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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Monday, April 28, 2014

Doryumu Outreach Then and Now

When I first came to Ghana, actually the second week that I was in the country, City of Refuge did their first medical outreach. I remember driving into Doryumu...then it seemed like such a foreign place. I was nervous about the day as my job was entertaining the children we were expecting to come in. We had crafts planned for about 50 kids. That day, we had over 200 kids show up. The nurses and doctors that came saw far less than what we saw outside.
The whole day, we danced and sang and practiced the ABC's and colored pictures and tried to control the chaos. And in the end, we were exhausted and I wondered how it would ever work to move to this rowdy community.

Today, CORM hosted a medical assessment in  Doryumu, under the same trees where we held it so long ago!  This time, I felt so different. It is now my community of Doryumu, not some place I felt disconnected from and overwhelmed by. I knew the faces. I can see so much more after being here for so long. And while today had moments of overwhelming chaos and moments of exhaustion...it also had moments of beauty and grace and it was good and rich.
When you see your kids laying hands on the sick, praying for the love of Jesus to be made perfect in them...that is the beauty of days like today.

And when our kids and staff stand up in front of a waiting audience to tell the about Jesus and his sacrifice for us on the cross...that is the grace.

And then, this...the love of missionaries who simply come to serve. Every person, no matter how small, was given time and touch and love.

And in four years, I have only grown more in love with these people and this culture. 

How much can change in just those few years!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Walking in on something Holy

Sunday...my Sabbath day. It's usually filled with rest. I sleep in. I get over to church right when it's starting. I come home and spend the majority of my day napping, reading, watching a movie, or playing my guitar. Rest...

But, for some reason, I headed over to our canteen early this morning. I could hear singing coming from somewhere in that direction as I drew closer and wondered what was going on.

After I laid down my guitar and Bible, I walked into the school to see almost all of our older kids gathered in a classroom praying and worshipping The Lord before the service started. They were singing at the top of their lungs, praying and crying out for God's presence to rain down, thanking Him for all that He has done in their lives. Some were kneeling down. Some walking around in passionate prayer. Others still, had their hands raised in worship while tears rolled down their cheeks.

I felt like I had walked into something Holy. Like I had witnessed the Kingdom of God being made manifest in their lives.

And when they left for the church gathering to start, I even saw one of our hardest kids wiping tears from his eyes. We have been praying that God would soften his heart, that he would be as clay in the hands of the Master Potter.

And this afternoon, I was chatting with Stacy about our kids and how I am continually amazed at their growth and fervor for The Lord. She told me that she was sitting with one of our kids this afternoon and told him that he will one day go back to his village and turn it upside down with the love of Christ. He just gave her his lopsided smile that we love so much and said, "I know".

We have some world changers on our hands.

More Ants

It's as if they knew I wrote a blog about them yesterday.

They invaded my bathroom, covering every inch of the floor, and my towel. They could only be stopped by massive amounts of insect spray.


Volunteers...get excited!

Coming soon...the CORM Snack Shack

A place that will sell our shirts, bags, and all kinds of CORM goodies

Smoothies, coffee, snacks, ice cream, yummies

Needed supplies like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, internet, phone credit

A place where the older kids will work certain hours each day, learning to manage money and being given their first job

I think I am going to go broke...with the money I don't have...

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Many people ask about the scary things that inevitably come with living in Africa.

Snakes? Sure, we have them. But, since development came in to our little children's village, they haven't been too bad. The occasional little guy, the rare cobra, the puff adder...all have come to visit but only on rare occasions.

Spiders? Yep. But, we just let them be and they let us be.

Mosquitos? Absolutely. Experiencing malaria 6 times, I would say that they are a big pain, especially if we have a night without electricity. That's when you really understand the power of a mosquito.

Termites? After it rains, they come out in their numbers, hovering around anything that involves light. By the time morning comes, the ground is covered with the wings and the kids come out with their little containers, collecting the now helpless, wingless critters,watching them squirm.

But, the worst of all is perhaps the smallest of all...the ant.

What do you know about Charles Taylor? Never heard of him?  This Liberian war lord ruled the country of Liberia with all kinds of fear and violence for years. You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Taylor_(Liberian_politician)

Our ants are named after that dictator. Give you an idea of the pain these tiny red ants can cause?

They cover our ground, invade our homes, and cause all kinds of trouble. In a country where the sandal is the preferred choice for footwear, these ants take full advantage. If you happen to step on their path, they can cover your feet quickly, their bites stinging your feet and legs. Then, when you have finished swatting them away, they leave little welts that rise up and fill with pus, a painful little pimple that takes forever to heal. And if you are lucky, they heal without infection (I am not always lucky.).

They seem to find solace (and death!) in my bathroom and on a weekly basis, I sweep out hundreds of these annoying Charles Taylor's. On occasion, they have chosen not to die. Unknowingly, after my bath, I have grabbed my towel and wrapped it around me to be surprised with hundreds of ants covering my body and welts in the most uncomfortable of places. A quick rinse under the water and they are down the drain, but the welts remained, reminding me of these little tormentors.

I guess they are a reminder that even the smallest in the Kingdom of God can make a difference. 

So next time I get attacked by these little monsters, I will have to remind myself of this truth. Ha!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Never Too Old to Sit on Daddy's Lap

This morning brought such reflection for me.  I went out to the summer hut to meet with Stanley, Stacy, and John about the mentorship program happening tomorrow morning, and was surprised with some memories from long ago.

Abigail, our fiery girl, was in trouble for some things she said to another one of our kids while they were fighting.  Vulgar, mean things came from her mouth as she insulted the other girl for stealing her bucket of water (we are on a no-running-water week, so fetching water is much more challenging than most weeks).

As John talked to her about what she said to the other girl, she stood angry-faced and hard-hearted, unwilling to understand why she was in trouble and not the other girl.

So, John called her over to stand next to him.  His voice changed and he began to talk lower, more gently, a father concerned for his daughter.  Quietly, he asked her, "Abigail, who are you?"  She responded, "Daddy, I'm nobody."

To that, he pulled his chair out, and sat that fourteen year old girl down on his lap.  He rubbed her back and spoke gently to her, reminding her of who God says she is, His Daughter...a daughter of the King.  She is not fatherless, because where her father left in death, Johnbull has come in his own fatherhood authority to replace.  She is not a nobody, but a dear "somebody" in the kingdom.  Tears poured down her cheeks and dripped off her chin as he spoke to her.

And when she finally left, John closed his eyes, as broken as our girl was. 

I was reminded of my first few months here in Ghana.  Abigail and DK had just arrived a month before I came.  They didn't know the language.  There was so much anger at that time and so, so, so many tears. 

The little guys, Edwin and Portia, would frequently ask me to carry them around when I was at the Freedom Center (we were still in Tema at that time), and it was almost as if Abigail took a cue from them.  She would jump on my back or come right up to me and ask me to carry her.  At that time, she was around 11 years old and far too big for me to carry her around!

But one day, she ran over to me and jumped up on me, holding on with her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck.  She rested her head on my shoulder, snuggling into that soft place between your neck and your chest that is reserved for those sweet moments with your littlest of children.  And so, I stood there, and I rocked.  I spoke words of love over her and prayed for her.  And when my back was tired, I brought her inside and laid her on my lap and played with her hair.  She fell asleep there, resting in the peace.

Those sweet moments with Abigail years ago filled something in her that needed filled.  She needed a mother's love, even if it was just for that moment.  She needed the loving arms of a friend.  She needed the prayers of a sister.  Two months later, we reflected on Abigail's changing behavior and knew that it was moments like that that were changing her.

And I trust that the moment that I was given the privilege to witness this morning, well, I have to trust that it will bring change.  That it will fill something in Abigail that needed filled.  She needed the love of a father, even if it was just for that moment.  She needed the loving arms of a friend.  She needed the prayers of a brother.  And I trust that we will reflect in months to come and know that it was moments like that that that are continuing to change her.

We are never too old to sit on Daddy's lap.  To take comfort in the Father.  To rest in the truth that He whispers into our ears.  And even in our moments of vulgar anger, He loves.  I run to that. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


This week, John, Stacy, Stanley, and I went away on a prayer retreat. I have been looking forward to the time away for such a LONG time. I got to the end of our second term at school and felt...well...exhausted. I hadn't even been here the whole term and just felt depleted. It felt like an uphill battle with teachers and students. There were so many misunderstandings, so many problems with the discipline of the kids, so many places where I felt the need to step up, but was trying to balance my new role, being more present with students, and giving authority to the office personnel. I realized that there were a lot of things not done well, not communicated well, and not enough support being given as I have reflected on my role this past term. Needless to say, I will need to backtrack a bit this next term if I really want to get the results we need.

But, I digress...

I was tired when school finished up this term. And I headed into break with an already pretty full schedule. We were planning for the volunteer season coming up. We were preparing to open a new outreach branch of our ministry, Impact ONE. We had holidays and birthdays that needed to be celebrated with love and thoughtful consideration. And coming next week, two community medical health screenings and a trip to the Volta. A lot to manage and plan for.

So, yes, I was looking forward to time away and all that would come with time away.

We went to a hotel in Akosombo, a little village nestled in next to the Volta river, green and lush and beautiful. It is quiet there. Oh, so quiet. And for the first time in quite a long time, my whole body just seemed to sigh and relax. 

Each day, we would wake up, eat breakfast together and then spend hours together while we each did our quiet times up on a little balcony overlooking the river, sometimes drawing each other into conversations regarding what we were reading or where we see God moving. We would talk for awhile, sometimes laugh until we cried, and go back into our times of quiet.

Our first day, our morning devotions led to lunch up on that balcony, dreaming dreams of ministry, of outreach, of equipping. And then, the whole afternoon, we swam and laughed and played in the pool, all to ourselves. Stanley was brave, swimming for the first time in a swimming pool. 

After dinner that night, we met in my room and we worshipped and prayed and simply sat in the presence of the Lord. It was rich and thick and beautiful. A soaking of the Holy Spirit. Crying out for our communities here, Doryumu and Shai Hills. On our faces in awe of the weight of God's glory. When we finished praying together, it felt like my entire body was in a place of rest.  I couldn't even move my fingers, I was so relaxed.

But, that night was another story. I woke up with severe stomach pains. While I was home this year on my furlough, I had some pretty bad stomach issues, which were contributed to my gallbladder. The change in diet (America- with all it's preservatives and hormone-enriched foods), had led to some pretty painful and frustrating issues with eating while I was home. I couldn't figure out what I could have eaten here to cause those stomach problems that night, but let's just say that the pain kept me up for hours that night. I knew it was an attack, meant to steal my rest. But, even in the pain, I knew God would come and heal. By the time I fell asleep and then woke up the next morning, I was tired, but without pain and ready for another day.

After our morning quiet time, we hopped on a boat with my guitar in tow and set off for a journey down the river.

The river feels like a different Ghana. Little children on school holidays, naked as can be, diving off the shore into the water. Tree roots coming off the shore, spreading into the homes of the mud houses nearest the water. Fishing boats up and down the river. A quiet. A fresh breeze. The green. The beauty of God's creation. 

And when we got about an hour into our float downstream, we asked the boat captain to find us a nice quiet place to pull alongside and anchor our boat. And there, we worshipped and prayed and spoke out over the very waters that carried us. We read 1 John and prayed for a love that would look like the love of Jesus to come alive in each of us. We sang at the top of our lungs of the love of our great God. Boats floating past, seemed to slow down in the presence of the sacred (or to gawk at the obrunis in the boat!). God met us in that place. A sweet, rich filling, and we didn't want to leave.

Our beautiful, little worship spot

And by the time we got back and ate lunch, we decided that rest was the best option and we all returned to our rooms for a little shut-eye. That afternoon, the rain came and visited us, gently tucking us away in afternoon dreamland, only to wake when we were hungry for dinner.

After dinner, it was back to my room for worship and prayer, speaking over our kids and our staff. God spoke to us of setting up memorials to point to God's goodness and power so present in this season at CORM. We prayed for the salvation of the many that come to visit us here...of the communities...of our own staff.

When we woke this morning, rested and filled up, we hopped in the pool for a swim before heading back home.

And I see this time away as a change for us in our ministry...as a memorial marking the season God has set I front of us...one of growth and truth and equipping and His love outpouring. There is a different expectation now. We are longing for our staff to experience this soaking...to sit in the presence of the Lord and expect His revelations. We see a season ahead of us where our kids begin to serve as the missionaries of this place...where our staff understand the vision and mission and call this a ministry and not just a job...where lives are dedicated to the mission of God here in this place, in our communities, in this country, in this world. We are walking into a season of equipping because God is wanting to send out. I think we will be surprised by how God moves this year. We sense it. We see it. We are ready for His movement.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Water and Internet

When I first moved to Ghana, we lived in Tema. It's a city, busting with noise and activity, places to walk to and people always around. A harbor city, there seemed to be access to so much there. Even though, I felt like I had fully moved to a foreign country, so many different sights to see and with a culture so different from my own, I look back and think of how good God is to prepare me with only giving me what I could handle at the time. Regular electricity and running water, high-speed internet with the ability to easily Skype, the comforts made it easier to transition.

Look at how little they all were back then!

I moved to Ghana in July 2010, and by November of that same year, we were packing up our big white van and moving everything to one house in Doryumu. By the time everything was packed up, we left our house in Tema late in the evening. The ride to the new place was hot and stuffy as we rode with children and stuff piled on our laps. The whole way to Doryumu, I wondered what we were getting 
ourselves into.

Moving-Ghana style

And we arrived in Doryumu that first night...

The electricity was at half-current, the fan barely moving, my stuff scattered about my new room, and my mattress on the floor. I fell asleep that night with tears in my eyes, wondering again what we were getting ourselves into, nervous about the unknown.

And I woke up the next morning with the light flooding in my windows and the sounds of distant birds, the morning sounds of children getting ready for the day ahead, and suddenly, I felt...home.

My Doryumu room-changed in the next month when Edwin came to join me.

That place had its share of challenges. Slow internet. Electricity fairly unreliable. But it was the water that was the greatest challenge of all. For a year, we rarely had running water, and never to our house, but to the tank outside. We hauled water from our tank to our rooms for bucket baths and to flush our toilets. And then came the day when water was connected at our land, and we began to haul water in the yellow containers we had saved up over the year to our Doryumu house. After several days of leaving the water in those yellow containers, green algae would grow across the top and after our baths, came rashes that felt like our itching would never reach deep enough.

So, when we moved to our new land, even without electricity, I was satisfied because...water! Showers! Flushing toilets! I felt spoiled. And loved. Oh yes, strange, but it was like God saw the struggle and anxiety that came up in me without having access to regular water, and he poured out his love with the water at the Children's Village. Internet was still a challenge and electricity wouldn't come for months, but...water!

My move to the Omorefe house at the Children's Village

And then, last summer, John and Stacy left on furlough and construction began on the Akosombo Dam and during the months they were gone, we experienced several weeks without water (eternally grateful for the well FTO dug here years ago). It sent a flurry of emails back and forth between here and the States, but with Uncle Nosa's help, we got our well and pump up and running and by the time they had returned, our water supply was back to normal.

Returning to Ghana this year, after my furlough in the States, I came home to one week of water and one week without. This was my normal shower:

Oh, how spoiled I had become after two months of regular access to water, and heated water at that. It was so hard to get used to again. The walk to the well after a long day at the school seemed like such a chore (and I am forever grateful for Aunty Jacky who worked hard to help me keep my bucket full!!). 

And then, one day, the water never came back on. It just stayed off. 7 days...8...9...

And I got nervous. I got frustrated. The laundry piled up in the corner of my room.

And then I felt a check in my spirit. The year without water. The thousands here in Ghana, some of whom I live just across the road from, who do not have access to regular water or clean water of any form. The many who live at the Lake Volta who bathe and work and drink the water of the lake, suffering from parasites that plague them for years, causing damage to their kidneys. I remembered and my perspective altered. I was reminded and I had to repent for the state of my heart.

And wouldn't you know it, the next day, the water came. 11 days now. 

On, how these small things change our lives.

Today, I am grateful for the blessing of running water. And if it turns off tomorrow, I will be grateful for well-water. Because I know the truth, and I have to remind myself of the truth, that there are still those in my very community without.

And today, I am grateful because for the first time since Tema...Internet...unlimited...and fast too.

I can write a blog and upload pictures and download music...the first time in years.

Today, I feel loved. And grateful. And blessed.

When I think of all that God has done for us, all I can do is stand in awe.

Reflections on Easter

Tomorrow, I will be celebrating my fourth Easter here in Ghana. I have been reminiscing of days of old. What rich memories!

My first year here, we celebrated Easter in Downtown Doryumu. All of us, 19 kids, John, Stacy, Mama Theresia and Daddy Joe, Aunty Lucy, Aunty Lydia, Uncle Nosa, Uncle Atta, Aunty Anas, me...all living together in one house. It was quite a year and I learned so much that year. Edwin lived with me back in those days. I shared a bathroom with John and Stacy without running water. I taught back then, in our little blue school-house with no power, no water, no curriculum...just filling in the gaps. 
And that Easter was filled with the sweetness of children's laughter, their first egg hunt, lots of food (including some gray jello...don't ask), playing games and relaxing with friends. That Easter, one of my closest friends, Katie Majewski, was out here, sharing life with me for 10 days. That year, I saw the resurrection of HOPE through the lives of our kids. Jesus came to bring life and life to the fullest. To me, that was manifested in the freedom of these beautiful children. In their smiles. In their laughter. In their love.
Easter 2011-Abigail and Justice

Easter 2011-Portia and Caleb

Easter 2011-Katie and her bowl of pepper soup (after being a veggie for years...this was a stretch!)

Easter 2011-Little guy, Edwin

Easter 2011-These sweet friends celebrated with us

Easter 2011-the game

The next year had brought such change for us at CORM. Our houses were built and we were moved out to our land. We had no electricity, and didn't know when it would happen. We would run our generator for two hours every night and charge up our phones and computers for the next day. We would sleep in the heat, but I almost preferred it because we had running water, something we hadn't had for a year while we lived in Downtown. Our kids attended school with others, growing from my little blue schoolhouse to 5 classrooms of students, 120 students altogether. Teachers were hired. And I was the principal, a role I felt completely unprepared to fill, but knew I was called into. And instead of sharing my room with Edwin, who went to live with Mama Theresia and Daddy Joe, I shared with the sweet Andrea Elizondo (now Largey). 

Easter brought about such celebration as electricity finally came to the children's village. And we celebrated well! Dancing under the breeze that came with spinning fans. We held our church gathering under those fans that year, dancing with the beat of the drums, singing with excitement. Other friends were with us to celebrate, friends we still see from time to time today. And as I reflect on that year's Easter, I remember the grace, fully granted at the cross, and fully demonstrated in the way that we learned to live together as a family, through the places that felt impossible, made possible only by His grace.
Easter 2012-Our electricity meter was installed and much celebration followed

Easter 2012-Aunty Andrea helped prepare the Easter chicken

Easter 2012-Evelyn ready for the big hunt

Easter 2012-John moved to us only a few months before, his first Easter with us!

Easter 2012-Justice is still walking around in only his diaper!

Easter 2012-Our sweet CORM family (with Edgar, Loise, Josiah, and Andrea), and will forever remember Rosemary and this face throughout the day. Yes, it was quite a day!

The next year, our family looked so different. We had welcomed in 18 new children the summer before and it brought a whole new dynamic to our Children's Village. It was louder and busier. There were so many more tears...so many more fights...so much work to be done. They came in without knowing English, without knowing how to live under the boundaries that automatically come with parents, with little or no schooling. And so, in so many ways, it felt like we were starting from scratch. Our school had grown again, now serving 180 students, along with our dear Beebe family. It was a lot of new. And honestly, that year was hard. My memories of that year were through the lens of burnout. Growth comes with so many challenges and learning how to voice those challenges felt like my struggle. 

But Easter...a sweet break in the chaos. A moment where you just see the Kingdom, just a glimpse of it. Where you see children being children, free to run and play. Where you see the abundance of gifts given to those who love Him, even if they aren't physical, you begin to see the a kingdom come to earth. And it isn't about the color of skin. It isn't about the work or the conflict or the striving. It is about the King. It is about the Church, made possible by the great miracle of his death and resurrection. And it is about reconciliation, because isn't that what the cross was about anyway?
Easter 2013- This girl led the games (We miss our Aunty Emily)

Easter 2013-Hunting together

Easter 2013-Prize table fun

Easter 2013-Stations of the Cross

Easter 2013-The story of Jesus' victory over death

Easter 2013-And this girl explained what foot washing means ( So missed, Aunty Kathy)

Easter 2013-And this...it's what it's all about, right?

And this year, well, I cannot even begin to explain what this year has brought. A few new kids, a lot of change, including the growth of our school from 180 to 230 students and my new role as Director instead of Principal. I think our greatest change is watching our oldest kids begin to step out (and up) in their faith. At our small groups this past week, I was I awe of the presence of the Lord that fell on us in that room. They are hungry for more of Him. 18 year olds laying on their face on the floor, weeping for more of Him. Calling each other out. Walking in boldness. Praying for each other.

Thinking of the year before, I see that the HARD was simply growing pains for the place where we are today.  We see in the spiritual, a great stirring, a tornado of movement in the Spirit. And as the watchmen on the wall for this place, for these kids, we are interceding. And God continues to move. I can't help but grow excited. Tears well up even as I write this. God is moving. We are standing on the precipice of something new and unknown, but, oh, so rich, and so good. And I fully believe that this movement could change this community. It could change this country. It could change this world.

Walking into Easter, all I can do is stand in gratitude, because God is good. So thankful for his Son. Thankful that he defeated the enemy there. Thankful that lives can be changed because of what happened so long ago. And I am trusting that God will move this Easter in such a way that chains will be broken and lives will be healed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Leaders of "Now" Mentoring the Leaders of "Tomorrow"

This year, we have seen, more and more, a need for our kids to be mentored, discipled, encouraged...but we have been at a lack trying to figure out how to do that with so few hands on board. It has felt like an overwhelming concept.

And then, along came Stanley Osei, who works in our school office currently. This man is amazing, deeply rooted and has a way of helping to engage our feeble attempts with the people and culture here into these amazing opportunities for our kids. (On a side-note-- we are so excited about the possibilities in front of us in expanding our ministry through Stanley and his fiancé, Brittany. They are just that awesome!)

And so, a couple weeks back, we held our first Mentorship orientation for 15+ Ghanaian University students who just have a heart to serve. It was beautiful to see them hanging out with our kids, hungry to engage and speak into their lives. They will continue to mentor our kids for the next year.  

And this past weekend, through a connection with our old friend, Edgar, and our FTO friend, Tim, we welcomed a group of young adults who work in the finance industry in Accra. When I heard they were coming, I was worried that our 20+ kids here and the 30+ kids from the community that attended would be bored by a presentation about how to get into the finance industry here in Ghana. I thought it would be a talk on business or money. But, I came away inspired by this group of young professionals.

They came in with a notebook and pen for each student, encouraging them to write down their dreams and the things they hear that inspire them.

And then, they took turns sharing about their life or the lives of others who inspired them as youth. One talked about dreaming up ways to design and create jewelry and clothing and still work a regular weekly job that allowed her to support her family. Another talked about growing up in a village in the Volta that you can't even find on a district map, but how he was chosen by a NGO to go to senior high and he began dreaming of his future. Now he has finished his University degree and works at one of the biggest banks in Ghana.

Another spoke of how he grew up reading John Grisham novels and when he heard John's life story, he knew he could make his dreams happen too.

And then...this happened...

And I watched as they pulled almost 60 kids into the hallway to talk one on one with them. To dream with them. To encourage them. To inspire them.

But, it was I who walked away inspired. And encouraged.

You see, I see the floodgates opening as God is calling up the "now" to speak into the "future". And it is a powerful thing to witness.

I talked to my mom about all these things, these connections beginning to happen. She reminded me that we haven't needed this before. But, when we cry out to God in a place of need, He fills...and fills abundantly. She is right. We haven't needed this yet. But, now we do. And it is happening in a really powerful way.

God, open up the floodgates. Release your presence through your people. We are ready for You to move. And change. And inspire. And encourage. And stretch us. We are ready for more of you.