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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Friday, June 27, 2014

Our Special Friends

Since I first came to Ghana, I wanted to bring all my friends here to see it...to breathe it in...to be loved on by these kids.

And so many of my friends have come through. PCC friends (my home church). New friends made through various connections. Family. So many have traveled here.  They've seen. They've been loved on. They experienced all of this place.

This week, A friend from college is here. We attended Hope International University together back in the day. In fact, the last time we really spent any amount of time together in person was at her wedding...so many years ago now.  

Since then, so much has changed. But God drew her heart to Ghana with this little guy...

Edwin lived with me at the time and his little face connected our hearts as I cared for him here and her family prayed for all of us at CORM while they remained in the States. Her and her husband started the adoption process to adopt from Ghana...a painfully slow process which ended in a country closed to adoptions. 

But, there was a perfect plan in it all. Her and her husband's journey in pursuing international adoption led to raising up their own son with a heart for the "least of these", a little boy of 6 with big dreams to change the world.

And so, finally, God has brought my friend here, with her little world changer. And it's been a joy to see moments of just sweet goodness...moments prayed for and longed for and mourned for...such sweet moments.

Sarah and Emerson Carter...read more about their story at www.sarahcarterstudio.com.

Some of the sweetness happened today with this:

When Sarah started planning to come, she met up with another little world changer, Judah, and his mom, Joy. They wanted to provide shoes to kids who just didn't have. And they came with 400 pairs of shoes. 

You guys, 400 PAIRS OF SHOES!!!!

This means shoes for us, but also shoes for hundreds of needy people in the communities we serve. 

And this was the sweetest blessing:

Our rainy Friday morning with shoes like this:

Brought about the holiest of moments...Emerson and Judah washing the feet of their new friends, praying for each other, and putting new shoes on their feet. It was beautiful.

So grateful for these friends...these little world changers...it has been such a beautiful week (despite the busyness of it all).

Thank you Sarah and Emerson and Joy and Judah for loving our kids...for seeing a bigger picture and impacting a bigger world. So blessed to call you friends.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Road to Water

We are faced with an interesting water situation here at the Children's Village. When I left in December, we had a high pressure week and a low pressure week.  But, at some point in January, it became a high pressure week and a no water week. 

We have gotten used to it and are blessed with having a well on our property to help when we are on no water weeks. In fact, our access to water is so much better than so many in our area.

But, two weeks ago, our "water week", our pipe that is connected to the main water pipe, burst. It was up to the government to come and reconnect our water pipe. And, as usual, when waiting for the government, be prepared to wait...

So, we are going on our third week of no water, no reconnection. 

The worst part of it all is that with no access to tap water, we don't have regular access to drinking water as our well water has some sulfuric problems and isn't drinakable.  So, we have been living on limited fluids these days...praying for the water to turn back on.

But, learning to trust God in the things I don't have any control over...I decided to take you on a little journey today, the road to water. Here is how we get water every day:

Our road to the well

Walking these red roads

Our little path in through the tall weeds...now imagine this after a rainy day...not so fun...but thankful for our access!

Raphael waiting to fetch water

Getting water for bath time

John was doing his washing under the shade of the trees.

Benard washing clothes before school starts tomorrow.

Usually it's on our heads back home, but with two buckets, our hands are the best way to carry a heavy load.

And there you have it! The road to water here at CORM.

Maybe next time you turn on water to take your bath or shower or brush your teeth or fill a cup of water to drink, you might be grateful for the access you have to running water. It's such a blessing!

Friday, June 20, 2014

2 years, 4 years

June 20th is a big day around here.

For many of our children, their rescue date becomes the date we celebrate every year to represent their birthdate. So many of our kids don't know their birthdate, so the day when their new life began, becomes a day of celebration for us here. 

4 years ago, just about a month before I moved to Ghana, these two were rescued:


My first experience with these two came with sign language while they learned both Twi and English, behavior problems, and lots and lots and lots of tears. 

DK was gentle and sensitive and purely boy and his first English words had something to do with John Cena.

Abigail was fiery and filled with anger, yet gentle and compassionate towards our littles and always up for a little extra loving.

And as I think back, so much has changed, yet it is still THEM. DK is funny and gentle, though his "boy" comes out in his hunting and wrestling and the joy of the game. Abigail is still as fiery as ever, yet we see her kindness and her outgoing nature to welcome just about anyone.

4 years. I look at their pictures and see children, and yet today, they look like teenagers, faces gradually changing into the fullness of adulthood. Abigail turned 15 today and DK 14. How is that possible? 

And two years ago, these ones came home to CORM on June 20th, giving us 4 more reasons to celebrate:
Florence, Hannah, Alex, and John

Florence had a permanent frown on her face, tears readily filling her eyes. It took her over a month to begin to trust, to settle in, to smile and laugh and play. And now, her smile, big and wide and hungry for love and learning.

And Hannah, so similar to Abigail, fiery and impatient. And while that hasn't changed much, we see glimpses of the future, the tenderness of all that she is capable of.

Alex settled in easily,  not one to stir up trouble, and quickly caught on in school, striving towards being first in his class both academically and by example.

And John, filled with anger and quick to fight, he came in wanting to hurt anyone that walked in front of him. He has been one we have spent so much time praying over, that God would soften, and heal, and move. And we are seeing it...the more love, the more change.

I think back and remember and know how much God has moved and changed and grown these treasures that He has given to us. Oh, how much have been moved and changed and grown by these treasures.

So, happy birthday sweet ones. We are so glad God called you home with us, and we are praying that the year ahead will lead to blessing after blessing as you continue to live into the love of your great Father.

Spelling Bee

We had our own "Akeelah" moments today as our kids faced off in the second annual Faith Roots Spelling Bee. 

This year was a bit more official, being hosted in our computer lab, intense judges, and sentences and definitions prepared for students who didn't understand the word they were given. Our kids handled it with grace and all things good. They were brave. Amidst the nervous minds and hands and feet and stomachs, we had some real super stars shine through.

I was so proud of our kids, knowing that they had spent weeks working and working on their lists of words, getting ready for the big day.  And though nervousness got the best of some of them, they really did remarkably well.

I was so grateful for the help of our special volunteers and friends who came in and worked on word lists and judging and organizing the competition and entertaining the littles and even making these beauties:

Yep, I was so happy to see all that happened today. And when we left this afternoon, John told me that we need to do things like this more and more as it was so exciting to see our kids put in so much effort to win their ribbon.

And it's moments like this:
When we get to see the child-like excitement of winning...a job well done...in our oldest students...

This makes the weeks of working it all out...worth it!

Way to go, Faith Roots International Academy!  We are proud of all of our students!

But for those of you who may have served with us or sponsor some of these amazing kiddos, here are our winners:

Primary 1 Winners:
Jason K.
William A.

Primary 2 Winners:
Bismark K.
Alex K.

Primary 3 Winners:
Perfect A.
Love K.

Lower Primary All-School Winner:
Perfect A.

Primary 4 Winners:
Mary A.
Carlos A.

Primary 5 Winners:
Mary O.
Christabel O.

Primary 6 Winners:
Sylvester A.
Gloria B.

Upper Primary All-School Winner:
Gloria B.

JHS1 Winners:
Hannah O.
Valentina A.

JHS2/ML Winners:
Grace Y.
Rosemary O.

JHS/ML All-School Winner:
Rosemary O.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Dad

This is why I love my dad...

Because his lessons are on-going and he loves to teach others, mentoring so many young men and children through their home over the years

Because he is incredibly hard-working

Because his rediculous sense of humor always keeps me on my toes and laughing

Because his heart is gentle and sensitive and loving

Because he loves his kids

Because he knows what is important to us...and it becomes important to him

So grateful that God gave me my dad, my papa...I continue to be encouraged and loved on and grown from his example and wisdom and love.

Happy Father's Day to my dad! I love you with all my heart!

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Required Rest

I wrote my last post just a few hours before my latest adventure began. These past couple of days, God taught me about rest from a hospital bed. 

Wednesday, I had felt strange enough throughout the day that I decided to stay home from Bible Study that night. I was grateful that I made that choice as just about an hour after dinner, my stomach seemed to decide it wanted no part of my body and insisted on throwing itself out in any way possible. I will withhold the gruesome facts that occurred that night, but throughout the whole night, I was sick and when the morning finally dawned, John and Stacy had decided to take me to the hospital in Tema.

Even though I had nothing left in my system, my body still seemed out of rights as John drove me in to Tema in Lydia's car (ours is "out" more often than "in" these days). After meeting with the doctor and paying for my file (of which I was charged more for since I was white, which is a story best left for another day), I was admitted to be rehydrated. 

The nurses got an IV started, but apparently, my lack of fluids caused an extremely dizzy spell and I practically collapsed on the nurse trying to connect my IV. She graciously let me lean on her until I had regained my sense of balance, then laid me down on the bed and pumped in an IV drip before I was to be trusted to be up on my feet changing into my hospital robe. Then, John left me with money for food (which sounded completely unappetizing...and still does), juice, crackers, and prayer covering. Within a matter of an hour, my phone ran out of battery (as I had neglected to charge it while I was undergoing my stomach issues the night before), and I was alone.

At first, this made me completely anxious. I was worried that others would worry. I wondered how John  would know when to come and pick me up. But, soon enough, the warm afternoon air calmed my busy mind and sent me to sleep.

When I woke up, I was grateful for my iPad's newest Kindle download, Chasing God by Roger Huang. Before evening rounds begin, I had finished this book, inspired and encouraged by the way God had moved in Roger's life and ministry.

In 2012, John and Stacy joined me on my home church's young adult retreat to City Impact in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. This district, only meer blocks from SF's Union Square, houses thousands of the cities down and out, the hopeless, the addict, the lost. City Impact, founded by Roger and his family over 30 years ago, provides hope through education, food, prayer, family restoration, and so many more ministries. It was a sweet, sweet weekend moving from ministry here in Ghana serving the orphaned, abandoned, and trafficked, to serving the same population on the streets of San Francisco.

And as I read his book, it was Roger's heart for prayer and fasting that moved me the most.

He spoke again and again about God's provision for the ministry through Roger's heart cry in his times of fasting and prayer. 

I loved when he spoke about praying and fasting for his building to be renovated...praying and fasting for God to move to provide for a new building for his ministry...praying and fasting that God would provide for a home for him and his wife...praying and fasting for his children to return to serve with him in San Francisco...and God moved each time when his heart was laid down in surrender for these things.

One of my favorite stories he spoke of was when a strip club was moving in next door to their ministry's school building. He was so angry about how this would even be something allowed legally, but because it was in the Tenderloin, everyone looked the other way. And he was fed up. So he talked with his wife and they put together a list of things that needed to be policy changes that would effect the needs of the people in the Tenderloin district--street cleaning, Parks and Rec taking increased care to clean and manage the parks in the area, increased police forces making their rounds through the area, limited numbers of liquor licenses being granted in the area, but perhaps foremost on his heart was regulations regarding strip clubs and other sex industries being given a required distance from any school or church building.

Roger knew that these things would begin to make huge changes in that district, if granted. So, a friend of his drafted a letter to the mayor and various council members in the city offices and the day that the the letter was put on the desks of these prominent men and women, Roger began fasting and praying for change outside of City Hall. He sat in front of City Hall, a sign reading "Hunger Strike" hung around his neck. He had promised in that letter that he would remain there, without eating, without bathing, without a comfortable bed, until these changes were made. 

About two weeks into the hunger strike, the Mayor came out to meet with Roger, claiming that he would be willing to make some changes, but it was certainly unreasonable to think that all these things would be made possible. But, Roger held out hope. These were the most basic of needs for the community he had learned to call home. And so, the fast continued. As did his notoriety. Many came to interview this man and his dream of change in the Tenderloin. Word was getting out about the conditions of the poor in the Tenderloin and the Mayor needed to do something about it. And on the 33rd day of his hunger strike, the Mayor came out from his office and told Roger that every single item on his list had been passed into law. And even more, the strip club that was supposed to be moving in next door to City Impact's school, had agreed to sell their building to City Impact instead, to expand their ministry there. I was blown away by this man's dedication, his love for the people of the Tenderloin, his desire for more of The Lord. And because of his pursuit of God, God chased him right back, expanding and growing their ministry to something that now manages thousands of volunteers, serves thousands of children and families, and loves on thousands of those lost and seemingly unfound in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

So, when I went to sleep last night on my hospital bed, my stomach grumbling from lack of food (and it's recent upset), alone in a strange place, I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be. God had taken me to a place of rest to learn more about His heart. To learn that these rumblings in my stomach can turn hearts towards him. That entire cities could be changed through those who press in deeply to the things of God.

And I slept. A deep sleep, much needed, only awakened by the nurses and the change in my IV meds or fluids.

And this morning brought me to Nehemiah.

Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “ Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:2-11 NIV)

God's heart was broken for His people. And so he sent Nehemiah to gather the people. To pray and fast together. To be broken for the sins of their people. And to begin to rebuild. To restore their people. Their city. Their wall.

And as God drew me to Nehemiah, I was reminded of our people here...the Shai people. These people are a scattered people, all coming from different people groups and homes. They live in so much darkness (both literally and spiritually), but God is chasing them and I truly believe that we have been called to be the Nehemiah's to this place, the watchmen on the wall for these communities. We have been called to pray and fast, to see God move in them to rebuild and restore. I believe He will do it. As Stacy keeps saying, "What God has done here in the natural, God is about to do in the spiritual." It takes people willing to pray and fast to see God move, to break chains of spiritual bondage, to be ready for Him to powerfully change the lives of all those willing to turn their face to Him, to press in to the deepest things of God to bring about lasting change.

It was a beautiful revelation this morning, that I don't think I would have recieved had I not been alone, sequestered, hungry, tied down with an IV. God brought me there to rest, but He also brought me there to show me all these things. That this is His vision for us at CORM, but also His vision, His broken desires for the people in the communities in which we serve.

I left the hospital this afternoon, still tired, my stomach still not completely mended, but so much better than the day before, both physically and spiritually. And while I wouldn't recommend a hospital stay as a form of rest, it was what was required and I am grateful. (IV's are not fun though, and I am grateful to not have them stuck in my arms anymore.) 

And so begins the next stage of where God is taking us, and hoping to see Him move in powerful ways through the lessons of Roger Huang and Nehemiah.

If you are weary...

Stacy came into the house the other day and said that she hates when she hears the word "weary". It holds so many connotations with it. It's dramatic. You can almost see the posture of one who is weary merely in the word itself.

I get it. The word does feel a little hopeless.

But, sometimes, there isn't another word to define all that you are feeling. Perhaps "exhausted" comes close. But, "weary" really does sum it all up.

I have been really tired this week. And perhaps it is just a reaction to the busy-ness of last week. But, I sense there is more to it.

I feel it in my body...as if I am swollen and carrying around 50 extra lbs.

I feel it in my head...a haze that limits how much I have been able to engage this week.

I feel it in my spirit...a longing for a deep filling, feeling as though my cup has been leaking out the bottom.

This morning, in our CORM staff meeting, we read Matthew 11:20-30. And The Message spoke so clearly to me as I read it to our staff:

"Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:25-30 MSG)"

I am tired, yes, because I haven't had my full rest as of late, but my "weariness" comes out of lack of intimacy with the One who knows the Father. Real rest only comes in that "getting away" with Jesus. It's standing in those "unforced rhythms of grace". 

As I dwell in this scripture, I find myself, even now, just melting...needing...desiring that time to dwell.

So, this weekend, that's my plan. To rest in His presence. To get away with Him and recover. To stand in the free and light company of Christ.

Much needed. Much desired.

Ready for real rest.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Strange Revelation

It's been awhile since I have written anything. Life can be so consuming sometimes and it seems every spare moment is given out rather than savored and remembered and written down.

But today, I was exhausted! I felt like I was in a haze throughout the whole day and ended up leaving school early to come home and sleep. I realized, today, that my weekends are this refuge for me. And when they don't allow for any rest, I just cannot engage. I reach a point where my body physically cannot commit to the work anymore, and I need to withdraw. It is necessary and good and Godly. And I need to make it a practice rather than an exception.

But, I have gotten off topic...

I had this interesting experience yesterday, and it was the first time that I had thought to myself that maybe I had changed so much that I wasn't relevant to American culture anymore.

We had a group here this weekend and they were great and worked hard and completed a lot of things we just can never get around to doing. Before they left for Cape Coast yesterday, I met with them to debrief their stay with us. It was an interesting debriefing with lots of sincere questions, and a few very pointed ones. I came away just wondering what the conversations were about before our debriefing and how issues of social justice are being discussed in the western world. 

I have lived here long enough that I frequently feel out of the loop.

When I go home to the States, I feel self-conscious about the way I dress. Do I dress like a missionary? Am I culturally relevant? What about the boots? Do I get some for my two months at home? They certainly aren't relevant here in Ghana.

I feel out of the entertainment loop and have to ask a million questions about the newest musicians and movies and tv shows.

I don't know if I am up on the newest social justice lingo and stats and issues.

And there were moments with this group that I felt like maybe there were things discussed that I didn't have context for anymore because I don't live in the States. That maybe there are expectations of ways to do things in the human trafficking sector that the western world is discussing, and we aren't a part of that conversation anymore.

But, here is the challenge...the western world is not always right.

And that is a hard one to get. We can plan and purpose and have the best of intentions, but they might not be the right answer in this context.

I have learned that the hard way with the school. I have to give value to how things work within the culture, within the country that we live and work in. To trust that my way is not always the best way. And I have to be willing to place my trust in people that may damage my trust in the end, but it's worth the risk to make this place possible for these kids. And sometimes, even when that trust is broken, I have to trust again and again and again for the sake of God's plans and purposes through these people. 

And people in the western world need to understand that there are no great answers to the issue of human trafficking. These issues are complicated and messy, filled with deceit and darkness...all too human. And when you are dealing with human lives, you can't look at the numbers or the money or development...the answer lies in the heart. And the heart is only known by God. So, our answers here at CORM have everything to do with Him, because we truly believe that real change can only come when the heart is changed. It has everything to do with love. Love for the child whose childhood has been stripped away, whose voice has been quieted, whose life has been changed irrevocably. And love for the slave master, who was most likely trafficked himself, a victim of the cycle, a human heart worth valuing.

So, while I sat with them, this team, waiting for their bus, so many questions of my own, I had this strange revelation. I saw Ajata and Jackie and our cooks outside chatting and laughing together in this language that I still don't know.  And they felt more at home to me than anyone else. And I joined them in their laughter and conversation, feeling fully me with our staff...much more me than I felt with the team. I have continued to ponder that feeling throughout today...just wondering if this place is becoming more and more my home than anywhere else, these people more family than any others?

I suppose the need to be culturally relevant to the westerners that travel through here will continue to be something we need to work on and be present in. Something we will need to step up with, to have a voice in this world-wide conversation.

But, my strange revelation has also brought a sense of peace among the many questions. This is where I am supposed to be and there isn't a question in that. In that, I can stand in full confidence...not wondering...not out of the loop...just in the knowing that I am exactly where God wants me for this moment in time.