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, March 26, 2013

Little Sister

My little sister is engaged.

I can't believe it.  Well, I can...I knew she was in love.  But, it is hard to imagine.

Wasn't it just yesterday we were playing games together?  Sharing a room?  Having the occasional shouting (and sometimes pushing) match?  Making up songs and plays together? 

Wasn't it just yesterday when we were still in high school?  Her crazy "swirly pants" (those baggy Jinko's so popular in the day) a part of her weekly wardrobe.  MORP (prom spelled backwards) queen for so many years running.  Ever the social butterfly?

Wasn't it just yesterday we attending college together?  Plays, friends, laughter, fun?  Camping trips together.  Living life in front of one another?

Wasn't it just yesterday?

And yet, the years have passed.  And my "little" sister is 28 (which makes me 31...ahh).  And she is engaged.

Congratulations Andrea!  I am excited about the next chapter in your life!

And Derek, guard her heart well.  She is a treasure!

Many Hats

With the loss of one of our teachers, I have been filling in as the P5, P6, and JHS1 English and Language Arts teacher.  It has been a joy to be in the classroom again.  To think of ways to inspire creativity in the kids.  To get them excited about learning something new.

But, it's been an incredible challenge as well.  I have had to wear many hats at the same time. 

Formal observations came this week and with them, the question of how do I make this all work? Luckily, Kathy and Emily are always quick to step in and help out.

I have been trying to hire more seamstresses, a principal, an office administrator, a new teacher...all while teaching.

Some days, I think that all I want to do is be back in the classroom.  Other days, I long for time in the office to get a few things done without the noise of a classroom.

My roles have changed over my time here.  At first, I was just a classroom teacher.  Then, I moved into principal.  I help with volunteer coordinating.  I watch the kids occasionally.  I partner with John and Stacy in brainstorming, envisioning, planning what is ahead for us here.

And my many hats are changing again.

My goal in coming and working with CORM was to create a sustainable model of education.  It is almost there.  The missing component has everything to do with staffing.  Yes, we're missing a teaching, but right now, I am thinking about getting a principal in here to take over my position as head of the primary school.

I want to move into a supervisory role over the administration (less day to day running of the school and step out of trying to figure out the headache of Ghanaian curriculum and Ghana Education Service), but really, I want to get my hands dirty again.  I want to be with the kids again.  I want to disciple.  I want to pray over the school.  I want to have the time to really invest in the emotional and spiritual development of our teachers and our students.  I want to have TIME  to be in classrooms, to teach model lessons, to brainstorm units, to come up with new, creative ways to present ideas.  I want to be in the midst of it all...not merely the setting up process.

The months ahead are going to be helping to shape what that new role will look like for me and what the role of principal will look like for the person coming in to take my place.

Much of the envisioning of this has to do with me sitting down and thinking it through...praying for the future of what God desires for me next here.  But, it also has some tangible "to-do's" as well.

With a new, qualified administrative staff, we are looking for people willing to partner with us in child sponsorships to help pave the way for a higher salary bracket for our principal and administrator.  Child Education Sponsorships through Faith Roots International Academy allow us the opportunity to offer education to students whose families struggle to make ends meet, or who are faced with difficult circumstances (health needs, partial or full orphanhood, etc).  Sponsorships are $30, $40, or $50 a month based on a the student's needs.  They everything from school fees, uniform fees, lunch fees, transportation, books, etc (depending on the sponsorship).  Those school fees allow us to pay our teachers and staff appropriate salaries.  The more sponsorships, the more we can offer for our staff (and the more highly qualified staff we can recruit).

Will you pray about partnering with us in this process?  You can play an enormous role in making this school a success!  And be a part of helping me change my many hats into something new!


I have been thinking a lot about the culture of shame here.

From the moment I stepped into Ghana, I have heard this common rhyme said to little children:

Shame, shame, SHAME...
A wild dog, woof woof
A pussycat, meow

It was meant to calm a crying baby, or to playfully let a small child know that what they were doing was wrong.

But, the other day, a missionary friend, Angie Doe told us about how one of her staff members had taught that to her daughters, and how her sweet daughter came to her in tears as a result. 

When I first arrived here in Ghana, I noticed the tendency to lean towards shame as a form of punishment.  I stayed away for it, for the most part, but the little phrases and mannerisms have snuck their way into my language.

Angie's story of her daughter convicted my heart.  As much as I have tried to avoid shame-based discipline in my school, I have also participated in it in some ways as I have learned to assimilate into the culture here in Ghana.

This week, I also read this article: http://www.brenebrown.com/my-blog/2013/3/20/meuitdwaubpgr9qt1xanm3fwwa0sjo, a commentary on shame-based advertisements that had been placed in New York.

It got me thinking...

Where did shame come from?  What is it's purpose? 

Genesis talks about Adam and Eve walking in the garden, naked, and they were not ashamed.  And then, sin came in and changed everything.  And with it, brought shame.  They were naked...their most vulnerable selves, and they became ashamed.

And my search through the Psalms showed me that shame frequently is paired with dishonor or disgrace, with disappointment and dismay.  And it is only referred to in regards to those who do not serve the Lord.

So, shame showed up in our world when sin showed up.  It showed up when vulnerability became a place of fear instead of one of safety.  It showed up, and along with it came some pretty negative friends, "dishonor", "disgrace", "disappointment", and "dismay".  And the thing is, it has NOTHING to do with the believer. 

In Romans, it says to, "rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts..." (Romans 5:3-5).

We are never to experience shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts.  When you experience the love of God, even in your most vulnerable moments, you should not be ashamed.

This is what I want to teach our children to treasure.  This is what I want our staff to understand.

At the beginning of the year, during our teacher training, we talked about this very issue.  Shame-based discipline verses positive discipline in the classroom.  I asked the teachers, "What do you think a student would respond to better..." and gave them two scenarios.  One scenario had to do with shaming a student for getting an incorrect answer.  Another scenario had to do with praising a student for getting at least part of an answer correct. 

All of the teachers responded that if a student was shamed, they would respond better.

And then I brought the same question to how they would best respond if I were to shame them in their teaching skills or encourage them.

All of the teachers responded that they would do better if encouraged, especially if incentives were provided based on their work.

When I discussed with them this concept for directing students, they struggled to understand and to apply this in their classrooms.

And the struggle continues. 

It is a daily battle against shame here.  To expect encouraging language from teachers who have never received it outside of this place or heard it done well in the classroom before.   To see students change from language that brings down to language that uplifts. 

And even more, to understand that shame has no place in God's kingdom.  Shame is a tool of the enemy to bring discouragement.  But God's love brings hope, not shame.  God's love casts out all fear.

I so desire that for our children.  I so desire that for our staff.  A deep-rooted understanding of Christ's love for them, His transformational love.  That even in their most vulnerable places, their places of greatest need, God still loves and doesn't bring shame, but HOPE.

It makes me think of the possibilities if this were to be acted out biblically here.  I look at some of our students, young girls who are now being given the opportunity of an education but struggle because of the YEARS that they have faced selling items on the street to help care for their family instead of being in a classroom learning fundamentals.  They have already seen too much of life.  Their confidence, on a scale of 1-10, well, it's a 1 (if even that).  If they were given encouragement, given a chance, given the gift of HOPE, perhaps we could see change.

Unfortunately, we battle against so much shame--a lifetime full of shame.  And there is no way to control what they hear at home either.  Even here at school, which is an environment where we try to limit the shame-based discipline as much as possible (as far as my eyes and ears can reach), we had to release a teacher who was slapping children's wrists because they had printed the date incorrectly on their paper.  Of course, it was commonly enforced upon the children who have missed years of schooling, have little literacy skills, and that low confidence.  How do we go from there?  How do we start over?  How do we rebuild?

And that is where I am at.  Trying to rebuild some of these kids that have been shamed so much, they have lost all hope of a positive future.  Trying to teach teachers of the hope of Christ, when sometimes the language of Christ doesn't seem to be understood.

So, let the conversation begin...what wisdom do you have to offer on changing shame-based discipline to positive reinforcement...the understanding that we are offering love instead of fear, grace instead of shame.


Afraid to Be Me

It's been awhile since I've posted on my journey to lose weight.  In fact, I think the last time I talked about it here was before I left for the States.

My time in the US was so sweet.  I was loved so well.  And the transition back was challenging, but it has also been very rich.  I feel like I am in a season of hearing from God in ways that I haven't heard from Him in a long time.  It's been good.  It's been beautiful.  But, it has also been painful in many ways.

The other day, I was talking with Kathy about my trip to Kenya in 2004.  I was going to spend 4 weeks in Kenya with a team of people I had never met before.  I was going to be living, literally, out in the bush with the Masaai for two weeks, and in the slum of Kibera for two weeks.  But, honestly, that brought very little fear in my preparation for going.  My BIGGEST hurdle in going to Kenya was the week of team-building that had to be completed before we left on our journey. 

We were required to work as a team to move through obstacle courses, to complete a variety of team-building activities, to see that no one was left behind.  It was like my worst nightmares come true.  Swinging on rope swings.  Climbing over walls.  Lifting every member of the team through nets and tires.  I shed my fair share of tears before going on the trip, nervous about the whole idea of letting my team down because of my weight.  Never in my life had I felt like my weight could bring down the whole team.

In the end, that week brought some of the greatest victories of my life.  I had been experiencing freedom in Christ in new ways the months before I left, even losing around 30 pounds before I journeyed to Atlanta, Georgia to meet my team and go through the training.  Still, my confidence wavered.  But, the team never gave up.  Even in my greatest insecurities, I was encouraged.  They lifted me through that spider web, helped me over the wall, encouraged me across the climbing wall, lifted me through the tire, and God built my confidence.  It taught me that I was capable of more than I believed.  That I wouldn't let a team down because of what I looked like or the weight that I carried, as long as I allowed myself to be surrendered to the encouragement of the team.  If it had been up to me, I would have opted out of every activity.  But, God, in His infinite wisdom, He knew what I would need to learn during that week.  He knew I would have to trust this team with what I feared most if He was going to be most effective in the ministry that was ahead of us in Kenya.

My time in Kenya was beautiful and changed my life.  In fact, I wouldn't be here in Ghana if I hadn't gone to Kenya.  And I wouldn't have experienced such change in Kenya if I hadn't surrendered my greatest fears--to trust someone else to carry my weight.

Last night, as I was praying through this battle of weight loss that I have faced since I was eight years old, I realized that that fear still plagues me today.  And that fear, to completely trust someone else with the weight of me, is part of the reason that I am still struggling with my weight 23 years later.  It is a safeguard for me.  It is a wall.  It is a struggle and a frustration, but in so many ways, it keeps me safe.  I can avoid relationships, as much as I desire them.  As much as I am transparent, I can avoid true vulnerability. 

It comes down to my deepest fears.  I'm afraid of rejection.  I'm afraid that someone won't love all of me.  And so, in so many ways, I have sabotaged myself.  I have made it difficult for people to love me completely.  I am open, but only about what I am willing to be open about.  These lies that have pervaded my thoughts for decades, they still plague me...still affect my day to day choices about food and exercise and self-confidence.

So much has changed in my life.  I understand the truth.  But, somehow, the lie still exists.  And in all honesty, the lies are sometimes so painful, it's easier to forget that it is there, to leave it alone.

But, in this season, God has called me into a time of silence and solitude.  A time of listening for his voice.  A time of understanding his truth.  And this painful place keeps coming up.

So, while I continue to work on battling my weight, to be healthy, the real battle is a battle of the heart and a battle of the mind.  It is a battle for truth to win over the lies.  And a battle to finally trust others with the real weight of me--physically, emotionally, spiritually--in every way that matters.

Friday, March 22, 2013


It's been awhile since I've had internet access besides the simple updates I can complete via my phone.

It has been an incredibly busy month so far, but so encouraging.

I can't believe that it has been a week since Apostle Judy Shaw left us (how time flies), but she came to spend 5 days with us a couple of weeks back.  Those days were completely filled from top to bottom, but were days of joy, encouragement, and reminders of God's amazing love for us.

Pastor Judy is John and Stacy's pastor from their church back in Sioux Falls.  And she is amazing. 

She used her short time with us to simply encourage, encourage, encourage.

The day she flew in, we drove to Keta, which is a village on the way to Togo along the coastline.  Keta is known for its beautiful beaches, the fishing that happens at its shorelines, and its incredible darkness (it is a community in the Volta region).

Our friends, Pastor Paul and Angie Doe, have an incredible ministry in the community there.  Paul ministers with the youth of the community, Angie with the children and women.  Even to spend a weekend with them there, you can see the powerful impact they have upon the lives in that community.

We went to Keta to host a women's conference there with Angie and Paul.  We visited there last year with Pastor Judy and some other friends of hers and it was so powerful.  We were excited to go back and I was definitely looking forward to a little time away from our Children's Village (I love our village, but it's always nice to get away!). 

We got into Keta rather late, so we ate dinner late and then we were off to bed, lulled to sleep by the crashing waves not that far from our hotel room.

When we got up the next day, we ate breakfast out by the ocean and then we headed out to the church where the conference was happening.  About 200 women were packed into a little church building, causing the temperature of that place to skyrocket.  It felt like walking into a furnace.  But, God moved!!  Powerfully!!

Pastor Judy spoke to the women about their destiny, and the love that the Father has for them.  Angie spoke to the women about stepping forward in faith.  It was a powerful time of ministry and when we left, we were all heat soaked and exhausted, but so encouraged by the response of the women. 

We had heard, while at the church, that the power was going to be out that night (a common occurrence lately it seems), so Paul and Angie came and joined us at the hotel, thankful for the generator that would run our a/c and fans.  And then, we all gathered together and went out to Paul and Angie's land for dinner and some time in the ocean waves.  The water was actually warm (though Tyna, our administrator, thought it was too cold!).  I stuck my feet in and prayed and sang to myself as I walked through the water.  What a beautiful way to end the day!

The next day, we went back to the church and ministered again.  I sang a song, one that had been stuck in my head all weekend (thank you Will Reagan), and then Angie got up to speak.  She spoke with the women about being a part of the vine (John 15) and it was so rich and true.  It was so fun to see her ministering in this way.  God has certainly given her a heart for this community and you could tell with every word that poured from her mouth.  Pastor Judy got up to speak afterwards and just spoke a powerful word to the women, asking them to walk out in faith what they have been called to do.  It was so sweet to see the women, especially the young women, coming forward and desiring, with tears in their eyes, to live out the destiny of "Beloved of Christ" that God was calling them too.  That they had a voice.  They had that opportunity to share the love of Christ with others, the authority, the joy.

Afterwards, some people who were sick were brought to the front of the church.  Pastor Judy and John spent the next 30 minutes praying over them, that God would heal them.  The lame would walk.  The deaf hear.  Time and time again, they were sent back to their seat, encouraged to have faith, but no physical sign of healing was there.  And then, a young woman came forward who had recently become blind due to an accident.  Pastor Judy and John prayed over her...and she was healed.  She walked out of the sanctuary knowing she was loved by God because of her healing.  Such a beautiful picture.

Not long after that, we packed up and drove away from Keta.  It was a beautiful weekend of refreshing.

And again, and again, we were refreshed with our time with Pastor Judy.

She preached a message about "Remembering WHO YOU ARE" to our kids, tying in that crazy old Rafiki, Simba, and Mufasa from the Lion King.  The kids were so moved.  Everyday, I still hear them repeating, "Remember who you are!".  And from that message, some of our kids experienced real freedom as God spoke to them about their true character and personhood in Christ.  So good!

Pastor Judy also spent time with other local missionaries one evening.  Of course, the electricity went out right when we were about to start, the heat became oppressive, it was exhausting, but God won in the end!  We brought out the generator, the Beebe boys lead us in some powerful worship, Pastor Judy ministered, and we were all encouraged by the time in community and the time in the Presence of God.

Pastor Judy's last talk was with all of the CORM staff, particularly the school teachers.  She spoke directly what needed to be said, "I know you are Christians, but it is time to dig in deeper and take a step forward in faith."  Such a rich challenge for our people, something they desperately needed called into.

I was so encouraged by her time with us.  It has felt like God keeps showing up in powerful ways here lately.  It's been so rich and so good.  We need more of this...more often...more of God.

May it be so!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The "42" Challenge

Last night, as I was reading the Word, I felt like God asked me to look up Isaiah 42.

When I opened up my Bible, I saw that I had written "City of Refuge Ministries, January 2010" along the passage.  I remembered back to when I was praying about coming to Ghana, this passage of scripture was laid on my heart.

Back then, I was coming with the fervor to fight the fight against human trafficking here in Ghana.  Now, I have discovered that "justice" is so much more than that.  It is about meeting people where they are, giving a voice to those who don't have one, and fighting for the future of the "least of these".  But, something else stuck out in this passage this time...(notice bold, italicized, underlined portions)

Isaiah 42

New International Version (NIV)

The Servant of the Lord

42 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

Song of Praise to the Lord

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices;
    let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
    let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord
    and proclaim his praise in the islands.
13 The Lord will march out like a champion,
    like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
    and will triumph over his enemies.
14 “For a long time I have kept silent,
    I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
    I cry out, I gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
    and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.

17 But those who trust in idols,
    who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’
    will be turned back in utter shame.
The first part I was struck by was that out of faithfulness, God will bring about His justice.
Sometimes, it is easier to just "give up" on people.  To say that they don't accept our help, so why even try?  To become almost cynical about the differences in culture, in religion, in their understanding of God and his love for us.
Yet it is through FAITHFULNESS to what and where and who He has called us to, that justice is brought about.  Sticking to it.  Even when it's hard. 
And then, struck by this word "covenant".  That we are called to be a covenant to these people.  Sure, I can bring the light to the Gentiles, but that can only be done if I am a covenant to the people.  That word...it just scares me.  It means commitment.  It means sacrifice.  Not just the little bit that I give at the school, but covenant means the sacrifice of LIFE ITSELF.  Whoa.  That's not something that is easy to just say, "Ok, let me surrender that to you."
In the Old Testament, when God created a covenant with Abram, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, the blessed race, he made him walk through the middle of all of these animals that had been sacrificed, sprinkled by the blood of them to mark his commitment to God.
In the New Testament, God did away with all of the sacrifices and created a covenant with all of mankind--that Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice--he would be the ultimate covenant-maker.
And He calls us to that too.  To give away our lives to Him, so that others might come to know Him.
I need to do that.  I need to surrender in that way.  It is so incredibly hard.  And to be honest, I'm still struggling through that word covenant for these people.  I'm praying into it.  I want to be there.  I do.  I'm just not quite there yet. 
And then comes the promise...God will lead.  God will guide.  Rough places will be smooth.  I will not be forsaken.
So good.  With sacrifice come this sweet, sweet promise. 
But, God didn't stop there. 
He sent me on to Psalm 42 (a "42" challenge).

Psalm 42

New International Version (NIV)


Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42[a][b]

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
Much of this Psalm appears to be so sad, but I connected with it because I am in this place of DEEP hungering after God.  I pant after him.  I long for my time with him.  My time with him has been sweet and deep and healing and leaves me refreshed.  It has also been a time of work--working out these places within me that are hard and stubborn--a bit of a refiner's fire.
But, something that I feel like God keeps speaking to me is that He is with me.  He has not forsaken me.  He loves me.  He surrounds me.
A bit like those waves described in verse 7.  Deep calls to deep.  Waves and breakers sweep over me.  The power of His love washes away every place that doesn't reflect him. 
And I just love the picture of verse 8...his love directing me.  His song guiding my nights.
These words brought me to tears last night as I was reading them.  The overwhelming presence of His love.  The way that He cares about me...Autumn...the one He created, loves, pursues.  It's powerful.  There are no other words.
I challenge you to find truth in these words as well.  What was your "42" challenge?