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!

Get Involved

Learn More


Monday, March 30, 2015


I'm not quite sure I can find the words.

How do you describe something supernatural with words that are so human? I feel limited, somehow.

The ordination ceremony was beautiful and celebratory and intense and rich and deep and full, all at once.

I feel like I should be able to describe the service for those unable to be there to witness it, but I don't know if I could really capture it for you.

The joy of the praise, of lives set free dancing before the Lord.

The move of the Spirit in worship, laying ourselves down before a most Holy God.

Apostle Judy Shaw and her words of encouragement over us, calling us to be true sons and daughters to our Father, to our calling, and to this ministry.

The ordination charge, calling us to lives of service. Bishop Joseph McCargo made it clear that being called to a life of pastoring is like signing our own death certificate, daily choosing to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others, for the Kingdom.

But, it was the laying on of hands that I am finding it a challenge to explain.

The words spoken over me.

The emotion of the moment.

The depth and filling, that perhaps even more than "couldn't", it shouldn't be explained.

There are some things that are just too sacred...moments of such richness that words can't contain...sweet and powerful and "bring you to your knees" goodness.

So, I sit, without words, but knowing that for me, ordination was an equipping for what was ahead. And I can rest in that. I can be confident in the spiritual equipping that was poured down.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Called Up

Stacy and John mentioned, almost in passing one day, "Do you want to be ordained as a pastor?"

It took me by surprise.

Titles don't mean a thing to me. In fact, I am someone who avoids things like this.

When I first began to lead worship in prayer gatherings in the States, I loved it because I could sit in the back of the room, lead, and usher others into the Presence. It didn't require me to be front and center. 

And when I moved here to Ghana, I was good for the first year because I taught my little class of students and I knew how to teach, so I was completely comfortable with that calling.

In those places, I felt confident. I felt in control. I felt equipped. I felt knowledgeable.

But, God never leaves us in places where we are comfortable. He desires us to grow. To be stretched. 

And before I knew it, I was the principal of this school in Ghana. I didn't know anything about school administration. I didn't know anything about teacher training. I definitely didn't know anything about running a school in Ghana! I felt completely out of my depth. 

But that was where I needed to be, because if I knew what I was doing, I would have been tempted to take the glory. But this school, it had nothing to do with me. God did it. 

And as I now operate as a director, I can still stand firm in that sentiment...God is doing it. If you only knew how many times a week I think to myself, "What am I doing?", "How will I do this?", "I have no idea what I am doing."...you would wonder why I am still here. But I am here because I know God called me to go, and I am here because I was obedient to His call on my life. I am here because God has gifted me with something that I have to pass along to my fellow teachers, to these students, to my kids.

And now, I lead a worship team on an almost weekly basis...and God is doing it. If you knew how many times I have thought to myself, "I am not as musically gifted as her.", "He sings and plays with such confidence.", "I can't lead with authority like her.". I cannot do it in my own strength. I have to push myself to get better on my guitar, get better vocally, be on the forefront of whatever worship is new out there now, and be willing to learn songs in new languages and lead them with confidence.

It is a constant state of growing. Of stretching.

I keep envisioning a lizard and how they grow, shedding their old skin and leaving it behind so they can stretch out even more.

When we walk with God, we are like that too. 

So, when Stacy asked me about being ordained as a pastor, my first response was surprise. My first reaction was uncertainty. Honestly, I felt like maybe it wasn't necessary, like I didn't fit the description.

The past two days, we have been undergoing teachings on pastoral ministry with Apostle Judy Shaw and Bishop McCargo, who came to Ghana to do our ordination ceremony. More than anything else, the overwhelming definition of a pastor is not just someone who preaches or evangelizes. A pastor is a servant-leader, someone who exemplifies Jesus, and loves people purely and wholly with the love of the Father and trains and equips those around them to walk out their own callings.

I'm not a preacher (though I would say I have grown in my ability to teach Biblical truth), and I'm not an evangelist (I love the one on one so much more than crowds of people), but I do get servant-leadership. I do get attempting to exemplify Jesus to the world. That, I understand and can try to walk in. I understand how to train and build up and equip.

And today, I realized, that this calling on my life, it is pastoral. I have been "pastoring" here for the past five years, whether I wanted the title or not. And there is something happening here at CORM, a spiritual "calling up", and I can't stay comfortable in what I have known. My skin is too tight. God wants me to break free and walk out the new authority He is placing on me.

So, this Sunday, I am being ordained as a Pastor.

And I am trusting that as I begin to walk out this new calling in my life, He will continue to expand me, stretch me, grow me. Call me up.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


A few weeks ago, I posted about vulnerability. And then, as is usual when one is incredibly vulnerable, every fear comes back and haunts you. The voices that I have worked so hard to rid themselves from my brain, came back in full force.

Did I share too much?

Am I making a difference by telling my story, by sharing my heart?

Is it worth it?

Well, every time a lie comes, this internal battle rages. But the truth is, vulnerability is the only way to live a life of truth, a life covered in grace, a life in the strength of my Father. 

So, in the end, the truth always wins.

But, I don't know if it will ever get any easier.

And here I am again, holding out my fears and wondering...do you see me? Do you experience the same things? Does this sound familiar?

This past week, we had a friend of ours come and train our teachers on positive reinforcement. She talked through problems in the classroom, effects of trauma on the brain, and how to change the problems in our classrooms. Some of the teachers started going off like lightbulbs, understanding all that was being taught and excited to put it into practice.

For me, the training was a reminder of how things used to be.

A few years back, I taught my teachers very similar trainings on a weekly basis. I was in the classrooms constantly. I fought for things to be done well. I wouldn't say that the school was perfect in any way, but I could see those lightbulbs going off in our teachers and it made me excited.

But, when we switched over to the Ghana Education Service system in 2012, something changed in me.  We hired a principal to help with the load and all that came with becoming an official Ghana-recognized school, and I stepped back. 

I felt inadequate.

I hid behind my mountain of paperwork (which seems to forever increase no matter how long I work on it), and stopped engaging.

I was scared that because I didn't know or understand the system, that I ceased to be relevant. I felt like maybe I had nothing left to offer.

And when our friend came and the teachers started to "get it", I realized how wrong I have been this whole time. I might not have a degree of psychology behind me and years of experience teaching at the college level, but I do have time in front of a classroom. I know how hard it is day in and day out. I know the kids that push every button. I know. 

And I also know a few strategies that work.

So, I'm realizing, I'm not inadequate at all, but rather invaluable.

It's the nature of the lie.

To take away the very ways in which you might be most effective.

A few years ago, I discovered that if I was to have the greatest impact on our children here, I had to influence the lives of the teachers. I could teach one class of 20 students and see change in their little lives, or I could train and disciple and challenge and encourage and call up teachers and see my impact grow to over 240 children. 

That lie of inadequacy took away my confidence. It sent me into hiding (as most lies do). And, while I have continued to lead and encourage our teachers in a small way, my own feelings of inadequacy took away opportunities to see our teachers grow...our students grow.

In Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly, she quotes another author on the topic of leadership:

“Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable.…It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.”


Am I willing to be uncomfortable?

To feel inadequate and still give what I know I have within me?

To stand in front of those that might speak behind my back and teach them what I know, to entrust them with words that God has asked me to share?

To trust that in my weakness, He is my strength?

Because that is leadership.

And I know that many people follow the confident and the proud and the one with the loudest voice. They trust that kind of leader. But, that is not me. I struggle to be confident in front of others and canbe timid  and defensive and am prone to be stepped on when I don't see the full picture.

But, I'm learning the greatest leader, He experienced all things (that's what the Bible says--so I know he might have felt inadequate at times), but He never gave in. He chose to not believe the lie. He chose to walk in humble leadership, ok with being uncomfortable for the sake of growing and stretching and pushing out past what was known and experienced before. 

I can trust His model of leadership.

Because He has changed the world.

He has changed me.

And I can walk in humble confidence that I have been given everything I need for where I have been called and what I have been called to.

I am enough.

Because He says so.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scary Close

I just finished reading Scary Close, Donald Miller's newest book. 

Vulnerability seems to be a theme in my life right now. Going through Brene Brown's study on vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly has been an incredible challenge. It is bringing up old stuff that I thought was settled and resolved. Now, add to it Don's newest book, which felt like a case study on the same topic, and it was a recipe for introspection.

Don's book is subtitled "Dropping the act and finding true intimacy". It's all about the journey God had him on as he moved toward entering a healthy marriage relationship. And it was quite a journey.

I'm not on the road towards marriage. I don't even have a crush going on right now. But, his thoughts, his experiences, his walk towards living a healthy and enagaged life, made me question some things in my own life, made me wonder which places of shame I still live out of, and where my defenses are simply too high to even be seen as "available".

Don talked about a time when he went to a week of counseling at some facility called OnSite. The counselor he met with called him out right away. When Don's first response to every situation was humor, the counselor questioned him about it and Don explains:

"He pulled a napkin from the table and drew a small circle on it. Inside the circle he wrote the word self and explained everybody is born a self. He said I was born this way and so was everybody else, a completely healthy and happy little self. And then, he said, something happened in my life that changed everything. He drew a larger circle around the small circle, making something like a target. Inside the second circle he wrote the word shame. Bill said at some point I realized, whether true or not, there was something wrong with me. Either I didn’t measure up to the standards of my parents, the kids at school made fun of me, or I came to believe I was inferior. Shame, he said, caused me to hide. “And that,” he said, “is a problem. Because the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect.” Then he drew another circle around the second one and said this outer circle was the false self we create to cover our shame. He said it was in this circle where we likely developed what we think of as our personality, or the “character” we learned to play in the theater of life. Bill said some of us learn we only matter if we are attractive or powerful or skilled in some way, but each of us likely has an ace card we believe will make us lovable. Even before Bill asked me, I blurted out the word humor. So he looked at the napkin and wrote the word humor in the outer circle. He didn’t look back up either. He just sat there with his pen hovering over a blank space in the outer ring. I said the word intelligence. And he wrote intelligence in the outer ring too. I added a few more words and then we stopped. Bill turned the napkin toward me, and as I looked at it I felt as though I were looking at myself in a mirror. I was a self, covered in shame and hiding behind an act. Certainly it’s not a black- and- white thing. I’ve no problem with a person being smart or funny, and I don’t think it’s wrong to receive validation in exchange for talent. But what Bill was getting at was deeper, a buried whisper within me that repeats a lie: I only matter if ."

I saw myself, so clearly, in those three circles. For years, I operated in a place of shame covering it up with humor, people-pleasing, works, being all things to all people...

In 2004, I was freed from my years of depression, but the years that followed, I began to do some hard work to uncover the "why"...why had I struggled so long with that depression?...why did I keep it hidden?...what places are still being kept hidden? God did an amazing healing work in that season of my life. I remember thinking at the time that it was such a dark season of my soul, because soul work is hard and healing sometimes means opening up old wounds to clean out the infection of lies that remain. It was dark, but I came out the other side so much healthier, my relationships stronger, my connection with my Abba Father in a place of such beautiful trust.

And last year, God did some work in me that released me from the constant mind-pursuit of the fairy-tale romance. I suddenly became ok with me as a single person. Though there are still moments of longing, I can say that I am learning to be satisfied in Him alone.  Even in that longing, I know that it will never be satisfied by any earthly relationship, but only can be filled in relationship with Christ (and as Don also discusses, not even in full completion until we finally go home).

But Don's story of the circles brought up some old wounds and I think there is some cleaning out that needs to happen.

I have a secret to tell you.

I have never been on a date.

Well, that's not exactly true. I have been on three dates. But, here is how those went:

In high school, my best friend was this gorgeous girl that was simply amazing. She was smart, athletic, kind, musically gifted, generous, but a bit quiet and shy. I was overweight and made up for that by being all personality. I was in the choir, the drama team, speech, and pretty much anything that didn't require me to run, but allowed me to talk or sing in front of people. I was known for my enormously loud laugh. I may have had a few teachers ask me to quiet down during my lunch period because I was interrupting their classes. I may even have fallen out of my chair a few times from laughing too hard. I excelled in my classes and I am sure I annoyed a few of my classmates with my tendencies to overachieve. I was that girl.

Well, my beautiful friend was always being asked out. But, as an obedient teenage daughter, she stuck to her parents rules of "no dating before 16". But when she turned 16, one of the "coolest" guys in school asked her out. He was on the football team, attended church on Sunday's with his family, and he had fallen for my friend. Well, since this was her first first date, she was especially nervous and her parents decided that they could only date if it was in a group. The clever football guy decided he would rally up a group and asked one of his friends and me to come along. So, it was under the ruse of a double date, but the gig was up. I knew I was a means to an end. We went to the movies and out to eat. I remember laughing and having fun, but the reality was in the back of my mind all night...I was there just so the handsome football boy could have a date with my friend, the quiet beauty. It wasn't real for me. The fairy-tale had been offered to my friend, but because I didn't look the part, I was cast in the supporting role and forgotten when the next date rolled around.

My second date went something like this...

Another high school friend of mine was outgoing and funny and interesting. She wanted to start dating a guy from a rival high school and got up enough nerve to ask him out, but for some reason, parents really like me going with their daughters on first dates. Her mom asked her to find a friend to go along to "make it a group". (Note to friends...three is a crowd when it comes to "supervising first dates"). So, here I was again. Only this time, we headed for the drive-in, because that's what you do in small towns on Friday nights. Let's just say, I ended up in the front seat alone for that double feature. Awkward!

Third date:

I was through with all this "go with your friends and make it a group" dating stuff, so for my junior prom, I decided to ask one of my co-workers from the little restaurant I worked at after school. We went just as friends, and we had a blast. Only issue was, one of my friends came by herself and she was this cute little package of sass and by the end of the night, my friend asked if he could take her home and I went off for a slumber party at my best friend's house instead. 

After those three nightmarish experiences, I must have unknowingly decided that maybe this dating thing wasn't for me. I decided that I just needed to learn how to be satisfied in my own singleness. (Which I have figured out has less to do about being satisfied in being single but being satisfied in who I am in Christ).  I think I hung some sort of invisible "unavailable" sign around my neck. It was easier to be the "too busy" girl as I began my years of teaching in an inner-city school in the Bay Area. It was easier to be the "too intense" girl, making every interaction about issues of justice or intense spiritual conversations. It was easier to be the "I'm intimidating" girl, the one who wanted to solve the world's problems and expected everyone around her to solve them too. 

My heart still longed for relationship, but my invisible signs and that second circle of shame has held me captive for years.

I had years of calls logged to my mom where there were no words, just tears that spoke of the hurt in not having that special someone in my life. Years. 

The signs didn't really work to cover the shame of these lies:

I'm not pretty enough.

I'm not thin enough.

In some ways, I'm just too much...

Too loud.

Too passionate.

Too good.

My breakthrough that has brought me to a point of understanding my place as a single person in this world came after a long conversation with some of my best friends early last year. They had been struggling with infertility and then had been on a waiting list for adoption for such a long time. I had walked the road with my friends, holding both grief and hope for their little family.

The turning point for me was when my friend said to me (in my paraphrased memory version), "Autumn, I have so many friends who are living in marriages that are hurting each other. They are unhealthy and broken people. They do have children and their children are suffering as a result of their unhealthy marriages. I have a wonderful marriage filled with love and laughter and it is healthy and full. If we never have a child, I will know that I have been incredibly blessed in this life by what God has already given me in my marriage and with my husband. If we, by God's grace, do have a child of our own, it will only add to the blessings."

Two weeks later, they got news that a little baby boy was waiting for them and they brought their baby home a few short days later.

But for me, I recognized the amazing blessings already given to me in this life that I live. I have so many children that love me well. I am known by friends who live here and around the world and they pour into my life with such amazing gifts of light and love and truth. My family is amazing and I depend on their wisdom and grace and truth and love on a daily basis. Anything extra...it will only add to an already full life of blessings.

So, I have existed from that place.

But, as I read Don's book, I also recognized the many ways that I have shut the door to even the possibility of a romantic relationship in my life...mostly out of fear. 

My experiences have taught me that I'm not the leading lady...the pretty one who wins the heart of the dashing young prince. My experiences have taught me...I'm a good friend, but not a love interest.  (And maybe this even leads me to question if keeping on all this weight over the years has simply been a defense mechanism to remain on the sidelines?)

So, it's easier to wear my go-to signs...my third circle labels...they aren't terribly bad things...but they don't allow room for anyone either. 

They say "I am enough all by myself".

Which is just another version of the same "enough" lie, because it's not the truth either. If I didn't have the relationships that I have in my life now, I wouldn't be who I am today. I need people who love me enough to put some checks on me, to speak truth, to ask if I'm ok. I need God to fill me up, because I am nothing without Him. This lie only gives me the freedom to hide.

I'm not exactly sure how to open myself up to the possibility again. Honestly, it was incredibly hard to live in the disappointment of never being the desired one, that I'm not sure I want to take off these signs and allow my heart the possibility to believe again. I have felt so sure that this place of singleness, well, it might just be the road for me.

And maybe it is.

But, what if it's not and I am somehow missing out on those extra blessings, the richness of being able to be a witness to the life of another person, simply because I am afraid to put myself out there?

I'm not sure I know the answer to that right now or how to pull these walls down, how to heal the old wounds, how to right the lies I have lived under for so long.

Don wrote this near the end of the book:

"Children learn what’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for by the stories they watch us live."

I do know this...I want the story I'm living to be a full one.  Full of adventure and love and truth and grace...I don't want to be held back because of my perceived shame, those places inside me that still hurt and make me hide. And I don't want to inadvertently spread that shame onto our kids either.

So, maybe the work begins again. That heart and soul work. That is a little dark because it is so hard, but you come out the other side filled with light and life and healthy.

Maybe it's time for my own journey towards "dropping the act and finding true intimacy".

Now I know why Don titled his book Scary Close