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, December 29, 2014

Christmas and Thoughts on being Homesick, Cookies, The Shack, and Dancing

I'm 32 years old (almost 33...shhhh...don't tell), and this was my first Christmas away from home.  In all my years, I have always made it home for Christmas.  I would miss Easter and Thanksgiving, but Christmas was the must-make-it-home holiday.  There's just something about being with your family at Christmas.  I was always guaranteed a sleeping spot on the couch, a fridge full of goodies, and so much love and laughter. 

Since moving to Ghana, my annual trip home at Christmas had become my tradition.  I would leave right after school ended and go straight home to Colorado and the cold.  I loved cozying up under piles of blankets with a good book or a movie while the snow fell gently outside.  My dad always commented that the snow knew when I was coming home and honored me with its presence, coating the ground with white and the sparkling fresh hope of all things new and clean.

But, this year, I stayed here in Ghana.  It wasn't cold and it didn't snow.  I didn't need piles of blankets to cozy up under.  I didn't need hot chocolate to warm my bones or the scalding hot showers to warm up my mornings.  A few days before Christmas, I felt the weight of it all...missing that feeling of family, of home, of security...I cried and cried and wondered why I had decided to stick it out in Ghana for the holidays.

The next day, God told me why.  Power outages came frequently with hours and hours without access to electricity.  I couldn't charge my computer, my ipad, my ipod.  I couldn't fill my hours with mind-numbing television.  Instead, all I had were the books on my bookshelf and my Bible.  So, I lit my cinnamon candle and pulled out my Bible and a few of my old devotional books and dug in.  And God began to speak.

He spoke of His love for me.  His desire for my full attention.  His pursuit of me.  And tears flowed down as I realized that maybe, just maybe, my home was fully in the center of His heart.  My longing for family and snow and that feeling...it was fully justified.  But, my longing for home...it was there...in Him.  All I needed was a little pressing in. 

I spent a day and a half re-reading The Shack, a book I haven't read since my days in University.  Whatever your feelings on the book, it rocked me as it did the first time I read it.  And it almost seemed the most perfect gift that I could have received for Christmas because it reminded me again of the true revelation of God made Man--Jesus limited to human form for the sake of you and I.  Limited, not because of His lack of power, but because He desired so much to change our relationship with God the Father and knew that could only be done through the most perfect sacrifice.  Jesus...limited because of His all-out, indescribable, unbelievable love for us.

For days, I simply felt...tender.  Understanding that this Christmas, however hard it was to be away from family, was exactly what God was calling me to.  It was what was needed.  It was what was required.  I needed to hear from the Lord.  I needed time by myself to bake cookies and pies (baking is like a healing balm to this hospitality heart) and sing at the top of my lungs and read and cry and hear from the Lord.  And God knew that it couldn't have been done any other way. 

While Christmas Day came with some expectations of sadness as I Skyped with family back home while opening gifts in our traditional fashion, it was actually filled with such rest and joy.  We hung out at home, enjoying each others company, finishing up pies and watching movies.  Then, we all got into our Christmas dresses (how we celebrate Christmas here, with new matching outfits), and hung out in our canteen eating dinner.  As soon as we finished eating, the music came and the dancing began.  We danced and we danced and we danced.  It didn't matter if we knew how to dance or if we knew the song, the sweat poured down as we danced.  We all danced with smiles on our face, knowing that THIS was Christmas.  THIS was celebration.  THIS was how we could best glorify God.  A big birthday party for our Jesus filled with the sweetest gifts of all...our laughter, our joy, our dance.  I felt the joy of the shepherds coming to see Jesus and going out into the towns and fields sharing the message of the newborn king.  I felt the awe of the wisemen as they admired the child Jesus.  I felt the majesty of the angels who worshipped in all their glory.  It was all there.  In Valentina's groove.  In Malvin's smile.  In the majesty of a unified mismatched family.

This was Christmas.

This was the heart of God.

This was HOME.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Wonder of it All

Yesterday was Stacy's birthday. For months upon months, perhaps even closer to years, Stacy has been coming up with hairbrained ideas for flash mobs through Accra, clown cars, balloons in traffic. It has almost been a running joke between us all.

Well, last night, a troop of British clowns came to our door wanting to perform for our kids. We talked about why they were here, in Ghana, to bring confidence, encouragement, wonder, and laughter to the children of the nations. They have performed for over 8,500 kids throughout Ghana's 10 regions. And then we chatted about us and what we do and how excited we were about them coming to perform for our kids.

Stacy was seriously almost in tears, she was so excited. She told them that they were a kiss from God on her birthday...a dream come true.

And today was magical.

Our KG's literally sat and watched them for almost 2 full hours. Without moving.

That alone was magical. 

And then there was this:

A clown named Crash

And Bash controlling all 250 kiddos with one hand 

And little over-the-top performances

And spinning plates

And magic paper

I loved watching the kids marvel. The belly laughs. The excitement. 

And isn't this what childhood is all about? That wonder. That awe. That silliness that isn't found embarrassing, but inspiring. 

Now, the question is, how do we keep the wonder?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks

Can you believe it? I just spent my FIFTH Thanksgiving in Ghana. Sometimes, it's hard to even imagine that I have been here that long. But, as I was skyping with my family on Thursday, I commented on that and my brother said, "Yes, I can believe it. You have been gone a long time."

Sometimes, I feel like time is only passing for me. Time flies here. I look at my little babies back home, my friend's kids or my little nephew, or even my younger brother and sister, and I see so much change. But it still doesn't feel as though it's been five years.

My first Thanksgiving, we lived in downtown Doryumu. 40 of us. In one house. With no running water. It was a miracle year! We grew as a family and we grew as a ministry. That year, for Thanksgiving, we rented a stove to cook everything. Thinking my turkey would take 6 hours to bake, we stuck it in the oven in the early hours of the morning, finding it basically turned into turkey jerky by the time we woke up to check on it. My gravy wouldn't thicken. My stuffing was mushy. But, wow! That year was a beautiful celebration with our whole Ghanaian family and the kids performing dances and songs. 

The next year, we were still living in downtown and preparing to move out to our houses at the Children's Village. Electricity wasn't installed yet, but we were moving! It was the first year our school was up and running and we cooked all the fixings! Our Ghanaian school families also prepared so much food. We laughed and ate until we were full. The turkey got gobbled up by all of our families and us Americans laughed as they frowned and shook their heads at the mashed potatoes and gravy and sweet potatoes. 

In 2012, Kathy and Emily and Holly were with us, along with a team of volunteers from Australia.  We decided against the American holiday shared with all of our school families as it was so expensive to purchase foods that they didn't enjoy. Instead, we did an American Thanksgiving that Thursday and followed it up on Friday with our regular anniversary celebration (and lots of rice). That year, we started a lot of new traditions. Chicken noodle soup on Wednesday evening, a special treat around here. Cinnamon rolls on Thanksgiving morning. And then all the fixings and the family and the music that evening for dinner.

Last year, our Australian friends joined us again for Thanksgiving, along with much peeling of potatoes and kitchen laughter! All of our missionary friends from the area came to join us as well. I was living in the Guest House at that time, so we did most of our preparing together on the big middle counter in that house. We laughed and chatted and had so much fun! Little did we know that it was the last Thanksgiving we would share with several of those families, as they transitioned back home this year.

This year, our Thanksgiving went beautifully! Pies were almost all finished the night before. The pumpkins were in the oven by 6:30 that morning and by 11, the dinner was all prepped, it was only coordinating oven times for the two turkeys, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, squash, and mashing the mashed potatoes. It was so fun to inaugurate my new kitchen on Thanksgiving day with turkey #1! By 5:30, dinner was served with several local missionary families coming to join us and, of course, our many amazing Ghanaian staff. It was so well timed, I even got a break to rest in the afternoon! 

Stacy whipped up the meringue by hand!

And Friday, we celebrated City of Refuge's 8th Anniversary with our annual Thanksgiving Love Feast. It was a blessing to see our kids share all that they are thankful for, to see our cadets march, and our choir sing. It was a beautiful day!

Our choir sings to welcome everyone

Our littles share their thanksgiving praises

Our cadets prepare for inspection

I am in awe of all that has changed in the past five years. 

*from 19 kids to almost 60 children at CORM
*from 16 homeschooled kiddos to 250
*from a staff of 8 to a staff of almost 80
*from no running water in one small house to running water, electricity, and not 1, but 4 children's homes, and 4 apartments, and an office building, and a guest house, and a pure water factory, and...the list goes on and on! 

God has been so faithful and the only place to stand is in Thanksgiving.