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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

High and Low

Coming home from Ghana has been full of High and Low, High and Low.

High: I am with my family and so glad to be with them and hug them and kiss them and show them the gifts I brought home for them. Oh my goodness all of the shirts I picked out fit all of them :)

Low: Much of my extended family is back in Ghana... Prince, George Sr, George Jr., The Americans and Canadians, Siham and Gary, Kelly and Garrett, our rescued children... a huge part of my heart is still there.

High: Getting water out of the tap and drinking it right up.

Low: Feeling sad that so many people in Ghana don't even have running water let alone drinkable running water.

High: Doing something I am so passionate about

Low: Leaving the legwork behind in many ways

High: spending 2 weeks with friendly, amazing people

Low: Not knowing when I will return to them.

And so it goes. I missed my home and my family but now I miss my other home and my Ghanaian family. I missed air conditioning and cooler weather and I came home yesterday and couldn't get warm and missed the sunshine. I missed seeing my son off to school and picking him up and now I miss seeing my little Ghanaians in school. I missed huge hugs and greetings from my three favorite men and now I miss intimate handshakes and hugs from my family in Ghana.

I have a feeling that this is just how it goes when you fall so in love with a place and it's people. I am so thankful for this experience and look forward to sharing many stories and thoughts with you all about it. I also look forward to continuing advocating for the trafficked children in Ghana and worldwide. No one can do everything but I can do my part and my part can become a small slice of change.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Prayers and Itinerary

Our itinerary will be as follows:

Nov 5th - Departure
Nov 6th - Arrival in Ghana
Nov 7th - GH316 all day, with Ato Sam and Tahameena
Nov 8th - GH880 with George & George (the twins), and GH220 with Precious, on behalf of Michelle Wright & Friends from Blogging From The Boonies
Nov 9th - Travel to Lake Volta region, where we will be working with the children who have been rescued, going out on the lake to meet the children still enslaved, visiting villages on the islands to meet with the slave masters and see where the children are kept.
Nov 16th or 17th - Travel to greater Accra area where we will be working more rescued children.
Nov 20th (late evening) - Flight home.
Nov 21st - Arrive home (late evening)

I just thought I would let you guys have our itinerary so you know how to pray for us, where we are and roughly what we are up to. Please keep us in your prayers and good thoughts. We absolutely appreciate all of your support and prayers. One more sleep!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Excited, Broken Heart

Inspiration for writing has been swept under a sea of busy-ness this week. Hurriedly preparing for a trip of a lifetime and spending as much time with my family as humanly possible.

But last night I was laying in bed trying to put how I felt into words. And the only thing I could come up with was Excited, Broken Heart. Excited to meet the wonderful people of Ghana. Excited to help and encourage children. Excited to travel. Excited for new experiences. Excited to be doing something I am so passionate about. But oh so broken hearted:
So broken hearted to know that I will see faces like the ones above. Faces of beautiful children forced into a life of servitude. Stripped of a childhood. Joyless faces. Toil visible on  their little bodies. Pain and suffering. Faces pleading for help and home. Oh these are the faces that have been in my dreams for months and the compulsion and conviction to do what I am doing. These are God's favorites (How I love Katie and her heart). Yes, these are God's favorites. And when you look at it like that, I know that what I am doing is where I have been meant to be for a while.

So on Saturday I am going to head out excited, broken hearted. I am going to love new people and fight for the vulnerable. And excited, broken hearted is the perfect place to be.