Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ghana: Getting in the Boat

When we left the island on Saturday, we were hopeful that when we returned on Monday one of the masters would be true to his word and release two of the children we had met. It is not uncommon to return for the children to find they have "disappeared" and been relocated to a different island.

The boat floated towards the shore where we had arranged to pick up the boy and girl. A man and woman were working nets in a boat, but the children were not there. For a moment, we all wondered if our fears had come true and once again we would head back empty handed. Then, down the path we see the master and the children approaching. Inside the boat we waited. We who know that inside the boat is freedom and hope for a future. Outside the boat they waited… not knowing for sure that inside this boat was any different from any other.


They have known enslavement. Now they have been emancipated.

Treated as slaves. Now they are the saved. 

They did not choose but they have been chosen.

Haven’t I also been chosen by One who saves? Waiting, I wonder… how could I not see that my heart is enslaved? There places where I still stand outside the boat of freedom waiting. Could it be that those kids are freer than I am? Maybe today is emancipation day for me and them.

Meanwhile, information was provided by the master – names, ages, where the kids were from, how much he paid for them, parent’s names – as much as could be remembered.

Then he handed over one shopping bag containing all the possessions of both. It seemed like so little to call your own even for just 7 or 9 years.

 When you are about to start a new life, a better life, why would you want to bring along burdens from the past anyway? 

But we do. Often, we drag our slave chains into the boat of freedom with us and then wonder why the boat seems to be sinking. 

The young boy climbed into the boat, quiet but seemingly calm just the way he was the day we met him working. The girl was lifted up and placed in waiting arms, tears streaming down her face. Many of us have been saved because someone else was willing to lift us up as well. Was she scared? Overwhelmed? Relieved? When was the last time she was held and her tears wiped away?

Small successes in a sea of slavery, but the angels rejoice over just one saved and here were two rescued. Yet, we weren’t leaving without trying again to rescue the boy who stood out

The team went ashore, while I and another stayed behind on the boat with the children. While the others were once again touching and hugging as many kids as possible, I held onto her. I sang over her. I felt her body surrender to love and admit how weary it was.

Both of us, former slaves, quietly embracing salvation together. 

It seemed quite some time passed before the team returned. Despite the entourage of children following them, the boy was not with them. This day would not bring freedom to him. 

Leaving him hurt. Leaving him leaves a hole in me. Leaving him behind forces me to fight for freedom. His face my reminder that every child rescued is him. When the call comes that he has been lifted inside the boat, we the saved, will celebrate.  

Sometimes stories don’t have the ending we hoped for but the ending we need.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ghana: Choosing to See

On our 3rd day in Kete Krachi we awoke early to head out on the lake for our first glimpse of the reality of modern day slavery. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to feel. On one hand there was a sense of anticipation; this is what we had come to see for ourselves. At the same time, a sense of heaviness was also present.

We boarded the boat and began our journey on Lake Volta.

We had traveled all this way, but yet we still had a choice to make. When we shared with locals what our mission was in Ghana the typical reply was, “There is no slavery in Ghana.” They now have a choice to make.

We could pull up alongside boat and after boat and choose to close our eyes and withhold out of fear, anger, insecurity or denial.


Choose to really look, reach out, and offer love where it is absent and learn how to best make a difference.

We pull up. A boy in yellow shorts who is afraid to talk with us. Afraid of what might happen after we leave. I choose to see. To look into his eyes. I see hopelessness.

We pull up. Another boy in pink fleece pants. His body is rigid and his eyes full of fright. He recoils when a hand reaches out to touch him. How many times has that hand reached out to hurt him that he no longer knows touch can be healing? We give him some candy. Hopefully he did not pay for our kindness.

We came ashore on an island just behind another boat as we watched the children run from the boat and hide. They said they thought we were the police. Mud huts with thatch roofs, corn fields and fish net colored the landscape.

Children outnumbered the adults we saw about 10 to 1. The common lie of the slave masters, “These are my children” held about as much water as the sieve-like-boats they worked in.

Many of the children wore tattered clothes or none at all.


We smiled at the kids. Touched and hugged and held as many as possible. Tried to make them laugh even knowing it was so very fleeting. We handed out new shorts and dresses, praying the masters would let them keep this one thing and not take it from them, returning them to the rags.

 Among a group of boys, one stood out. His skin was dirty, his eyes milky and vacant, and his hair turning color from malnutrition. Besides being clearly ill, it seemed as if he had relinquished his spirit.

To see that haunts you. Even if you choose to close your eyes from this point on, that look is seared to the back of your eyelids.

Justice and salvation doesn’t always happen in our timing and we had to move on, leaving him with a pair of shorts and our prayers for God’s protection. We moved on with the hope that there was still the possibility of rescuing other children who had been negotiated for over the last 6 months.

The boat ride back to Kete Krachi was quiet. We were weak from dehydration and lack of food - an infinitesimal connection to what these children endure daily. Who would dare complain? Yet we forget so fast when it’s no longer right in front of our eyes.

I felt sad. I felt pity. I felt guilty.

These children robbed of their innocence and joy were not just enslaved by men trying to survive by fishing but partly by me. By me… when I consume more than I need. By me… when I refuse to share my excess. By me… who lives in a land that tells the rest of the world they must do all they can to “get ahead” and “get more” for themselves.

But not anymore...

I chose to see.

I choose to change.

What is your choice?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Life in the Village

As soon as we saw the blue and white buildings up on the hill, we knew we'd survived arrived at the Village of Life. Before we stopped there, we were taken through town to our accommodations - the Credit Union/Guesthouse. 

Main Street

As we settled into our rooms - where we would call home for the next 5 nights - we realized that real African initiation was about to begin. No more running water and no AC. Still in the lap of luxury, we did have an indoor bathroom and the pails of water were hauled up the stairs for us. Scarily... I didn't even mind not showering for those days. It's part of what I love about being in Africa - the stripping away of all the things that seem important; where water is a privilege, not an requirement.

A few minutes later, we stepped onto the Village of Life property for our "welcoming ceremony." We sat outside and talked with George Sr. and George Jr. about the plans for the week ahead. We presented them with a few gifts we had brought for them. The best part... we met some of the kids.

Scenes from the Village of Life:


Siamese Goats?
(not really)


One boy was particularly special for JD. Several months before we arrived in Ghana we asked George a favor. If he came across a boy with a particular name, we would do whatever necessary to rescue him. As part of an Interpol raid, this young guy was brought to the Village of Life. He was so full of life. I can't even imagine his spirit being squelched by a life on the lake. He had the cutest laugh.

It was the teen girls who really stole our hearts. Most of our time was spent with them learning about them and from them. Currently, they are learning trades - sewing or hairdressing. In many ways they are like typical teenage girls - unsure of how they look, wishing they had a mirror to look in, and craving love while trying to act strong. Unlike many teenagers, they have already been through horrific life circumstances. Each of these girls were brave enough to share her story with us. Stories of being taken from home and not remembering where home was. When asked about a birthday, heads hung in shame as the answer "I don't know" was quietly whispered. Many of the girls talked about working hard to please the master only to be beaten anyway. Some quietly spoke of being raped. All told of being rescued by George and learning about the love of Jesus at the Village of Life. I asked one when she was on the island if she felt God had forgotten about her. She told me she didn't even know about God until she came to the Village of Life. It broke my heart to think of all the kids still enslaved who don't know that there is a God who cares about every wound and every tear.

I enjoyed making the girls our priority as I'm sure the younger kids often get most of the attention. There was also one teen boy who I spent several evenings talking with. He called me "madam Tia." While I taught him some guitar chords, he tried to teach me to juggle and whistle with my thumbs. I was horrible at both.

One of the main focuses of our visit was the new school building. We were able to tour the existing classrooms, see the students and meet the teachers.

The first several hundred bricks for the new school had been made. The building footprint was staked out for the sod-cutting ceremony (or as we called it - groundbreaking).  The land was prayed for and blessed by a local priest. Using a pickax JD attempted to broke ground. Following the ceremony, the kids played drums and sang while a dance party broke out. I'm pretty sure I was the first one who joined in the dancing. It was hot and sweaty, but I know I was smiling and so were the kids. Meanwhile, JD who has pretty much vowed not to dance until Jesus comes back stayed toward the outside of the mosh pit.... but I'm betting she busted a little move.

One of the local dishes is fufu. It is made with boiled plantains and/or yams that are pounded into a pasty dough like substance. One night, we even got to take a turn making it and then try it. It tasted like a potato pancake, but the fish stew I had to dip it in grossed me out. But still... I tried it. Which was more than some people (Joshua). 

Another local dish is grasscutter, which is a giant rat. JD, ever the food connoisseur, expressed to our hosts that she wanted to try it. The next day for lunch we were served something different. Little fried pieces of meat. Immediately, we all wondered if it was grasscutter. After tentatively trying it and finding the meat really tasty we continued to eat. Joshua would not touch it -just the thought of it grossed him out. I tried to convince him that it was likely not grasscutter (as I couldn't imagine liking it if it was) but still he would not budge. Finally we got him to eat one of the tiniest bites. In the end, it turned out it was simply beef. Poor Josh was bummed he missed out on lunch.

In the afternoons, we were brought back to our rooms for some downtime. We used this time to explore the town a little. Josh and I quickly found a store to buy cold Coca Cola. We visted this vendor daily for our fix. Down the road, we also found some fresh bread, which we ate with peanut butter. Mmmm...

We also discovered a community behind the Credit Union. While waiting for our ride back to the Village of Life one afternoon, we engaged with many of the children. We took photos of them and gave them a new soccer ball. I'm not sure the parents were as impressed with the obruni (white people) as several were yelling at the children and came to drag them away.

Not much goes on at the Village of Life in the evenings. One night, the boys hung a bat net on the dorm as they had been particularly damaging. Within a few minutes, there were several bats caught in the net. We were inside eating when the commotion all started. First Josh went out to see what was going on. He came running back in to get the camera. Quickly, the rest of us finished eating and went outside to join in the entertainment of bat stoning and running when one fell to the ground. Front row seats to a Discovery channel special on bats.

On Sunday, we attended church and sat with our teen girls. One of the first things I noticed was the painting of Jesus behind the stage. Blood was coming out of his heart, but they covered it up with a wall clock. That wasn't even working. Just a little weird.

The church was divided into 4 sections and all the men sat in one section together. Each section stood and sang a song. At another point, we got into a line and danced around like in a conga line. JD continued her anti-dance vow and sat out. The service lasted about 2 hours and other than what the girls explained to us, we had no idea what was being said. Towards the end, the girls began to try and read their English bibles to us. It was then that I realized that while they spoke English fairly decently, they were not able to read it well. Another reminder that these girls still had much to overcome in order to break out from this cycle of poverty.

I loved the different colorful
scarves these older woman wore

Our last night arrived with a closing ceremony of sorts. Just the way we started, sitting outside in a circle with George. The kids came and gathered round, singing us a song. The girls then presented us all with  gift. The girls had made Joshua a shirt and placed a roll of fabric in my hand. They encouraged Joshua to try on his shirt immediately. They were delighted when it fit.

It wasn't until after the "ceremony" had ended and George had gone home that the girls asked us to try on our dresses. We hadn't even realized they had made us dresses. I think all of us were a little afraid to try them on. What if they didn't fit? As each piece was put on and fit, the girls errupted with squeals of delight. When all 3 of us were African-ly clad, a party broke out. We were amazed that they were able to create all of this in 4 days without even measuring us. I'm sure it was a huge boost to them in knowing their skills were improving.

For me... it was the best gift I could come home with. A gift of love from precious girls I had come to love.