Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Christina and I have the sweet pleasure of knowing dozens of close friends doing amazing kingdom work all across the world. One of our closest friends who has sacrificed, labored, and benefited greatly in her following and reflecting of Jesus is our friend Autumn Buzzell.
Autumn works with City of Refuge Ministries and founded Faith Roots International Academy in conjunction with City of Refuge. The purpose of COR is to rescue children who are enslaved as forced laborers in fishing villages on Lake Volta, the worlds largest man made lake. Children are often sold or given away to fishermen from families who are either too poor and hopeless to believe they can care for their children or are manipulated into believing that their whole family will benefit financially from sending their children away. COR ministry rescues, rehabilitates, nurtures, educates, and raises children they have negotiated for (as opposed to re-captured) as well as orphans who are brought to them.
Recently Andrew and Kika Grupe decided they were going to spend three weeks with Autumn and City of Refuge Ministries. One amazing side note: They brought their 13 year old daughter with them!
Kika, who is a preschool teacher, went knowing she was going to be providing, training, and implementing preschool curriculum at Faith Roots. Andrew, who is a photographer by hobby & passion, went knowing he was going to be capturing the stories, truths, and realities they experienced so they could be shared back in the US. Kaley wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing but recently she wrote about her experience and it greatly inspired, challenged, and moved me. I’m thankful that this family, particularly Kaley, are good friends of ours and are passionate Christ followers within our community and world! Here is Kaley’s story.
Oh man. Ghana. I mean, what can I say? It’s kind of expected to say that it was amazing. But, truly, it was more than that. It was more than I could ever really describe to someone. It was eye opening, full of love, full of sadness, full of wicked attempts of evil, and full of hope. There was so much that happened, and it’s so hard for me to respond when someone asks how it was, or what it was like. I mean, yes, it was great, but it goes beyond that. It was like a message straight from God, there, opening my eyes to his wonders anew.
I guess, if I had to say one story, one thing that happened in Ghana that really touched my heart, it would be about the first few days I was there. At first, I came into Ghana, almost weary of how different the culture was. The food was too spicy for me, it wasn’t a very varied diet, and the people all seemed the same. When I first came, I was dreading the action I had taken. I didn’t want to be there, where the electricity had it’s own mood, where the plumbing was sometimes non-existent, where the food was so.. odd… I didn’t want to have to make bonds with people, and come so close to them, let them take a place in my heart, only to have to leave after three weeks. What could three weeks of service even do?
So, with these thoughts in my head, I stayed to myself more or less. I’d wake up, take my shower, go eat bread for breakfast, then return to my room, and stay in there. I didn’t know what to do. I’m always rather awkward about meeting new people, and I didn’t know how to go about making any friends with the kids in the Freedom Center, in the home. So I was just locked up in my room. Occasionally I’d go out, play with the little kids, the 2 and 3 year olds, because that’s always a rather easy task. I’d also help my dad sound record, which I didn’t like a whole lot either. I was close to just screaming. I had come here to do service, not to be a lazy person all day. But I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was tricked into coming to Ghana.
It all changed soon enough. At the story time, which was after dinner almost every night, I had caught the eye of a few kids. One in particular was a twelve year old boy named D.K. He was a rather rambunctious kid, who I wanted to definitely stay away from. He’d pull on my hair, and was just a nuisance. Little did I know, this was him extending his hand for friendship.
On the first Saturday I was there, the heads of City of Refuge, Stacy and Johnbull, their kids, a few of the volunteers, my family, and I went out to the mall in Accra to celebrate Stacy’s son, JJ’s, birthday. I went to the mall, and had a fun day. I was easily reminded of America, because the mall truly seemed like it. We went and watched a movie, got to eat pizza, and it wasn’t anything like the small, middle of no where villages that were common in Ghana. It felt like home.
Of course, all this had to end sooner or later. We had to go home, and on the ride back, I started to become closer to Johnbull and Stacy’s kids. I laughed with them, and was happy that I could be in Ghana. The long ride was bumpy and tiring, and I was pretty excited to be able to get back to the ministry’s volunteer house.
When I got back, I went into the volunteers’ house, where my bunk was. On it, I noticed a letter in an envelope. Inside was a letter from D.K., a sweet letter about how he wanted me to come and play with him and the other kids, and he asked why I was so quiet. He told me that I needn’t be quiet, and that he loved me so much.
Finally, I realized what I was supposed to do. God was calling me to play with the kids in the Freedom Center. So, the Freedom Center became my new home. I hung out with the kids, day in and day out. I ate dinner with them, not with Stacy, Johnbull, Autumn, or where the other volunteers were supposed to eat, I ate with the kids, even though it wasn’t my favorite. I gave them all the love I could. And in return, they all loved me back, and became my new family. I made friends, and I started to learn the stories of these kids. For example, D.K. had been a fisher’s slave, he had to get the net out of the water in the lake. This was a hard task because the net would sometimes get caught on the underwater trees, making it very likely for someone to drown while detangling the net. His time there was so hard, but it seems impossible, that this kid, who had had such a horrible life, is now smiling so much, and loving with all he can. Now, instead of being a fisher’s slave, he’s a fisher of men. It’s just completely amazing how City of Refuge changed them so much. But it hasn’t only changed them, it’s changed me too. I’ve realized how important it is to give your love to anyone and everyone, and how great it feels to latch onto that love. A love that grows with time, and gets sweeter and better by the day.