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

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

I was asked a bit ago how I felt about the great disparity between living in the US and living here in Ghana.

I reflected back on my time returning home from Kenya in 2004.  I had been incredibly challenged by what I saw in Kenya.  Challenged by the poverty, the need, the desperate desire for many to be more than what their circumstances warrented.  I was ashamed returning back from that trip and moving into an apartment with my friends in Southern California--known for it's overwhelming wealth.  I remember taking cold showers, shutting off the water in between washing, for about a month, to conserve water, and to live in solidarity with the friends that I had made in Kenya.  I remember driving and parking in the farthest spot in the parking lot, just so I could walk.  I remember talking to friends and family and feeling...well, unheard.  They couldn't understand my experience there...and how could I make them understand?  They saw pictures, but they couldn't taste and smell and see...they hadn't experienced it, so there was so little that connected them to what I had experienced.

I came back to the States and I was mad.  I was frustrated at the culture.  I was mad that as Americans, we spent more money on filling up with pop culture than we did helping others.  The need was overwhelming, yet I couldn't MAKE anyone understand that there was more to life than living for yourself.

And now, though I live about 90% of my year in Ghana, I am stuck between two cultures.  I live here as an American trying to figure out this culture.  I see the needs.  I am struck by the overwhelming difference between the two. 

I see the way that American culture values money and stuff.  I see how time is valued differently there.  And even relationships are valued differently.  I see the way that people live BIG in the States. 

But, I also see the beauty of so many things in the States.  I love the laughter that comes along with Disneyland fun.  I love going to the movies.  I love hot water showers.  I love air conditioning.  I love watching live musicals and plays.  I love having access to things that we just don't have here.

And I love that there are people in my life who invest in those needs being met here.  I see that there are people who GET it!  They live with their hands outstreched and open for God to meet the needs of His people around the world.

But, I also see the great balance that God calls us to. 

There are things that are horribly wrong with life here in Ghana.  Too many to list actually.

And there are things that are horribly wrong with life in the States.  Another long list.

But there is this delicate balance that I believe that God calls the church to walk into.

I love how in the book of Acts, it talks about how everything was shared among the believers and none were in need.

And I guess I wish that I saw the Church--the world-wide church--as a better picture of that. 

The thing is...I can't challenge an entire culture to change their understanding of meeting a world-wide need.

But, people can be challenged in relationship.  I can challenge those I know to think differently.  To walk differently.  To live more open-handed. 

This delicate balance is tricky to walk, especially living over here most of the year. 

It's a little like being stuck in the middle seat on a long road trip.

But that middle seat has some distinct advantages.  They get to build relationships between both sides.  They get to hear all the stories that both sides have to offer.  And perhaps, they get to be a bridge.


The Bible talks a whole lot about groaning...

Not the groaning like "Oh, my stomach is paining me" (as I often hear from children who come to my office...in their Ghana-English).

Not like the groanings that I make now-a-days when I'm tired and just want to crash on my bed for a little while.

I'm talking about the groanings that are felt in your spirit.  The groanings that words can't express.

Romans 8:26 talks about them this way:
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."

I feel like I have been groaning in this way this past month.

My Spirit has been groaning for things I'm not even certain of. 

I have been interceding for my staff, for CORM, without even knowing quite how to intercede.

We've been experiencing some pretty crazy things lately around here.

Just realizing the true and real need for discipleship.  Our staff needs it so desperately.

And I'm in constant need of discipleship from the Son so that I can do what I've been called to do here.

Sometimes, it makes me tired to just think about the many ways that God HAS to move to make things work here.

There is so much struggle happening.

So much of the enemy at work.

But, I know the ending.  I know God is victorious.

But, I also know there is a battle.  An intense battle at work.

This battle is over our students.  It is over our teachers.  It is over our very lives.

And so, I've been feeling those groans.  I'm been praying with groans.  I've been living in a season of groans.

But, it's good.  These groanings remind me that God is THE ONLY ONE who can do this.

I came back to this passage recently...challenged by it's words...

Luke 10:38-42

New International Version (NIV)

At the Home of Martha and Mary

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I want to be Mary.  I want to sit at the feet of the Lord.  I want to marvel in his words over me.  I want to be hungry for his wisdom.

But, my nature is to be like Martha.  I am always busy doing.  And sometimes the doing makes me forget that this isn't about me...it's about God working IN me.

Father, my spirit groans with unspoken words.  I long for my staff to know you in a way that will change them.  I long for healing for their pasts and for them, a future that is brighter than they could even imagine.  I long for a true calling into their teaching here.

Father, I long to sit at your feet.  To hear what you have to say so that I may impart it to these teachers...to these students...

Draw me to yourself.  Remind me to set down the doing so that I can hear from you more.

Father, I trust you to heal my kids.  I trust you to walk through the hallways of these hearts, breaking down walls and building up trust.  Heal as only you can.

You are good.

Intercede on our behalf here.

We are longing for more of you.

The New Challenge

This past week has been so busy...but, then again, when is it not busy for me here.

Marilyn came back with me from Morocco and spent a week with us here, seeking out lives in action at City of Refuge, meeting the kids, working with me at the school, but mostly, doing a lot of brainstorming about how to make what we do here accountable and sustainable.  John mentioned during one of our conversations during the week that he felt like we are on the edge of the precipice and we are about to head into an enormous explosion of blessing and big things...but these growing pains have to be experienced before we can fully walk into that blessing.

And that is what I feel like our challenge is right now...to live out these growing pains.  To put into place the foundation so that we can walk forward and know that we are unshakeable.  To put in these infrastructures that will allow this place to move where our dreams and visions are taking us.

I think, for me, too, I am being challenged to dream about MY vision.

Marilyn asked me the question several times while she was here, "What is your dream for the next five years?".  I came up with a great answer...but I don't really know if that was my dream or if it is the dream of this "role".

And so, I've been trying to find the space to dream.

Planning for a future...

My own little place to stay...

Dreams of a family of my own...

Expansion of our school...

Writing my own curriculum that meets the standards but is of a higher quality...

Handing over the day-to-day so that I can actually get in classrooms again...

Co-teachers in each classroom...

Those are the dreams that I dream about when I think practically...

Then, there are also the dreams of:

...seeing Portia, Brylie, new Kolding baby, Isabella, Corbin, new Whelpley baby, Kayden, and all the rest of my beatnik and family children grow up...

...summer vacations with my best friends where everything I see here, everything I do here, is laid aside and I can laugh and cry and play and reminisce about the years before and the ones to come...

...traveling to see the work of other missionaries and organizations around the world...and just traveling for traveling's sake--to see the world...

...spending time cuddled under blankets reading books and sipping a hot mocha with my mama, chatting with dad and dancing in the kitchen, wrestling with my sister and singing crazy songs in my loudest opera voice, laughing until tears stream down my face with my family...

...my family and friends gathered HERE to witness all that I do and all that happens...

And I suppose some of these will continue to happen in the future, but it's different.  They are fewer and farther between.  The distance, over the years, seems to expand in many ways.

Not that I'm forgotten, but just not as present.

Weddings aren't as easy to come back for.  I miss being present at the birth of my best friend's children.  Life moves on...

Sometimes, I wish it would just stay still.

So, though this ministry is experiencing new challenges--good growing pains that will set us up for the future...
I find myself there too...

I want dreams for myself.

I want dreams for my future.

I want to dream and discover and plan...and I'm finding that all a bit of a challenge...

What is next for me?

I'm praying that God will give me a clear vision of what it is He is calling me into.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Processing Marrakech

I have been in Marrakech for a week now, and am just now sitting down to process my experience here.  I was invited by a dear friend, Marilyn Lynch, to come and help her with the daily care of the children of the missionaries that are part of the European branch of Covenant World Missions.

When I arrived last Tuesday, there was no one at the airport to pick me up (apparently, another couple was coming in an hour later, so they had arranged for all of us to come together and we got a little jumbled up in our communication).  Needless to say, I was able to haggle for the price of a taxi and was taken down to a small alleyway and dropped off.  It was dark and this young man came and took my suitcase and told me that he would show me the way to the hotel.  I was so nervous about following him through the streetway filled with vendors, motorbikes and scooters flying by at crazy speeds, and then down a dark alleyway with no lights.  I prayed the whole way down the alley as my bag clunked against the streetway made of bricks--Lord, please let this be where my hotel is!

And then, at the end of the alleyway stood a man in a doorway, welcoming me into the RIAD Nasreen.  I never felt so happy to see somebody that I didn't know before!  And before too long, Marilyn came out of our room for a cheerful hug and it was such a joy to see her as we'd been talking about this trip for so long.

The RIAD is a beautiful house that the missionaries rented out, a fountain gracing the center, rooms for meeting, a beautiful rooftop terrace complete with a curtained room.  A place of rest and peace with a staff that served with such joy, such patience, such hospitality.  We had meals served together in the common meeting area...meals with delicious tastes of cinnamon, saffron, and ginger.  We had a delicious mixture of the sweet and savory with every meal.  The time at the RIAD was such a restful...joyful...and pleasant time.

My days were spent were Josue and Sofia--two missionary kids from Spain, and little Cohen--an almost 3 year old who just relocated with his family for ministry in Paris.  Cohen kept us all running in circles, busy little boy that he was, but also kept us laughing at his funny vocabulary and quick comments.  Josue was also a pretty busy guy, enjoying kicking a football outside in the alleyways or up on the terrace.  He had a great sense of humor, often switching into a variety of accents that kept us all entertained.  And Sophia is smart and funny and a joy to be around.  She was helpful with her brother, enjoyed all of our activities and so easy.  It was easy to spend my time with these guys and I enjoyed our moments together, whether it was learning a memory verse, completing an activity, or just watching a movie.

Every evening, we went out to dinner in town, whether at some little cafe (like our favorite little joint called the Henna Cafe where falafel and tajins were the name of the game) or kabobs at the square, or egg sandwhiches from the seller down the street.  It was fun to see the night culture in Marrakech, to see the children playing football in the streets, to smell the scents of the spices and foods being cooked, to hear the wild sounds of animals, people, and motocycles.  The evenings were an amazing time to connect with the other missionaries and I enjoyed getting to know them, laughing with them, hearing their stories about their work and their children and their lives. 

One of the evenings, Marilyn planned a "Family Night" that ended up working miracles for the missionaries and their children.  She brought canvas' for each person, paint, and pictures of other paintings that had been done by Churchill and other artists in Marrakech.  We played quiet music and everyone painted.  I painted this sillouette of Koutoubia, a mosque in Marrakech.  We often heard the call to prayer (5 times a day), and this was a reminder to me to pray for the people of the Muslim faith, that they would come to know the light of Jesus Christ.  Other missionaries had amazing experiences of healing with these paintings and it was just a calming, relaxing experience that allowed everyone to pour out onto paper a bit of themselves.  I was so impressed by the talent of that group.

One day, I spent the day with the missionaries upstairs on the terrace, listening to their stories and praying for each other.  I also was able to be a part of a stress management workshop led by the counselor that they brought in.  That workshop was an eye opener for me.

For months, I have felt overwhelmed by my position at CORM and that day was a day of processing my life at City of Refuge and how to be able to set up better boundaries for my life so that I can survive there longer.  I loved getting to glean from the wisdom and prayers of so many that have walked their lives out in ministry for years and years in other countries.  I felt blessed...and overly-emotional as I finally just broke down and cried the tears that I never cry. 

The remainder of that day felt like this incredibly overwhelming day of processing my life in Ghana.  What boundaries need to be established.  How to encourage community among our ministry.  Voicing those unspoken fears...even if they were only to myself.  I felt incredibly drained, but it was so good.

As I look back, leaving Marrakech today, I would say that this week has been an amazing week of meeting new people, building new relationships, enjoying community, experiencing a new culture, resting a bit, but most of all...examining my life.  It was rich.  So rich.  So necessary.  So sweet.

I'm thanking God for my dear friend Marilyn, who walked me through this all and made this whole tirp possible.  What a blessing to be a part of such a big body of believers who constantly extend their hands out to me. 

Now, to head home...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Leaving for Morocco

This morning, I woke up with anxious butterflies in my stomach.

Early tomorrow morning, I leave for Morocco. 

I am nervous about traveling there.

Nervous about leaving the school behind for a week.

Nervous about meeting so many new people.

Filled with nervous expectation, I am unsure about everything.

Unsure about everything except this...I need this break...and I am ready.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Made to Crave, Post 3

I read an awesome chapter this morning in "Made to Crave".

Here are some thoughts and quotes:

"We were made for more than this.  More than this failure, more than this cycle, more than being ruled by taste buds.  We were made for victory.  Sometimes we just have to find our way to that truth."

I love that.  I love that God created us for more.  I am thankful that he created us for more.  If this was all there was...wow...

I'm so thankful...and I'm also sad, because I know that many times, I live in a place of "just enough" instead of "more than".  So, how do I change the cycle that I so often cling to? 

Lysa says,

"Rewriting the go-to scripts is one of the most crucial steps toward permanent progress....We have to rewrite those by getting into the habit of saying other things.  And the first of these [things] is 'I was made for more'.  Wrapped in this truth is a wisdom and revelation that unlocks great power available to all Christians."

She offers the truth of Epesians 1:17-19 and disects it into these segments that helps us to rewrite those scripts in our minds--changing the lies to truth:

"Be persistent: Keep asking"

She says, "Paul doesn't ask for wisdom one time.  Paul asks over and over and over again.  So should we.  We need to ask for God's wisdom, revelation, and intervening power to be an integral part of our food choices [and decision making] from now on."

As I read this, I wrote in my journal how again and again I am always asking for wisdom, but often, I forget to ask for wisdom in this area.  I ask for wisdom on how to deal with these kids at the school.  I ask for wisdom for our kids here.  I ask for wisdom on how to deal with teachers.  Yet, when it comes to asking for wisdom on how to deal with this walk towards health...I don't.  I blame myself and make it all about me.  But, this isn't about just me and my eating...it's so much more.

"Embrace a True Identity: Glorious Father"

She says: "We are made for more because we are children of God....The truth of my identity as a child of God empowers me to believe that living in vitory tastes sweeter than any unhealthy delicacy."

I love this one.  Time and time again, God continues to teach me about my identity as his daughter.  I just seem to forget so often.  But, he is good.  He is persistent.  He is a pursuer.  And he comes after me with the truth of who I am as his daughter.  Beautiful.  Loved.  Accepted. 

"The real reason for grounding ourselves in the truth that we are made for more is 'so that we may know him better'.  The more we operate in the truth of who we are and the reality that we were made for more, the closer to God we'll become."

And that's what I desire.  More grounding.  More truth.  More of myself rooted in Christ.  So, this journey really has less to do about me being able to gain control of how I eat or that I exercise and more and more to do with me and God.  And isn't it the same with every other thing too? 

The power of God is what I'm clinging to now.  He alone can move and change this mind of mine.  He can even move and change my body.  So, I am trusting in His wisdom...stepping into my true identity...and believing that His power can make this all possible.

Praying for God to Reign

Let's just say that it's been a rough few weeks at the school.

...battles of the heart...

...battles of the mind...

...battles with behavior...

...battles with teacher's and their understandings...

...battles against time...

...battles for Kingdom Culture...

We lost a teacher the first day of school.  For three weeks, she was gone, and has finally returned this week to week.  We're praising God for her!

But, then, my first grade teacher quit.  So, I had one of my kindergarten aides come and teach the class for a week. 

She hasn't returned to work this week.  I'm assuming that her way of saying "I quit".

And we have had to have discussion after discussion with teachers about difficult things.

Discussion after discussion with students and families...

We have felt the attack.

And even physically, I have felt the attack.  My entire body, so tired that I feel like it takes every effort I have to keep my eyes open and one foot in front of the other.

So, last night, Holly suggested we come over to the school to pray.  And pray we did.

We prayed against the enemies work here on this campus.

We prayed for favor...for vision...for life to be breathed onto this land.

We prayed for teachers who are discipled followers of Christ.

We prayed for our students and their futures and the choices that will lead them to their futures.

And we are trusting, in faith, that God will do it.

He is victorious.  Even when it feels so heavy...He is ALREADY VICTORIOUS!

And I will stand in that truth.

I HAVE to stand in that truth.

Without that, this vision will crumble.  It wouldn't be worth it.

So, I thank God that He has defeated the enemy already.

He knows we are affecting change here.

He knows we are affecting the future of this community, of this country.  And he's not happy.

But, to be honest, I am really not happy about how He is trying to defeat us here.

And I am so happy to be a part of a team...John and Stacy, Holly and Kathy, that believe in faith that God is moving and victorious and that this vision will see itself to fruition because of WHO we stand for.

I am surrendering Faith Roots to our Mighty God.


Monday, October 1, 2012


Our boy Moses, looking healthier and most certainly happier!
This week, I wanted to talk about Moses, a boy that we rescued in July of this year.  This boy is a joy and a miracle.

When we first met Moses, it was on our first trip to an oceanside village called Kpitchakope.  I've mentioned it before because this village is where NINE of our newly rescued children came from.

When we met Moses, he was outside of this old woman's hut as she was berating him for not bringing in enough fish.  John identified him right away as a boy that was in need of some intense care.  We had the woman take him to his families home, and we were led to the home of his grandfather.  The grandfather told us that he had only recently been brought back from the lake to come and fish for a family in the village there. 

His condition was very poor, his clothes soaked in the salt that comes from oceanside lagoon fishing.  His body was covered in sores from the continual exposure to the salt, his belly swollen from the worms that haunt those that don't get proper nutrition.

The second time we met Moses, we found his "mother", or the woman who was taking care of him.  We found out the real story that time.  Moses had been bought from his parents by this woman's husband so that he could bring in fish for her so that she could care for her four children.  When we confronted the woman, beautiful in her face, but behind her eyes, a darkness that reached deep inside, she was all of the sudden angry and offended by our very presence and yelled at us to leave the situation alone.  But, John got right back in her face, telling her that she needed to put Moses in school, or he would bring the police the next time we came.

The third time we met Moses was at the clinic that we held in their community when my Mom, Aunt Peggy, Cheryl Preston, and Nurse Linda traveled through.  The mom came with her children, very pregnant, but no Moses in sight.  He had been sent to the lagoon to fish.  So, we told her that we would treat her and her children when she brought Moses to us.  When she brought him, we found her in even worse condition than before, and adamant that she had enrolled him in school (when we knew the truth that nothing like that had yet happened.

Finally, when he was rescued, John drove into their community on a school day and saw Moses in the lagoon.  He called him to the car and had him dress and then brought him directly to the chief, demanding his release into our custody.  His "mother" literally tried to take him away from us multiple times, but God was good and we were able to take him with us upon the approval of the chief.

Moses has made a great recovery since arriving at CORM.  His sores have healed and while he still has some issues with his skin and rashes, it is much better than when he first arrived.  He is in second grade and for the first time in his life, he is learning how to read and write and count and speak in English.

He is a gentle boy, but can also play hard!  He sneaks over to our house on a regular basis, just to sit in our big black comfy chair and get a few hugs along the way.

Moses is the picture of a miracle and the picture of healing. 

God is all about "the one".  We are so glad that God chose Moses to be a part of our family.

Made to Crave, Post 2

Here is my second post from "Made to Crave" by Lysa Terkheurst. 

I want to just jot down a few thoughts from this past week and the chapters that I've been reading, what I've been learning, how God has been moving...

"I need to make changes.  I knew it.  Because this wasn't really about the scale or what clothing size I was; it was about this battle that raged in my heart.  I thought about, craved, and arranged my life too much around food.  So much so, I knew it was something God was challenging me to surrender to His control."

And for me, it is more than just this issue of food, but the issue of living a healthy life, with a healthy balance between work and play and time with my many "family members".  It's an issue of control.  It's an issue of surrender.

"I had to get honest enough to admit it; I relied on food more than I relied on god.  I craved food more than I craved God....God never intended for us to want anything more than Him."


And so Lysa decided to use what her body was craving as a prompt to pray...

"I used my cravings for food as a prompting to pay.  It was my way of tearing down the tower of impossibility before me and building something new.  My tower of impossibility was food.  Brick by brick, I imagined myself dismantling the food tower and using those same bricks to build a walkway of prayer, paving the way to victory."

I've learned that what appears to be impossible is surely possible.  I mean, I look around me, and I see that that is true each and every day of my life.  I see a school that I thought was absolutely impossible to get up and running and here I sit, two years later, with 185 students in and out of here everyday.  I look at this land, which was bare when I first came, nothing but farmland, and I see 5 houses, a school compound, football field, basketball court, and more in the making.  I live in the land where God makes the impossible possible.  Yet, somehow, with my weight, I struggle with that "impossibility".  I struggle with the thought that I could ever lose enough weight to be healthy.  I struggle with the thought that I will never be able to conquer this thing.  But, isn't it the same?  The same God who made all of these things possible for us here at City of Refuge...he can walk me through this journey of faith that is the "tower of impossibility".

"We must be aware that desperation breeds degradation.  In other words, when what is lacking in life goes from being an annoyance to an anxiety we run the risk of compromising in ways we never thought we would...Be aware and beon guard, sweet sister.  Know that these are devised schemes to lure you away from your commitments."

Hmmm...so good.  Desperation breeds degradation.  I certainly understand that sentiment.  I know what it feels like to be so anxious about school that an entire bag of m&m's (thank you to those m&m suppliers that send them through with volunteers) is gone in one day.  Where has it all gone?  My desperation for some kind of comfort is my downfall.  And it's in moments like those when I need to remember that it isn't just an anxious response...it is a devised scheme of the enemy to lure me away from the life of fullness that God has called me to live.  I choose to go "back to my brokenness and set back all that I've attained".

And that's why God calls us to live in community.  That's why we've been called to live in accountablity.  That's why we aren't alone in this journey of faith.

I am lucky to live with a few women of great faith that would encourage this journey (and join with me in it) here in Ghana (thanks to Stacy, Robin, Angie, Holly, and Kathy).  And I am certainly blessed to have a wonderful supportive group of friends and the love of a family back home that encourages me across the miles. 

It's the moment that I get an email from my friend Katty or from my mom that I know I am supported in this walk of health.  It's the encouragement from a facebook message from my sister Andrea or friend Yona, or a text from my friend T or Jenni or Bristol or Katie.  It's the love of Christ that holds us all accountable to one another.

And that will hopefully be what keeps me going on this journey ahead.

When Tears Flow

Lately, I have felt like a resevoir of tears has been opened up in me. 

In times by myself, I find tears flowing with great ease. 

It's a little uncommon for me.  I'm used to the occasional teary conversation with my mom over the phone, but for some reason, it's an almost daily occurance.

I cry for the families that I am investing in through this school that refuse to hear the truth of the Kingdom of God.

I cry as I mourn the sweet moments that I'm missing back in the States ...engagements ... babies...wedding...friendships...the comfort of a hug.

I cry as I feel the weight role that I hold here at City of Refuge.  Overseeing this huge project, knowing that the future of almost 200 children, it resides in how I facilitate things here.

I cry as I think about some of the things that I long for and don't see happening anytime soon, like a family of my own.

I cry as I see the needs among our own children, our own staff, our own people here.

I think many of my tears are brought on by irregular sleeping habits, but I also sense this softening in my spirit.

A quickening to the things of God.

And sometimes getting to see a glimpse of the heart of God is a painful process. 

Lord, help me to seek your face for these things.  Soften my heart to the things of you.  Mold me into who you want me to be.  Shape my character.  Open my ears to your voice. 

Even through the pain of distance and the loneliness...even through the challenges of this job and the struggle of leading and guiding all of these newly rescued children and all of these students...even through the days of little rest and many demands...

You are still God.  And I will worship you.