Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 of 2011

1. Finding a passion
2. Forgiving myself
3. Kolt starting Kindergarten and falling in love with learning
4. Kyle got the NASA fellowship
5. Getting good news about Kenton's health
6. Friends. Amazing, wonderful, encouraging friends
7. Experiences in Ghana
8. Education
9. An incredible family to share life with
10. healthcare. A repaired knee, antibiotics for crazy illnesses brought home from Africa and a dr who cares about me and my family.

2011 has been amazing in so many ways. I am so thankful for this year and hopeful for next year too.

I sincerely wish you all an healthy and happy 2012 and thank you for your support over the past year.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Compassion International- Visiting Precious

I have waited a long time to figure out how to write about Compassion and how visiting their projects impacted me. I had long heard awesome things people had told me about the organization. I had never been involved with Compassion before I went on this trip to Ghana. I had just heard lots of things about it through my community of blog friends and in real life friends who sponsor children. 

Honestly, I had been skeptical of many of the claims made by people about how perfect and honest and transparent CI was. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by my visits to 3 compassion project sites in Ghana, West Africa. 

The trip to visit Precious impacted me the most. We could make arguments as to why, certainly. But I think it is because Michelle trusted me to share her love with this little girl. We were utterly exhausted the day we visited Ato Sam and I really don't remember it in much detail beyond what I penned in my journal. And I loved visiting George and George because it was part of JD and Tia's beautiful friendship together. But Precious and the kids sponsored through this woman who lives 5000 miles away from them is what really stuck with me.

We got to see everything about Precious' project. The meticulously kept records, the curricula used to teach the children basic education. I will even admit to feeling a huge sigh of relief as JD passed to me a book that explains good touch, bad touch and how an adult should never touch their body in ways that make them uncomfortable. I knew what they were teaching would help these kids. 
Some of the curricula used by Compassion International
The project directors had a very neat office and every single photo of every single child enrolled into the program displayed on a bulletin board. It was neat to know they knew them all by name. Knew their neighborhoods, their families, their needs. We asked about children who had been sponsored because of Precious and they pulled out a list of names and pointed them out to us.
Pictures of the Compassion children. They did not even have to look for a child when we asked about one, they knew the faces and where they were by heart
When we asked about Michelle, their faces broke into smiles. Ear to ear. They had Precious' file waiting for us and showed us every single letter Michelle and her family had sent to this little girl and every letter she had sent to them. They had record of every cent spent on her and how it was spent, records of her being enrolled into the medical program, records of her schooling successes and her family life, illnesses... you name it, it was in this file.
Us pouring over Precious' file

 It was very amazing to find out that this particular project won the award for best project in Ghana the previous year. And they were so excited to tell us about it.

Samuel (on the right) was out gracious host for the visits to the compassion centers. It was a pleasure and joy to get to know him a bit. Next to him is his best friend.
 When we got to Precious' school we were greeted by so many beautiful, happy, sweet children.

Eventually we found one of the most beautiful kids I had ever seen with her little black backpack on her back bouncing around with her friends.
Be Still, My Heart- Photo Credit: JD Richardson
 We got to meet Precious and 3 other children who have been sponsored through the Precious connection.

Prince, Precious, Kenneth (all sponsored through the Precious Connection)
We also got to see where Precious goes to school and meet her lovely family.
Precious and her family- Photo Credit: JD Richardson
I got the very awesome and humbling honor to present Precious and her family with many of the gifts that Michelle chose for her and her family. JD did most of the talking because well, I don't really like to lead the talking and she is pretty flawless at it. But I did get to stroke sweet faces and hand out prized possessions to their family. Precious LOVED the doll that her American sister picked out for her. And Precious' little brother, Prince, was jumping out of his shoes with anticipation over the soccer ball that awaited him.
Prince receiving his soccer ball. Photo credit: JD Richardson.
. There were a few children who hadn't yet been sponsored in Precious' project. 8 to be exact. Well, 7... because we brought news that someone had sponsored Emmanuel. The project did not even know yet that he'd been sponsor and we already had gifts for him and a message from his sponsor that he was very loved. We asked where he was when we visited the offices and they told us that he was in the hospital with malaria and that we could go see him if we wanted. We did and it was very good to see him doing well, he was even released to go home and we dropped him off in his neighborhood. But what is so awesome about Compassion is that when you are enrolled into the program, you get all the benefits of a sponsored child. Emmanuel hadn't been sponsored yet but he DID have national health insurance since he was enrolled in the program. And was able to get the medical care he needed when he was quite sick.

It was an awesome experience to visit the compassion projects! I can wholeheartedly say that Compassion is transparent and honest in how they run their organization. I can say the children who are in the program are healthy and enrolled in school and doing well. I can say that a sponsorship doesn't just help a child but it helps the entire community. I can tell you that if you sponsor a child you will gain a new family that you will love and connect with (if you put the work into building those relationships of course). You will be alerted to the childs successes and their communities successes. You will be invested in a life and in a community and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

So please, if you have ever thought about sponsoring a child go to Compassion's website and look for a child who speaks to your heart. If you want to be a part of The Precious Connection, get in touch with Michelle and she can help you find a child in project GH220 who needs a sponsor.

And trust me when I say that I have seen it with my own eyes and it isn't just about one child. As if that weren't enough (because we all know it is) but it is about equipping communities.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Because I am a human too

I have been wanting to get a new documentary since I heard it would be coming out. It is called Not My Life and it is a sampling of the types of trafficking going on in the world today. It focused on various places in the world including Ghana, the US, India, Cambodia, and some other places.

Well I got the DVD for Christmas from my sweet mother in law (thanks :)) and got around to watching it today. It is a very good documentary. If you want to see what is going on in the world in terms of slavery, this is a great film to check out.

I had not even watched the film for two minutes before the tears fell down my face. The first scenes are of my precious children on Lake Volta. How I miss those kids, how I miss the reality of trafficking in front of my eyes, how I miss the heartache that motivates me so much. Sounds strange to miss heart ache and reality of atrocity but I do. The atrocity can be easily overlooked in the US, it can be easy to come home and do what I have always done and I don't want to be that person. I think if I become that person, in the end I won't be able to respect myself. So I dive into information to remind me of it.

And it did. I saw my friend George discussing his passions and I saw children that I recognized. I saw some of my heroes discussing their passion and heart for children and human rights abuses. I saw Desmond Tutu and Somaly Mam and George.

But most importantly... this guy who I don't know his name... he was just in the last clips. He said something that resonated with me. He said something like this: I don't have a passion to do what I am doing because I am a good person. Or because I have better morals than anyone. I am not worth more or more valuable. I do what I do because I am human too.

I am human too. This could have been me, this could be my kids we were born in a different culture and time. It could be my nephews or nieces. But more importantly... this is OUR world. Each child is vital to it and the progression of human kind. To say that is "not my life" is to say that this is "not my world". To say that they are "not my children" is to say that they don't matter to our world. Future leaders are there in trafficking. Do we want them to be products of life long abuses or do we want to change our world so that their potential can be given back to them?

It is my life. They are my children.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I am super busy around the house and with my boys (Kolt is on winter break) so I apologize for the brief blogging interruption. Hopefully I get back to the regularly scheduled programming once the hustle and bustle is over :)

I am having a great time with my boys. Learning and playing new games, watching movies, making crafts and cookies... love this time of year and so thankful to be spending it with my family.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and that God blesses you now and in the new year.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some days, I can't feel

I am a very "intense" person. I feel greatly, love hard, anger angrily, run after things I want like my legs are on fire. My youngest son is the same way. I see so much of me in his tiny, ambitious and intense self.

But there is another side of me that has been numbed by abuse. The days where I just can't feel. I can't cry, I can't find smiles, I just don't know how I feel. And to me, there is nothing that comes out of that. I. can't. feel. I recently started working on some abuse related issues with my therapist and I am supposed to let feelings of my childhood come to me and accept them and feel them. I am supposed to cry if I need to, scream if I need to, call my best friend and let words of seething anger pour out if I need to. I am simply supposed to allow myself to feel. Seems like it shouldn't be too difficult to feel. But the thing is, I have never let myself feel before what abuse was like. I remember and I know the stories. But just like when I was a child, I put it on a shelf deep down inside myself and refused to feel it. Now, as an adult, I am back at that place and I can't feel.

Feeling makes something real. It makes something "intense". It interprets life for you. It lets you experience new things how they are intended to be experience. I have lost some of that. I don't experience new relationships like they are meant to be experienced. Or my sons first day of preschool in a way it should be experienced. It is the constant burial of feeling revealing itself to me as an adult. And I have escaped relatively unscathed. I am sure we can all think of people who have experienced abuse who are barely functional.

Maybe this seems off topic from Slavery?

Well, it isn't. Because when I look at this face:
Photo Credit: JD Richardson
I see that he can't feel. Those feelings are buried deep down inside of him. Those feelings are buried deep down inside of millions of people just like him. Who are forced to work long days, abused, malnourished, abandoned by the people who are supposed to protect them, manipulated, tortured...

And THEY MATTER. We do not, as a world community, want to let millions of people grow up in slavery. Millions of children who don't know how to feel. Who can't feel. Millions of children who know violence to solve problems. Millions of children who have learned that children are worthless. Millions of potential leaders. Millions of potential doctors, teachers, lawyers, advocates, business owners. Potential torn from their hands and replaced with feelings of lost hope and worthlessness. 

Some days, I can't feel. But today, I feel intensely. I feel intense sadness that children have to live like this and go through so much simply to survive. That their potential has been stolen.

But I also feel as intensely that we can all do our part and help these kids. We can rescue them and love them and prepare them to be the next leaders and advocates in their community. It can't start with them who are bound in slavery. What power to change things do they have? We have to step up and protect the innocent and abused. I am standing up. And I will keep standing up and doing my part. I hope you will join me.

Because that smile, is hope.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I think mission trips always bring you home with so many ways to evaluate yourself. I mean, how could it not leave you with a sense of "am I living how I need to be living"? (hmm... I wonder if that is the right way to write that question...)

You come back questioning everything. For me, it has mostly been how I parent my children (teach them gratitude and how to serve others), my personality struggles and anxiety, and what changes I need to make in my life to be a abolitionist.

It just seems that there are no easy answers in our culture on how to raise children who are thankful and who genuinely care for others. My two boys are like that now and I pray they continue to grow and learn to be like that. But we need to be very intentional in how we lead them.

It is always interesting when I think of my family as "poor". I know how ridiculous that is compared to the poverty I have experienced in Mexico and Africa. It is almost laughable actually. We are poor based on income but there is very little poverty in the US. Go ahead and challenge me on that one. I speak the truth. My children do not know they are poor. They do not go without clean water, food, shelter, clothes, education, healthcare and let's be honest... most people here, the vast majority of people in the US don't experience 3rd world poverty. So I want Kolt and Kenton to be absolutely aware of how blessed they are to live in a country where poor doesn't mean death. Where poor doesn't mean sick. Where poor doesn't necessarily equate to homeless. Where poor doesn't mean people sell their children to feed their other children. They are among the world's privileged not among the world's impoverished. And they need to know the distinction between the two. And that is our responsibility to teach them. 

It is also our responsibility as parents to teach them that because we are among the world's privileged, we have big responsibility to help others. To give to others and to serve others. It is not an option. It is a responsibility. It is how you show love to others. A pastor told me once that love is not a feeling. Feelings come and go. Love is an action. An action you can do no matter how you feel. I hope we can teach our children how to love (verb). 

There are also many personality and anxiety issues I really see myself needing to focus on. It isn't something I can explain in depth and I don't want to beat myself up over things. So I won't. I will just say I have some areas to focus on that will help me become a better servant to others. Which is something I want desperately. I don't want past hurt and anxiety to keep building walls between me and others.

And then focusing on what I need to do to walk the walk. I have a passion for children and helping them that can't accurately be expressed by words. It is a deep feeling that pushes me to pursue many goals that I have. It is compelling and complex. I just can't get complacent and let myself fall into doing things that I know somehow harm the children I love so deeply and hope to help. 

So I need your help. I need ideas and encouragement from anyone who can pass it along. What steps do you take to address these issues?  

Friday, December 9, 2011


Preface: This is a mostly picture-less post. I hope that you create the pictures for yourself in a way meaningful to you. With the faces you are passionate about. I will post pictures from the rescue and other parts of the trip soon though.

Monday finally arrived and we were all nervous and excited to go back to the island to pick up the children we negotiated the release of. We were terrified that they wouldn't actually be released and we were praying that Richard* would be released with them.

I felt like there was a 4th child. But had no clue who. I had a dream about 3 before we went the first time. Then another about 4 on Saturday night. I told George Jr. about it and we agreed to look for the 4th child when we returned.

We left on Monday to head to the island. It was a bit scary to approach the shore. We saw people working but no Innocence* and Patrick*. As we approached the shore... they walked out of the brush with a sack of belongings between the two of them. "Thank you God" I thought.

Gearge and Kofi took down the children's information. Their names, parents, region where they are from, phone numbers... anything they could get. They have to get in touch with the parents and let them know what happened and where the children are and they have to make sure everything is in order for the kids to be kept at The Village of Life and go to school.

Then... Innocence and Patrick are given to us. Oddly like cattle would be exchanged or silver or fish or anything but not people. Patrick was stoic and serious. He got into the boat and walked to the end furthest from all the crazy white people and sat down.

Innocence though... she was terrified. They literally lifted her over the edge of the boat crying and put her in my arms. Her body was hot from fever and shaking from fear. She could not relax. She was terrified. I wrapped her up in my arms and softly spoke love stories into her ear. I told her she was beautiful and special and that we were going to take care of her. I rocked her and loved on her as hard as I knew how to. Until... she trusted. Until she crumbled into the comfort of someone who was showing her tenderness. Until she laid her head onto my shoulder and wrapped her arms around me in return (tears pour from my eyes as I remember and put into words this experience). I just kept telling her it would be okay and we loved her and would take care of her. She didn't understand my words but it was apparent that she understood my heart. And I soaked in the experience. Watching someone go from scared to death to trusting as much as they could.

And this is one of those times in my life I have no clue how to explain the complexity of emotions I felt. It was such an amazing experience to be a part of that moment with her. She is forever my girl because of those moments. But the fear and the terror in her sweet little face were unlike anything I had seen. I imagine it is similar to things I have felt but I had never seen the same feelings on someone else's face. It was another piece of the puzzle to open my eyes to the fact that my experiences have prepared me for my path in the future. Slow tears rolled down my face as I hugged and loved on Innocence.

But just like that it was time to go find Richard and I left my sweet Innocence on the boat in the capable and loving arms of Tia. We were walking into the village to talk to his master and I saw her. I saw number 4. What I didn't know... she was Richards sister. Jessica* was cleaning and cooking. She worked HARD the entire time we were there negotiating for her and her brother. Most of the kids would leave and hang around while we were on the island. We never saw Richard on this trip and Jessica was never released to join the crazy excitement either.

Not unexpected. For whatever reason... Richard... being such a symbol of child slavery... needed to be kept where he was. It is difficult to explain. But we added Jessica to the negotiations because I felt strongly we needed to take them both.

And we negotiated.

And Negotiated.

And handed out clothes and candy to all the children on the island who hadn't gotten anything last time.

And prayed with JD for God to be present in the negotiations and for evil to flee from the place we were at.

And calling Richard and Jessica's parents.

And just road block after road block. For some reason they just want to keep him. Loud talking all around. George and Kofi try every angle they can. Loud voices and laughing like they are discussing a car transaction.

I just don't understand in that moment. How people can treat children like objects. How there is no value placed on these children outside their ability to work.

We call the kids' parents. Only dad is home. Heck if I know if it is actually their parents. It is the number we were given to call. George works on the phone to get the kids released. Dad says that mom is not home and he will not release them without her permission. And that he would only release Richard and not his sister. My face is feeling hot and red and my heart is angry. More negotiations and more promises of release on "another day".

Another day is several days, weeks, months or YEARS in the lives of children that can't be recovered. It may mean death before we can rescue them. God why is this happening? Again, I just don't understand. Maybe I am not going to understand. Because it just seems so screwed up. Where is the redemption?

My heart is broken as we walk back to the boat. I am silent from heart ache, anger and sadness. We climb into the boat and there I see it... Redemption.

Tia holding onto Innocence singing God's love to her. And Patrick on the other side of the boat looking more relaxed. I grin at him... and there it is: more redemption. A face I had not yet seen smile breaks into a very slight smile. I spend the major portion of the boat ride getting bigger and bigger smiles from this beautiful child.

Redemption hasn't happened for Richard and Jessica yet. And my heart cries over it. My heart agonizes over it. George Jr. is not going to give up on them. He knows that I feel they need to go home and be with their family at The Village of Life. And he is a motivated man. But more than that, I am choosing to trust God with Richard and Jessica. I have no clue or secret understanding to why they couldn't be released with the other 2. But God showed me 4 would be released because of our negotiations... I trust that.

And I don't understand why there are literally thousands of kids on Lake Volta. But God has them in His hand too.

But Redemption always proves to be more beautiful and unexpected than my hopes want. And generally tends to be exactly what I need (funny how that works). I saw Redemption in these 2 beautiful kids as they slowly warmed up to us and to their new Village of Life sibs... but I saw it in ME too.

Redemption from a life of abuse. A purpose and reason and passion I never expected to have. But it was blooming in my heart. Trusting people I didn't know in ways I never expected. Going out and doing something lots of people thought were crazy because that is what I felt passionate about. And truly believe it was a God placed passion. Growing and learning things through this experience that are helping me become a healthier and better person all around. My own corner of Redemption.

I will be waiting though for Redemption and Rescue for my two sweet kids still on that island and all people held in captivity and slavery across the Earth.

Photo Credit: JD Richardson
Because this face, it motivates me. It makes me feel something. It forces me to action.

*names changed

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Becoming an Abolitionist

Becoming an Abolitionist.

You ever think about slavery?
I mean, really think about it.
It makes some people.
And it breaks most everyone else.
It separates the haves from the
Have not a damn things

Trafficking is the euphemism for:
Owning other human beings
For Slavery
We color coat it and wrap it in pretty words
Why? To make us feel better?
To make us forget the faces and the scars

The scars. God, the scars.
On tiny faces and long lean bodies.
Covering them like freckles cover my face
The danger never fleeing.
But the mind sure is doing just that
Escaping the reality and pain

Pain that is visible to people
Who haven't themselves experienced the injustice
Who can't even imagine the agony.
We see it, we start to feel it
Swim in the emotions
And breathe in the injustice

And we are left changed
Left to see the pain in every purchase we make
To think about dead bodies under the cool water
We are left to cry on the boat
For the boy that can't come with us
No more euphemisms for us.

Just Slavery
Real. Raw. Injustice.
My life reviewed
Actions called out
And conviction came down.
Now to live as an abolitionist.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shopping Slave Free

One thing that going to Ghana and seeing the children on Lake Volta has done for me... is convicted me to be very conscientious about the purchases I make.

I have long had very strong opinions and convictions on certain companies. Nestle and Nike are the main companies I have boycotted for several years. They violate human rights in several areas and I just couldn't stomach using their products any longer. But Ghana made me think broader about this. I don't want to intentionally use anything that has been slave made or been made in a manor that violates the rights of people.

But what does that really entail? Well if you think about the vastness of slavery and how it is used to make products cheap... well you will be overwhelmed. So I have decided to go about this slowly and methodically so that I can really learn about what I am doing and educate people on it as I transition. 

The first step is shopping fair trade for Christmas. This means if it is imported (one example I ran into was a footbag/ hackey sack), find it fair trade or locally made. We wanted a crocheted footbag and knew that they were typically made in S. Mexico and Guatemala since that is where we got our first one and most awesome and amazing quality one ever. So I set out to find some to go into the hubs stocking that I could feel good about. It may cost $1 or $2 more but the payoff is that I know the person who made the footbag will be paid fairly. Totally worth it to me. The idea is always to pay the person who made the item a fair price enabling families to have successful businesses. I have also tried to make sure the items I have asked for this year for Christmas is slave free. Fair trade, hand made or companies I have researched. 

This was not particularly hard for me since I did most of my Christmas shopping in Ghana. I paid the people who made the objects directly. But in the States, it is obviously more complicated. It means researching companies and/or just staying away from box stores and shopping fair trade or at locally owned small businesses. Or small businesses through etsy or other sites like that. I can't really do that all the time because it is cost prohibitive for my family. So I try to look at my options and research them to purchase slave free products.

Like I said, it is overwhelming to go at it all at once. So start small. I started with Nestle. It was easy for me to stop buying nestle products as there are tons of other brand options (but you gotta watch out because nestle owns a ton of other companies) and the conviction I felt was overwhelming. Then I went to Nike. And I just keep adding another facet to my buying habits as I can. 

This may seem simple but I will state it anyway as a lesson I am really starting to understand. In life, intentions don't go far. I can't say that I am an abolitionist and that I oppose human rights violations if I stay, knowingly, a part of it. It is like saying you love your child but never touching him or showing affection to him. It makes your words empty and useless. Even harmful because you are not letting your convictions humble you to action. 

So, I encourage you all to think about this. How can you take steps to live a more "slave free" life? I definitely hope you look into the idea and see where your heart is led on the matter.

Some ideas if you want to go slave free for Christmas are:
Shopping fair trade: Coming Together Trading Company, The Hunger Site, World of Good and many many many more stores to consider

Shop local and small business. Make sure to frequent places and make relationships with employees and store owners and ask questions about their products.

Shop Etsy and buy from friends you know with their own online businesses. I have a ton of talented friends with their own businesses. 

Shop second hand: it is pretty difficult to get clothes that were not made using sweatshops or slavery but if you buy 2nd hand you are not contributing to more slave labor.

There are so many other ideas and ways to limit purchasing slave produced items. If you have more ideas, leave them in the comments and I will be sure to compile a list soon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The acceptance of truth: Child Slavery

JD wrote a very touching post today about a little boy we had to leave behind. I encourage you to read it.

This experience, going to see modern day slavery for myself, has turned into a processing experience like none I have ever known until this point. As I explained in my last post, even coming up with analogies is hard because it is so unlike anything I have ever seen. And we want, so desperately, to believe that it doesn't happen or it isn't "that bad". But the fact is that it IS that bad.

So today I am going to attempt to show you a bit of our experience of exploring slavery on Lake Volta. This is the part that gets hard for me. It was such a personal and deeply felt experience that a lot of me doesn't want to let out the vulnerabilities I have surrounding it. But I know what is required of me and that is to be an advocate for child slaves.

 It was actually quite a nice day. On the lake its much cooler and has a pretty decent breeze. It was the coolest I had felt the whole time I was in Africa. We boarded the boat and our navigator (shown above) untangled the boat from some trees and stuff that we were kind of caught in and we set off on our first experience on Lake Volta
It did not take long until we saw our first boat with trafficked children in it. How do we know they are trafficked? Well there are several ways... the vast majority of the kids you see are trafficked. Slave masters don't often put their own kids on the lake for 16 hrs a day and make them go without an education.You can also tell by their physical appearance. Underfed, over developed, apparent and frequent scars laid across their bodies. The fact that the children absolutely are not allowed to respond to us if a master is with them (they may ruin the lie of "hes my nephew" "he is my son").

We approached several boats and spoke with masters about the children they had. George Jr. was flawlessly making arguments and asking questions about the children. He was trying to have the real picture painted for him by interviewing and befriending these slave masters. An approach I had never really understood but that I was starting to come to cherish (but it took me and is still taking me a long time and a hard road to get there).
And another boat. Two boys diligently working on the nets and bailing water out of their boat. Thin frames and over developed muscles belie their age a bit. The master is on the left just out of the picture... paddling and watching. The kids know what we know... because they have been at the end of the beating several times. If they make a wrong move, punishment is on the way as soon as we disappear into the horizon. My heart aches as I think about my sweet sons doing work like this for 16 hours a day on little to no food. Tears start to form in the corners of my eyes but also anger starts to seethe a bit in my heart.
We approach boat after boat meeting the trafficked children of Volta. I ask nearly silent questions to the children that are just as silently translated to them. I am at the end of the boat and all the commotion and conversation is going on on the other side where the master is. How old are you? 8 Where are your parents? I don't know. Have you eaten today (they get up at 2am and it was will into the morning by now)? No. Do you want to go to school? Yes.

One boy was sold to his master several years ago. He is now a teenager (maybe 15) and impregnated the masters daughter. So, the master went to his parents and told them to give him his brother since he committed such a horrible act. Now two children with no education and no way to escape are working the lake. And it is like that. I met orphans and I met siblings of the children who have already been rescued.

Eventually boats started running from us not wanting to have us confront them. Again, I felt angry. How could people do this to children? One boat in particular had several (SEVERAL) children in the canoe and he hightailed it to the island. We watched him unload a boat full of kids and tell all the other children to run and hide (the apparent message was that we were the police). And they all fled.

As we pulled up to the island, there were a group of people working on the shore. I immediately (as did my friends) noticed a little girl in just panties. We rustled through the bags of dresses we had brought and pulled on out for her. She had longer hair than normal (well for little girls in Ghana anyway) which is often times associated with trafficking because trafficked children are not taken care of. I do think she had parents on the island though. I just can't remember well. Anyway I took the dress and went up to her. At first, I handed it to her. She gave me a shy grin. My hands then took over. I spoke softly to her as I told her how beautiful she was. I unfolded the dress and gently slipped it over her head. The blue looked amazing next to her brown skin. I looked down at her and told her a few more affirming words and she let me take a picture.
Be still my heart, beautiful girl. I gently rubber her sweet cheek and patted her head and we went on. The trail of people at the shore following along.

And we went... we went into the village where the children outnumbered the adults and where little tenderness and love was given to the trafficked children (which were most of the children on the island). And we loved. We passed out clothes and cherished smiles and patted heads.

JD also made a trade with a little boy. She gave him 2 pairs of shorts for his pair of old, worn out, holy shorts. A reminder of where we have been and testimony to people that these children exist and have real, tangible needs. A way to say, this is our story and here is what we have to show for it. I still tear up when I look at those shorts.
Eventually we met up with some of the people, masters, we needed to see. We also found a pile of handsome, sweet boys. Some as young as or even slightly younger than my Kolt. My heart sank. All of them... every last one of the boys we met there... were trafficked. I asked if they had eaten today... none of them had. They get up at about 2 am and it was 10 by this time.
This handsome young guy was very muscular and well defined. Lots of scars (face, neck chest, arms) and wear from working on the lake. The most surprisingly built child that I saw. His muscles were very overdeveloped and you can tell that he does a lot of the "hard work" on the lake. He has a beautiful smile.They all do if you can get them to show it to you.
Next we met our sweet Richard*. The face of slavery and the face of hopelessness that has been haunting me since I left him. Very poorly taken care of. Dirt covered, red tinged hair and most devastating of all...
Photo credit: JD Richardson

Hope Lost Eyes. I don't know where this sweet child has retreated to and I am certain that knowing would scare the hell out of me. But he is not present, doesn't respond, doesn't connect. His eyes are empty. His soul is buried under hurt and fear and hopelessness.  I had no clue what to feel other than despair and hopelessness at the obstacles ahead myself. I just wanted to give him tenderness and love and care but had no clue how to do that for him. This is what captivity does to the human spirit. This is what slavery turns you into after long enough.

I had grown up in an abusive home. I had been beaten and molested. I had felt like I could never speak out. I had felt angry and lost in myself. But I had never seen a face like this before. I had never seen despair so blatantly written on anyone's face. As I walked away from him, I felt grief. I felt struggle. I felt overwhelmed. I cried quietly as we walked to the next place. Prince was talking to me and I was half listening but not able to focus. How can I ever forget this child? I can't. I can never go on acting like I don't know about him and the thousands of other children on the lake in Ghana.

The last stop of the day was to meet Innocence* and Patrick*. Innocence was sitting in the boat busily working on the net when we approached. I was positively shocked to learn that she was a girl. She had some shorts on but that was it. Her lean, muscular body fooled me quickly into believing she was yet another young boy. Her half brother, Patrick, was hauling heavy nets across the shore. Hanging them up and various things. These were the children we were negotiating for on this day. They had been promised before to the team. The master said we could pick them up on monday and that he would have them ready for us. My heart sank again... Monday? Dear God, I just want to take them with us now. I don't understand why this is working out how it's working out.

I discuss with the slave master what he is doing with these children. He knows that it is not okay to purchase children and force them to work. He told me he would never do it with his own children. When I proceeded and asked him why he does it, I got nervous laughter. My face was red with anger. My emotions were supercharged from the day and the previous experiences. I stood there red-faced and angry, in silence.

We got into our boat without our children. Without ANY children. I sat solemnly and reflected on the boat ride home. I accepted in my heart the truth I had seen. I had long ago accepted it with my brain but now, it was a heart level truth. The anger slowly faded into grief and sadness as I thought about Kolt and his friends and how so many of the kids we met were his age or not much older. Sadness creeped in when I thought of the sheer desperation and manipulation it must take to sell your child to someone. Grief overwhelmed me as I thought about how many bodies were lost forever under the water we were cruising across. And I let myself cry.

*Child's real name not used

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Family: Defined

I am redefining "Family".

The dictionary says that Family is: People living in the same house usually under one head (that is my paraphrased definition).

Of course, there are a million other sub definitions but the first definition is the one I am concerned about. A family is your mom and dad and siblings. In Ghana, you take care of your grandparents and older relatives as well. So when someone says they have no family... it generally means no parents, siblings or grandparents. Sometimes it extends into aunties and uncles as well.

We met a lot of orphans in Ghana. Some of them were sold when their parents were ill, some by other relatives after their parents passed away. The may have siblings but they don't have any idea where they are. They don't know their names, their birthdays, their surnames. They oftentimes don't know where they are from or how to get there to find family.

I talked to a sweet girl in the dark under a sky beautifully decorated with stars one night. She is 16 years old and she was telling me about how she has no family. Her parents died and her grandmother raised her. She was sent to the lake when she was quite young and while she was away her grandmother also died. I assume she has siblings somewhere but that is just the conclusion I draw because most of these kids have a few to several siblings. But if she has them, she doesn't know them or how to find them.

She still feels such a deep sense of loss and loneliness. And in ways, I understood it. Many things she didn't know about me because this was about her. This was about these young women. Not about me. But I had been feeling such similar things for a long long time.

I have obviously made my own family. I have Kyle and the boys and they are my family. But family needs to extend beyond that for me. And for most people I think. And for several years, I have felt like I am so different from my extended family that it is even confusing to know how we grew up around one another. I have made choices to cut ties with people in order to get myself to a healthier place. We live several hours from family and really had no support system here to help with our kids. I felt like... I had no family beyond the people who lived in my house (well and my best friend, Amanda and her husband Andy but even they live quite far).

So we discussed it. We talked about feeling lonely and how it is hard to feel connected to people. I have the same problems. Different life but the connections are beautiful. We discussed the pain of not being understood and feeling like we just don't really... fit in.

But then we discussed how God places into our lives people who become our family. That family is not just limited to mom, dad, sibs, grandparents. That God expands our family far beyond that and that we have to keep our eyes open for our "new family". I explained to her about my best friend and how I met her at a time when I really felt like, other than my (then) fiance, I had no one. She became my sister... fast.

I told her about my neighbor, Natalie, and how she is our family. How she has dinner with us and helps with our kids and how we pretty much share everything. I told her how my kids think she has the same last name as us (true story).

I told her about Shannon and Brian and how Brian works with my husband and they are so similar its scary and when I met Shannon I discovered... we are so similar that it is also scary. And how our families do things together and we help each other... and they, too, are our family.

Church family, neighbors, divine meetings... God arranges it if we are open to it.

Then I asked her about her friends (there are 6 older girls who do... everything together). I asked her who her best friends were. And she told me that the girls she lives with are her best friends. She named them one by one and told me how much she cared about them. And I looked at her a bit teary eyed and told her "you have a family! These other young ladies, they are your family. And in your life, you will meet people to add to your family and they will love you just like family. They will love you in a way that you will just know, they were meant to be a part of your family. They will love you like your best friends love you." We hugged with tears in both of our eyes. And I let her know that I loved her and would support her in any way I can. And she called me Mommy Deborah (I have to spell it that way because that is HOW they say my name) and told me she was so glad that we came and spent time with them.

But the truth is, maybe I did help her but she helped me. Because I had been struggling with this concept for such a long time. Longing for people to change so they could be what I expected them to be. Knowing in my head that their change is out of my control and trying harder won't bring it about but not really accepting it with my heart. And she taught me in that conversation that I need to absolutely embrace my God chosen family. The people that have been placed in my life to expand my family and to teach me and love me and help me expand.

And that is how I found most of my time in Ghana. Going into it to help and being absolutely humbled at how much the children and the experience taught me in turn.

I pray for my young friend every day that she finds her God family. That she recognizes them and pulls them into her heart. And I pray for myself that I am open enough to do the same.

Journal style confusion

I have a journal full of details from our trip. We have hundreds upon hundreds of photos. We carry these children with us home and we miss them like they are very much a part of our family. But to be honest, I am not sure how to write it all down.

I will write the stories because I have to. But I want to do them justice. I want to paint the full picture. Not just of slavery but about the parts of Ghanaian culture that we love and cherish as well. I don't want to paint the men on the lake as evil. What they are doing to children is awful but they struggle just to eat every day and to feed their families. It's lack of education, little support, and sheer desperation. Poverty in Ghana is overwhelming but compared to the poverty on these tiny little islands... the difference is amazing. It is hard for me to even come up with an analogy. It's like Manhattan and Harlem and that's the best I can do. But really it is just an idea of the disparity and not anywhere near what it is like. Poor and damn poor doesn't really do it either. See? The difference is astounding but not something that we really know in the US. Maybe there is something similar in the Appalachians but I personally have never seen anything like it inside of the United States.

And I don't even think that everyone will or should have the same passions as I have. Which is another hard part about writing it down. I am never saying to follow my passions. I am saying to find your passion and pursue it and be part of the difference in the world.  What passions has God laid on your heart? And are you following the compulsions you have toward your God place passions. I think that is the biggest thing I have learned. I never EVER would have guessed that I would go to Ghana and come home and have a platform to tell people about child slavery in Africa.

It was just a total feeling of compulsion. I read about what JD and Tia had planned and my heart felt so totally invested and in my mind, the second I read about it... I was there. I could not ignore the pull I felt. I had no worry about money (we don't have money for a trip like that), I had no worry about logistics, I had no worries about how it would happen. I just felt that it would, indeed, happen.

And now, now I sit here not having any clue how to share the experience with you. In ways it feels like such a personal and life changing experience that I need to protect. In other ways, I feel like everyone NEEDS to see it and experience it through my words. So please have patience with me as I work on writing. It has been a process that is not normal to me. I am used to writing with a solid idea in my head and quickly. This is not how this particular task has gone... at all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 1: Road Blocks

Nov 5, 2011
We got up pretty early and Kyle and the boys took me to the airport in Indianapolis. The plan was to fly into Dulles in the early afternoon and have a pretty hefty layover before getting on the flight for Ghana. The thought being if I was delayed that I would make it on time.

It was a good plan. I settle into the waiting area and hear people next to me talking about going to India. I gather that they are from the same church going on a mission trip. We become fast friends and travel companions. We share some of our plans for our trips. They have to keep their trip very secret because Christianity is illegal in India.

Our plane gets to the gate. Boarding time is approaching quickly and things seem to be going according to plan. Until very shortly before we are scheduled to board. The announcer says that there is a mechanical problem on the plane and that the flight will be delayed a half an hour. Then an hour. Then they have to fly in a part from Chicago to fix the plane. Then the mechanics will take an additional hour and a half to fix the issues. My friends and I were running back and forth trying to figure everything out and if we will make our flights on time.

They were re-routed because they were never going to make their flight. I asked to be rerouted but there was no time to get my checked luggage to Toledo before that flight left. We were all given food vouchers and told to hold tight. They still thought that I would make my connection.

At some point I called Tia only to find out that JD had a serious issue in Portland with her flight and that she barely made it on the plane on time. Her ticket was revoked. Prayers were being sent up everywhere for me to make my flight on time. Because I was going to Ghana.

The flight boarded 6 hours late. Right before we boarded I met Abba, from Ghana. She was going home after spending 2 months with her daughter and grandbaby. This was her 2nd attempt to get home. Her flight on Thursday was cancelled. She was very upset. I spoke to her and told her where I was going and what I was doing. She said God would bless us and get us there in His time. She sat right in front of me on the nearly empty plane.

The flight attendant told me he didn't think we'd make our flight. Panic sat into my chest as I thought about what I would need to do. I prayed.

The flight got to Dulles before our international flight took off. I grabbed my luggage and Abba's luggage and got us to the correct gate right as the plane started boarding. I broke off and joined my friends and we breathed a deep sigh of relief.

But as we all joke now, we prayed a bit too hard that I would make the flight on time. We boarded and everyone got settled in. Luggage was mostly put up and the last of the people were settling into their seats. This is when we get an announcement that we need to deplane because there is a failure in the hydraulic system.

Darn! We deplaned and waited for word on our flight. After maybe 20 minutes the flight crew came off the plane and I knew the flight was delayed until tomorrow. 10 minutes or so later we get the announcement that confirms that. Plane is delayed until tomorrow at 4pm.

We are directed to go get hotel and food vouchers. We picked them up and traveled to the shuttle pick up area. It was a LONG haul. It was also COLD in DC. And we were dressed for a flight landing us in Africa. So we waited. And waited. We made friends with some Ghanaian's who were super flirtatious.A sweet woman wrapped a scarf around my legs. A blanket was given to a lady with a small baby by JD. I called the hotel to tell them they needed to send more than one shuttle because there were easily 50 people still waiting for the shuttle to the hotel. Nearly 2 hours later we finally get onto a shuttle.

We get to the hotel and there are 40+ people in line in front of us. We wait patiently. We chat with people. I am getting my 2nd wind as the time approaches 2am. When there are still 20 people in front of us an announcement is made that they are out of rooms and we have to go across the street to another hotel. Seriously?

We walk across the street in the cold. Mostly everyone is beginning to feel the effects of the lack of rest they have had over the course of the day. We get to the Westin... and the very sweet, go with the flow Ghanaian's start to get pretty angry when they hear we can't use our food vouchers on breakfast the next morning. Given what we had gone through and how a group of mostly Americans would behave had this happened to them... I thought the group we were in was pretty kind and tolerant. But you don't put up a Ghanaian and NOT feed them.

A woman drops her duty free bag of wine and it breaks all over the ground. Filling the air with the smell of dry wine and looking on the ground like someone got into a bad accident and was drug away across the ceramic tile. I thought the smell was nice. Other people not so much. We finally get up to the front and are handed our room keys. We get to our room at 3am and I lay on the bed and fall asleep in a matter of moments. Thankful I didn't miss my flight but unsure of why things worked out this way.

It Shall Come to Pass, Amen.

One of my favorite things in Ghana is how Christians pray. I know, it is something we do too. But they do it so differently. They start out by pouring thanks out to God and praising Him. I mean pour out praise. Then they petition and when they petition they say it like it has already been promised. "The Lord shall give Mommy Deborah good health and her family good health". Then they say my new favorite phrase "It shall come to pass, Amen!"

I am in love with this because its so simple. No apologetics or hardcore and confusing theology. Just belief.

I do see some potential issues in that sort of thought process. But when God is all you have to cling to, you absolutely rely on His provision.

So my prayer for myself today is that I keep my Faith a bit simpler. That I trust God to answer prayers and that the words... "It shall come to pass, Amen" are the words I faithfully utter as I follow God.

It Shall Come To Pass, Amen!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Souvenir From Ghana

Starting on the Sunday morning before we left Africa, my stomach started feeling a bit grumpy. It was okay for the plane ride and I felt okay when I got home but still knew my stomach was not right. By Thursday, my stomach was really in knots. My intestines hurt bad and I was just feeling very puny. I went to bed early but woke up at 5 or so violently ill. After several hours of being stuck to the bathroom for reason or another I decided to call my dr. I couldn't get a hold of her so I contacted my nurse friend who noted that I seemed to be getting dehydrated and gave me tips to hydrate myself. She said to call the hospital and see who was covering for my dr. So in between being violently ill I tried to figure that out. Ultimately I couldn't find anyone to see me and was told to go to the hospital where Kyle and I spent 5 hours getting me treated enough to go home. 2 LITERS of IV fluids (uh, yes... I was dehydrated), a massive amount of antibiotics, stomach medication (for cramps and pain) and zofran for nausea. After all my blood work and urine testing came in, it was decided that I likely picked up a strand of E. Coli that my body just couldn't handle. So I am on antibiotics for the next several days and feel a lot better today. Still tired and my head hurts but very improved from yesterday. This was not the kind of souvenir I wanted from Africa but the good news is that I waited until I got home to get sick where good health care is easily available and my husband could take great care of me. They really aren't joking with you when they tell you to be super careful what you eat when you travel abroad... I explained to him the kinds of foods we ate and he said it could have been from anything that different peoples guts have different e.coli in them and when a new type is introduced we can get ill trying to get rid of it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Light skin, dark skin

In Ghana, I met a ton of amazing people.

I met several teenagers at The Village of Life. Beautiful, lively young women full of potential and full of God's light. Amazing voices and rhythm that I dream about having.

I instantly fell in love with them. And JD, Tia and I bonded very well with them. It was great to spend time with them and an honor to leave The Village of Life as "Mommy Debora".

But one thing that crushed my heart?... Their desire to look white. The lack of confidence in their own beauty. The struggle of having ideas of what it means to be white while slighting their own accomplishments while doing it. "I wish I had white skin", "I want my voice to sound like yours", "I want silky hair" "I just have black eyes, not green or blue eyes", "I want soft skin like you"... the list goes on and on. And my heart broke more and more. I found myself repeating the same thing over and over to them "you don't have to be like me or like JD or like anyone else! You are beautiful and amazing as you are." And they are. But they still value my light (mosquito attacked) skin, and silky hair more than their own skin and hair. And I hated it. I prayed that they would find beauty in themselves and other wonderful things in themselves and that they would not want to be like me because of the fact that they view my features as superior. I certainly don't mind them emulating traits that I have (only if they are good please) but to want to literally look like us because we are white?

Some of the beautiful young ladies singing at the sod cutting ceremony

Dear God, place in the heart of Ghana the ability to nurture and respect their women. Allow both men and women to see their beauty and own unique gifts. Allow my beautiful, sweet girls to develop into strong, confident women who value themselves and look into the hearts of others and themselves to evaluate internal goodness over external "beauty".


I had only just arrived in Ghana... Walking through the airport and soaking in all the people. "Akwaaba", "you are welcome" are echoing through the halls. I get a bit behind the others and 3 men approach me. One of them speaks to me but I don't understand him. So I ask what he said and another man answers "He says he is your biggest fan". I smile very confused by the statement and keep walking. Then the first man answers "what I mean is, would you marry me". I had been warned about such approaches. I laughed and said "I am so sorry but I already have a husband and one is plenty for me." Their laughter roars and the original man says "yes, one man is plenty."

White women are wealthy, white women are easy.


I am talking to a guy who works at The Credit Union, where we stayed in Kete Krachi, and we begin discussing marriage. He tells me how it is very rare for a man to marry a woman who is older than him. That was a head-scratcher to me. He told me that it was the belief of many men that women age much faster than men and that they don't want an old worn out looking wife (my own stereotypes filled my head during this conversation: well if women didn't do all the work maybe they wouldn't age so fast). He asked if I was married and I told him about my family. Then I told him to guess my age knowing hed guess me younger than I am. He guesses 18. I laugh and tell him I am 26 and he is baffled by the fact that I am older than him. I then tell him that not all women age fast like he thinks and that he needs to keep his heart open for the woman God has for him.

He goes on to tell me that he wants to marry a white woman. (my heart sinks again). His reasons were that white women care about their children more and teach their children and won't leave their children. By this point I am a little angry because of all the misconceptions about both white people and his own wonderful women in Ghana. I tell him that there are bad people of all races and cultures and that white women leave their children and some work too  much and we just talked through all the thoughts. He seemed to understand my points pretty well but I really just wanted him to see the beauty in his own people and his own culture. And I am not sure we got that far.
A beautiful mom looking lovingly at her child


At the Niagara Inn a man kissed me on the cheek. Put his arm around me and kissed me. I stepped back and firmly said "No thank you" and he attempted to do it again. This time I pushed him away and said "NO!" a bit more firmly and his boss also scolded him.

White women are easy.


These are just a few examples from my trip. And I just want to say: my young women at The Village of Life, you are beautiful and talented and wonderful and amazing. You inspire me every day and I miss you all every single moment of every single day.

Women of Ghana, you are extremely hard workers with beautiful smiles. The men should be ashamed of themselves for not holding you dear and treating you with enough respect.

White women are not all rich nor are all white people. I can't take you to the US because I don't have the money to help you :P

And white women are definitely not easy because their skin is white just like black women don't leave their children because their skin is black.

And for the record... not all Ghanaian men think this way of women and most (the ones I met) of the Ghanaian's on the ground fighting poverty and human rights violations are men.


I guess the point of this was to just document the feelings I had discovering how people view one another. How media and preconceptions seem to dictate how we think about people as a whole. And I want to encourage everyone to show all children they are around that they are special for who they are. That they are talented and beautiful and they don't need to be like anyone else at all.