lake.  In fact, when Gamali arrived, we didn't even have clothes to fit his small frame, expecting children closer to 10 years like we usually see on the lake.

The village that the boys were taken from has no electricity, no school, and no church.  Instead, they have a hut that houses their village idol. 

The first time I met the boys, I remember thinking how small they were.  The second time I met the boys, they came running with big smiles on their faces for their hugs. 

Everyday, we see Amenyo grow closer to a healthy life.  He tires easily and falls down often.  We fill him full of vitamin-rich drinks and formulas to add to his 3 meals a day.  We are seeing a gradual improvement in his health.  And we're realizing that the road to health for Amenyo will require time.

One of my favorite Amenyo moments was at our dance party a couple of weeks ago.  It is not uncommon to see our older boys dress in funny costumes during these dance parties.  Our tall Aaron had those zip-at-the-knee pants on.  He took off one of the legs of the pants, hiked them up to his chest, and did a crazy chicken dance.  Amenyo got up out of his seat and laughed so hard, he was doubled over.  I looked at that beautiful face laughing and free, and laughed until tears were in my eyes.  That was the perfect moment of freedom for that little boy!  I loved it and wouldn't trade that picture in my mind for anything.

Some of my favorite moments with Gamali happen almost everyday.  As I walk to or from the school, Gamali sees me and comes running, full speed, towards me.  He throws himself at me with a giant leap and I catch him up in a giant hug.  He'll wrap his arms around my neck and hang on like his life depends on it.  I kiss him on the cheek and tell him I love him and then he wiggles down to go run and play again.  This could happen everyday for the rest of my life and I would love it (though, when he gets to be 18 years old, I might not be able to pick him up anymore)!

These two boys have stolen my heart.  Eager to learn.  Smiles everyday.  They are a joy to watch as they become the children that God created them to be.

First Days of School

School has started up again and here is what my days have been filled with:

*crying preschoolers (especially Malvin and a new little girl named Emelia who doesn't appreciate my skin color)

*registration of new students (Parents have been coming in by the droves every morning for several hours, only to hear that their child's class is full and they can be added to the waiting list.  I had two parents yesterday sitting in front of my office for over an hour, refusing to leave until I granted them admission...unfortunately, the class still remained full!).

*helping teachers get what they need for their classrooms and assisting students in the purchase of their school books.

*watching over our Omorefe kids as John and Stacy are out of country for their anniversary.

*chasing Justice home and back as he is not starting preschool this year while the other little three year olds are

*putting band-aids on boo boos

*feeling like I'm going a mile a minute, but perhaps it's only my mind that is moving that fast!

Needless to say, this week has been INCREDIBLY busy for me.  But, all in all, it has been a successful first few days of school. 

I remember my first days of school last year where I had tears from almost every grade level come through the office as well as at least two kids everyday that first week that were throwing up outside the office.  That was quite an experience.

It has been exciting to see how parents are beginning to trust the learning that is happening at our school.  Our teachers are teaching and the students are learning and I see that students are being enrolled here now, not out of curiosity, but out of the success of last year's students.  That is exciting to me.

There is still so much to consider in this coming year.  We have teacher's that just don't have the content knowledge to teach sometimes even the most basic of concepts.  We have students with high needs.  I had staff who quit on the first day of school.  It has been a tricky journey this first week, and will continue to be a tricky journey as we look towards the future of the school.

Sometimes, I consider my 185 students here, the families, the teachers, the things that the students need to learn, what the teacher's don't yet know, and I feel the heavy burden of responsibility to keep things running and keep training and keep monitoring student progress.  It's not easy...

But I have to keep remembering that this isn't about me.  This is about the Father working through me.  It's not by my strength that these things will be accomplished, but through God's perfect strength. 

When I remember that, I know that this whole vision is possible.  Not easy, but certainly possible. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Moving Forward

I have wrote on and off here about the struggle as a single person in ministry working abroad.  It's not an easy task and more often than not, I long for a partner in this crazy life of mine.

The past few months have been really busy and as I reflect on that and just the desire to have that "someone" as my side, I find myself caught up in thoughts of the future.

I think about two of my very best friends in the world who are both pregnant with their second child and are walking out the family life that I've always dreamed of back in the States.

And I think of my friends back at Brentwood who are teaching the students that I grew to love with all my heart, day in and day out, dedicated to the lives of these students.

I think about my Ivy house girls, my PCC friends, my small group.

I think about my family...my nephew who is growing up without me being there to witness it.  And my little sister who will be driving before too long (If you live in Paonia, CO...driver's beware!).  And my other sister who is dating a guy I've only met once.

It is strange to live on the other side of the world.

It's strange to live without these people by your side.

And it's strange to never know if those "dreams" of marriage and family will ever happen to me.

A friend asked me over the phone the other day if I know when I'll be moving back to the States.  I suppose it's a bit strange to NOT KNOW.

Moving forward to me these days is done in little steps...

Moving forward to me isn't what I'd imagined it would look like.

Moving forward is the "family" that I've been given rather than the one that I've created.

It's the smile on Florence's face.

It's the Good Morning from Bismark.

It's the race towards a morning hug from Gamali and the cuddle that follows.

It's the love of a girl named Portia.

The the small hand of Justice as we walk home from our church service.

Moving forward is the progress of a teacher's understanding.

It's the English that a child attempts to speak.

It's the confidence of Kesse, admiring his new backpack as he prepares, for the first time, to attend school.

It's the bed of a girl named Hannah.

It's hour long phone call with my mom about life.

It's the beauty of an email from a friend who is confiding in me across the miles.

It's the happy tears in watching a youtube video announcing the long-prayed for pregnancy of my friends.

It's the daily prayers that are lifted to heaven on this side of the world...and over there in America too.

So, in answer to the question...I don't know when I'm moving back.  I suppose whenever I am called to return.

All I do know is that I prayed for a family and I got one.

I prayed for children and...well...I have 41 on any given day, and sometimes I guess I could could my 185 students among my children as well.

I asked for a partner and I got the faces of a dozen people I love travel through here during May-August.

Moving forward just looks different than I imagined it.  But, I'm moving.

Moving forward looks like God's grace covering my days, his love embracing me in my loneliness, and his whispered faithfulness in moments of need.

And I'm learning to surrender to this kind of moving forward.

Training Towards the Future

These past couple of weeks have been filled with teacher training.

I think I wrote before about last year's teacher training experience and the frustrations I felt in those meetings.

This time around, it was nothing like that at all.  Teachers were challenged and encouraged and we saw so much potential.

I was even encouraged during my time with the teachers, hearing that this was one of the most valuable trainings that some of them had ever experienced.

I felt overwhelmed with the task of training 16 teachers for this year, but I come out of it saying, "YES!  It is possible!".

I think this year is going to be awesome and I am looking forward to seeing how my role as a support to these teachers will be more effective this year.

We started talking to the teachers about a Budgeting and Savings program that we are making available to them this year...training them about how to save, how to tithe, and how to spend.  Really, we desire to see them make moves towards their future, financially.

But, when it gets down to it, this isn't just about training for our teachers financially for the future...it's training towards the future period.

Last night, we met with Righ O'Leary of Feeding the Orphans, and the Beebe family.  It was exciting to get to brainstorm ministry opportunities and ways that we can partner.  It was exciting to talk about the future of this ministry.  But most of all, it was exciting to say that THESE CHILDREN are going to change the future of Ghana.

The first day of our training this past week, we talked about the vision of our school:

"Faith Roots International Academy's vision is to raise up servant-leaders who exhibit the love of Christ and desire to transform their country and the world."

Yes, we want students who make the grades and do the work.  But in the end, those that will change the world are going to be the ones that lead by serving...the ones that desire to transform because they have been transformed by the powerful love of Christ...in Ghana and in the world.

So, by training these teachers, we are preparing for the future.  The lives of these teachers will be changed.  But, the goal is for the lives of these STUDENTS to be changed.

It's powerful.  An incredible responsibility.  But, a worthy calling!

In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined where I am at today.  I originally came to Ghana to tutor children after school for a year.  And then, I ended up teaching a class of nine children, and overseeing the education of 18.  The next year, I ran a school of 120 students.  And this year, we are opening our doors to 185 students, 16 teachers, and 3 additional staff members...EVERYDAY.

I am trusting that because of the trainings the teachers received in these past couple of weeks, the continued trainings and support they will receive throughout the year ahead, and the love that God will speak through them...we are going to be looking at a pretty amazing school year.

And a pretty amazing future for these kids.

Dora and Mary

I was hoping to have this post up almost a week ago, but time flies, and I wasn't able to get much online work done this past week.

I have been wanting to write a little story about each of our new kids so that those who know me well, can get to meet the kids that I am living life with here.  The numbers of kids keep increasing, but I am seeing my heart expand to just love more.

When thinking back to the last time I specifically told stories about my kiddos, I think it was before Dora and Mary came along.  It seems weird to think about as they have been with us for over a year now and are such a part of the story of CORM.

Dora was "discovered" in 2011, during Tom Goldner's (of Photos for Freedom from Melbourne, Australia) trip to the oceanside.  He got to hear the story of a girl who was given to her grandmother to pay off the debt of her birth and her father's dowry.  He saw how she was so neglected and abused and longed to find her freedom.

So, on his return in August 2011, he asked that John and Stacy work towards Dora's rescue.  They investigated the situation, and found Dora, living with her grandmother in a house that also housed pigs.  They also heard that Dora's sister, Mary, had been sold to a fisherman in Togo.

Dora and Mary have 7 other siblings.  All of them have been sent away to work, except for the two oldest who are currently attending school.  None of the other children were given an opportunity to go to school.

So, August 13, 2011, Dora and Mary were BOTH brought to live at City of Refuge Ministries.  This was when we still lived in Downtown Doryumu...40 people in one house.  I wasn't with them during this time, but heard that the trip from home was very tear-filled as Dora and Mary were unsure of where they were going.  But, when they arrived at the Freedom Center, our Abigail took charge.  Recognizing Dora, she grabbed her hand and showed her around and an hour later, the girls were laughing and having fun, realizing that they were finally free.

Last year was Dora and Mary's first year ever attending school.  They went from no English or literacy skills to understanding Twi and being able to speak English, write, complete math problems, read small passages.  Their growth was incredible...especially Mary's.

In July, I had the opportunity to interview Mary about her life for a video we were working on creating with our friend's, the Grupe family.  I heard about the threats of death that her slavemaster placed on her.  I heard about the abuse she experienced.  I learned about her habit of stealing to survive.  And then, I see her beautiful serene face, her laugh, her smile, her willingness to learn, and I know that God has changed her.

I look at Dora, remembering the pictures that Tom took only a year ago of a scruffy-headed girl without  a smile and the look of death in her eyes.  And then I see my goofy Dora, who laughs with such ease, giving love so freely, and pouring out her heart for all to see.

These girls are changed by the love of Christ.  I am forever grateful for the place they have in my life.  And I'm forever grateful that they have an opportunity for a future because of the love of one man from Australia...and this place.

I'm looking forward to seeing how God will continue to grow and move in them this next year, challenging them towards the future.  If this year was any indication, we're in for an adventure!