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, May 6, 2014

To Start a Fire

We arrived back from our trip to the Volta on Saturday, and it was probably the most impacting trip that I have been on in all my years and many journey's up and down that great lake.  Sometimes, on the occasions that we have space in our homes, we come back with children whom we have been investigating--cases of trafficked children forced to work for long hours on the polluted lake.

But this time, we didn't bring children home with us...we brought children back to their homes, to visit family and friends.  And that is why this trip was, perhaps, the most powerful trip I have been on so far.

Our journey started on Tuesday evening.  Due to the fact that we normally have to meet a ferry to cross the lake almost 10 hours north of where we live, we typically leave at midnight and meet the ferry at 8:00 am.  It's a long, hard journey through the middle of night.

But, recently, the Akosombo bridge began repairs.  This bridge, which crosses the White Volta River, put a wrinkle in our plans and we had to look up the ferry schedule to cross the river.  Now, the line to wait for the ferry extends sometimes for hours down the road.  Its last crossing is at 8:00 pm and if you miss that one, you have to wait until 6:00 am for the next crossing. 

So, for this trip, we left at 6:30 pm on Tuesday night, preparing to meet the ferry to cross the river right at their last ferry crossing.  We loaded up the van with mattresses, enough food to last us four days, all of our luggage, and medical supplies for our clinics and medical assessments, and then all of us--9 kids, 5 members of the medical team, and 8 of us staff members here at CORM.  Let's just say, we were fully loaded.

We made our way across the Akosombo Ferry and drove through the night, being stopped about 8 times at various police barriers and a couple of times for some who didn't know that dehydration was key for long trips like that.

It was around 3 in the morning by the time we made it to Dumbai and we pulled over to sleep in the bus until our 8:00 am ferry appointment.  With so many people and so little room, seats that didn't recline, and grumpy kids (and adults too), we didn't manage to sleep very well.  By 6:00, we were up, gassing up our vehicle and taking our turns at the squatty potty before hurrying down to the lakeside to wait for the ferry.

The kids wandered around, some meeting family members that had traveled over to Dumbai, some discussing their first journey over on the larger ferry (now out of commission), some watching our sweet Heartbeat for Africa medical team members meeting the local children and sharing Bible verses and God's love with those who would listen.

By the time we made it over the lake, we were ready for time out of our cramped quarters, but we had another couple of hours along a bumpy, red, dirt road. 

Our first stop on our way to Benjamase, where our home base would be located for the next few days, was a small village called Bruaii.  There, we met with the family of one of our kids.  Family and friends gathered around, celebrating her homecoming, shedding tears of joy.  It was beautiful! 
Walking back from visiting one of our kid's families
We made a few more stops at family homes in Chinderi, received each time with celebration.  The kids were so happy to see family members that they hadn't seen in almost five years.  They stood in wonder at the changes (and sometimes the lack of changes) in their home communities.  But, it was the boldness that they stood in that made me so Godly-proud of how they have grown and matured and how they are allowing God to move in their lives.

The CORM Staff sits in Dindor, waiting to meet the family of some of our children.

Mershak speaks to his community, sharing the Gospel of truth with them, and thanking those who have poured into his life.

The team gathers for a photo opportunity--all happy about meeting the family members of our kids
When we finally made it to Benjamase, we quickly ate, and took bucket baths (no running water).  That night, we gathered and prayed together for the days to come, that God's presence would meet us in our places of weakness, that He would break the chains of idolatry that we would see in the communities, and that freedom would be found through the love of Jesus displayed in our medical clinics and crusades. Then, it was off to bed, everyone needing the rest for the day ahead.

Thursday morning, we woke up bright an early, and were greeted by more family members of our children.  It was such a joy to see our kids interact with their families, so happy to be home, even if it was just for a few days!  We sat down, heard stories, allowed our children to speak to their family and share with them the many things that God has done in their lives, and open the door of invitation to come and visit us at CORM. 
Meeting with family members at our Benjamase compound

You are always welcome--you are our family

A morning greeting to family we are meeting for the first time
By 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, we had finished up our meetings with family and were headed down to the lakeside to board a boat to cross the lake to Hausakope. Crossing the lake is always an adventure.  We climb into a wooden boat, crawling over wooden beams until we reach a place where we feel comfortable sitting down.  The journey across, depending on the village, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.  It's always a prayerful journey across for me, looking at the surface of the waters littered with yellow jerrycans which denote the location of the corner of nets.  Small canoes filled with fishermen and children float by.  I pray for these children, not knowing if they are suffering under the yoke of slavery or simply helping their father during their school break.  The sun is always hot, reflecting off the water.  And it was especially poignant traveling across with our children, my imagination running wild with stories of when they were young on these very waters.
Crossing over to Hausakope
When we finally made it across, Stacy and John went with our local staff to meet with the chief to find out where we should set up our clinic.  While they went, the children stripped off their socks and shoes and waded into the water, trying to catch the small tilapia that swam in the waters nearest the shore.  They laughed and ran free, almost as if they were small children again--our 16 year old Evelyn chasing the waves that flowed onto the shore.  Mary, Evelyn, and Michael even found some old pieces of net and made their own fishtrap (which they were sorely disappointed about later when they found it didn't catch anything).  Gracie giggled as she caught a catfish small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. 

Finally, we were given the signal to come and set up camp under a large grove of trees.  We called for tables and chairs and benches to be brought in, delivered via head on bikes and motorcycles.  While we set up, Stacy told me about the chief's house--an idol set up in the center, various amulets hanging from the tree, inviting spirits in to "protect" the house.  She said that she could sense the evil of that place.  The chief had invited so many evil things into that village, and as the leader of that place, those things had invaded that area.  We knew we were in for a battle that day.

And we were.  The medical team saw over 100 patients that day.  I was on vitals, taking blood pressures and temperatures and doing the various tests requested from the doctors.  We saw some severe cases of malaria, entire families infected with HIV, malnutrition, blood pressure, spina bifida, and various other diseases and disorders.  It left the team heartbroken, especially with the hopelessness we saw in a place that doesn't have access to proper medication, clean drinking water, the very things we take for granted so often.

And when we headed into our crusade that night, I have to admit, I was anxious.  I had never stayed so late on that side of the lake, so I was worried about staying late and crossing in the dark.  But, when the Jesus Film started, we started with just a few children and then more and more started to come.  They clapped at every miracle, in awe of Jesus' power and grace. By the time the film reached it's climax and we paused it to speak to them the message of Hope that is Jesus Christ, hundreds had gathered.   As Stanley and John began to speak out the gospel of Christ, hundreds raised their hands to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Then, as the movie continued, our staff and kids gathered to pray over those who had accepted Christ--praying with passion that these new believers would walk in love and true change.  

One of the most powerful stories I heard during our time there happened in the middle of the movie.  Our staff gathered to pray during the movie, praying for release of the captives, that God would move in the hearts of the people, that there would be hope offered in new ways for these people.  Johnbull kept hearing the word HOPE from the Holy Spirit and went and told Stanley that he felt like that is what God was going to bring for the people of Hausakope.  And Stanley led him to a young man who had spent the day with us, carrying benches to and from the village, praying heartily with the team during the movie.  A man only 32 years old, living in Hausakope for 20 years, introduced himself to Johnbull.  His name was Hope.  And we fully believe that the hope of God in that community will be brought by this man.  We are praying about how to equip and raise him up as a future spiritual leader for that community. 

That night, as we headed back in the boat, we gave our highs and lows of the day, laughing at the funny comments of the kids (especially Michael) and the staff in their observations of the day, mourning the hopelessness of the medical conditions found in that village and the evil that was so pervasive, and quietly celebrating the love of our good God who met them where they were at in the life of Jesus seen in the film that night.

The next day, we had our clinic in Benjamase.  Families had already gathered by the time we made it there and we were excited to get to spend one more day ministering to the people of that area.  The doctors taught some CHE lessons (Community Health Evangelism) to the people regarding back pain and HIV. 
Dr. Troy teaches his CHE lesson to the waiting patients

Dr. Jammie assesses every need of her patients

I became a blood-pressure pro!
And when we were done meeting all the patients, our medical team taught the curious kids who stood around all day watching the "obronis" a new game.
Playing Red Rover
 That night, we felt more dirty that usual, took our baths in the middle of the afternoon, and then headed out to the crusade in Benjamase's taxi station.  Again, hundreds gathered, some of them the friends and family members of our own kids.  When we paused the movie this time, it was an amazing experience to see Aaron stand up and preach the gospel to his own people in his own language.  Benard, Robert, and Mershak standing at the front with our other staff praying over the people and declaring freedom.  And then, Stanley called out all the CORM staff and kids to pray over each person in the crowd, and so I watched as little Michael and Mary and Benard and Aaron and Mershak and Robert--as our staff gathered around groups of kids and adults--laid hands on them--spoke blessing and truth--offered the free gift of love that only comes from Jesus Christ.  What an amazing night!  Again, we saw many come to know Christ that night.

As we laid down to sleep that night (the hottest night up there by far), it took me a long time to fall asleep.  I thought of the experiences I had had, the things I had witnessed, the ways that God had moved--but mostly, I thought of our kids.  I knew that they would miss their families, but I also knew that what I saw this time in them was the future for these communities that they call "their village".   And it will only come through them.

The next day, we said goodbyes to families and were on our way to Dumbai.  But, our late start meant that we didn't make it to the ferry in time.  By the time that we got to the ferry in Dumbai, they were already boarded and about ready to take off.  John hopped off our bus and ran to the ferry, asking the captain to allow him to come aboard to arrange transport.  Again and again, the captain told him that we would not be allowed to bring our bus on board--they were already full.  So, John got off the ferry and began to pray.  Meanwhile, disappointed, we all left the bus, thinking that we wouldn't be able to take the ferry until that afternoon around 2.  The captain tried to move the ferry, but little did he know, John was praying that the ferry would not be able to move unless our bus was on board.  The captain maneuvered and maneuvered the ferry, but it was stuck in the mire of the shoreline and wouldn't move.  So, he stopped the ferry, took off a couple of buses, and tried again.  He moved it back and forth, back and forth, and still, nothing.  Finally, he moved a truck load of yams off the boat and called John on board.  He asked John if he had placed a curse on the ferry making it unable to move.  John said that we were just Kingdom people wanting to make it home.  We had to be on the ferry!  Others gathered around, angry that he was being given passage. But, one of them recognized John and told the crowd that he was a pastor.  And soon enough, John motioned for the bus to move on to the ferry.  We boarded and the ferry began to move easily across the waters!  God had answered our prayers!

The trip home was long and tiring, but it was fun!  I sat next to one of our staff members, Ajata, and we joked the whole way home.  We got caught up at the ferry in Akosombo (almost a 3 hour wait in the traffic which also included a minor fender bender), but we made it home around 6:00 pm on Saturday.  The kids from the house gathered around us, some not wanting to hug us because we smelled, but I gladly hugged them anyway. 

One of the mornings I was up there, I was spending time in the Word and came across this passage of Scripture--one that I had read many times, but it seemed to have new meaning to me now:

Luke 12:49-56
49-53 “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront! From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be—
Three against two,
    and two against three;
Father against son,
    and son against father;
Mother against daughter,
    and daughter against mother;
Mother-in-law against bride,
    and bride against mother-in-law.”
54-56 Then he turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.
Jesus was crying out for His fire to be present on earth.  He knew that His fire would, in so many ways, confront the things of this earth.  It would set families against each other.  There are those that will always refuse to see the truth--whether because of pride or shame or a lack of understanding of how much they are truly loved.  But, when I read this scripture--I saw our kids--walking in bravery--willing to confront the things of the past--the old ways of doing things--the evil present in the witchcraft and idol worship.  Why?  Because they are blazing with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God living and active in them!  
I see a changing in the season, this is a God-season.  I know that this season won't be led by me or John or Stacy or our staff--it will be led by our kids.  So, I am trusting God to continue to start a fire in our kids that will spread into these communities and "turn everything rightside up".
May it be so.

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