It's been a while since I've posted on our blog. There are many reasons. We've been blessed to spend time with our dear friends, the VHs, who were in country for their adoption. What a blessing for us! We've been without power sporadically which poses challenges for using the computer, charging our computer, and accessing the Internet. We've traveled to several outlying villages and most of these require a full day of time commitment. We've been meeting new people providing new contacts for work here. We've been meeting with other missionaries to see how/if we can come alongside them to assist with some things. We've been planning for outreaches and loving orphans holding them tightly when we are with them. Reid's been gathering documents, signatures, and approvals for his work permit. We've been unpacking boxes from our container. We've been busy.
Mostly though, we've been seeking God.
With all of these things I've listed consuming our time, I could have written a post or two. I could have posted something about what's going on here. I could have shared what we are experiencing.
But there have not been words.
I'm wrestling. Struggling. Drowning at times.
Over the past few weeks, my arms have held children who have no one. No. One. And I struggle to let them out of my arms when the time comes for me to go. Who will hold them next? When?
We have met three brothers being cared for by their grandmother. Abraham, the oldest, has only completed the equivalent of first grade because he was then sold as a fishing slave. He is at least 14 years old, if not older. He doesn't know his age. Now Abraham lives with his grandmother and works on the fishing boats to support her and his two younger brothers. His two younger brothers are in school - most of the time. However, their spare time is spent working the fields farming because they must also contribute to support themselves. Yet, the boys walk to the mango trees to worship with the pastor trying to impact this community. It's a very, very long walk.
I've walked the streets of a village at night witnessing child prostitutes selling their bodies for someone's sick pleasure. Once a girl in this community grows breasts, prostitution is expected. Packs of children - ten, twenty, thirty - wander the dark streets in this community with no adult supervision. Children as young as two hold onto the hands of older siblings pulling them through the streets. Young girls, maybe 12, have babies wrapped on their backs. Most likely, the young one carrying the child is the child's mother. Dark rooms line the streets with men gathered outside the doors peering in to watch whatever is happening in the dimly lit rooms. Sick. Repulsive. I battled tears and queasiness as we wandered the streets almost afraid to take it all in.
There is very little Christian presence here in this community. 80-95% of the people worship at the shrines located throughout the town. Children serve as shrine slaves. Darkness shrouds this community with evil. None of the shrine worship convicts people's hearts. The use of children seems okay - for anything.
We walked through a different village lined with mud huts. The royal house where the chief lives, was one of the few concrete structures I saw. Most other buildings were stacked red mud bricks. The condition of the children is haunting. Most have protruding bellies. Many are unclothed. Some only in underwear. I think of my closet here in Ghana and realize that I have more clothes hanging in my closet than most of these children would see in ten lifetimes. I didn't bring an overabundance of clothes, so guilt strikes me as well. One of the children's filthy torn shirts is hanging on her body wrong-side out. The tag reads "Disney." Again, I am struck by the excessiveness of my own culture. "Disney." Then I remembered seeing a young girl at church a few weeks prior wearing her best Sunday dress. Guess what it was? A Cinderella Disney dress up costume which was torn and open on the sides. This day, the Disney tag hangs by one thread on a shirt that I would regard as trash because of the multiple holes, stains, and filth. Yes, this is "Disney" here in Ghana. The contrast to the "Disney" I have known feels very heavy.
Sometimes I am able to get onto Facebook. Over the past few days, I've seen many posts encouraging people to "support Chik-fil-A." "Go buy a chicken sandwhich to show your support of this Christian company promoting family values." I'm sure if I were in America, I'd be taking the boys for a special day at our favorite restaurant. But I'm not. I read posts like this, and I'm spending the day witnessing children who have nothing to eat. I'm craving Chik-fil-A, and there are children who need something to sustain their lives. I don't know how to find the peace in the middle of the constant contrast in front of me. Sometimes this is very, very hard.
While in one village, we had nothing to "give" the children. No candy. No pencils. No bubbles. Nothing tangible to give. I complained to God confessing that I wish I had "prepared" more to come see these little ones, because I felt I had nothing to offer. Then I looked around and saw a small shrine built in front of many of the huts. Nearly every hut had a shrine in front of the doorway. These families worship at these false altars. They give offerings - even of food to these false Gods they worship. Some of the wealth they could potentially accumulate to better their life is eaten up by their worship practices. Then it hit me hard. This day, the only thing I have to offer them is Jesus. No clothes. No food. No pencils. No candy. Only Jesus. So that is what I tried to offer them. Jesus. In hugs, in laughter, in playfulness, in prayers lifted over them. Only Jesus. And, that is what each person needs the most. Jesus. Why did I not see Jesus as a tangible offering to give them? He's the most powerful, life-changing need they have.
In all of these situations, what is the best help our family can offer? How can we help without creating dependence for something sustainable long term? How do we offer help without it being received from "Americans" or people with white skin who have unending money? How can it be understood fully that help is from Jesus alone? How can we lift the value of the individual's understanding of his/her worth in the eyes of Christ? How can we be a true reflection of his love and compassion? The needs are so great, where do we begin? It all feels so overwhelming.
While struggling with all of the need surrounding me daily, I return home to my family. There are great needs within our home as well. We've battled illnesses - three recently down with malaria, three boys have already had staph infections, Mason thinks he's cracked/fractured his tailbone, our electricity is unpredictable and when we have no electricity we have almost no water because we can't run our pump, we stand in ankle deep mud to hang our laundry, etc... All these things are our minor needs now. We are learning to adjust to these bumps in the road. We can not allow these little things to slow us down. Our biggest need is the emotional weight we are processing.
Recently, I asked the boys to come up with one word to describe where they were emotionally. My word was "wrestling." (As you can probably tell by this post.)
Mason - Adjusting
Godwin - Good
Franklin - Trying
Weston - Glad
But, Braden. My precious Braden, without batting an eye, said - Lonliness. How do we comfort his heart? How do we meet him here? Lord Jesus, please come fill in the holes in his heart.
This is where we are too. We took our friends, the VHs, who were with us for a week to the airport in the middle of the night to say Goodbye. On the way home, the car was full of crying boys. We are sooooooo happy for them! Thrilled they are going home to be with their family and friends, but we are left here - on the other side of the world from those we hold dearest. A few days ago, I saw that the pictures of the homecoming of our friends was posted on Facebook. I couldn't bring myself to look at them. It's too much emotionally to even see pictures of our friends at home right now. The tears come.
My sister and her husband leave next week to meet my nephew, Christopher, who is waiting for them in Ethiopia. Our prayers for their family are fervent. We want to be there with them. Encouraging. Cheering. Praying with our family to send them off. As much as it hurts to not be with them for this momentous life event, we recognize our role to join everyone in prayer for this adoption. Even as I type this, it is hard to take my eyes off of myself and what I am missing because we are here. Good grief! This precious little boy is joining a family! For the rest of his life, he will have a mommy and a daddy to love him, comfort him, assure him! What a praise! My heart must turn to praise over sadness for what we will not physically be a part of in seeing him come home.
Then I remember a few nights ago, being at an orphanage when two children left to go home to their family in the United States. Crying is shameful here in Ghana, so if children cry they open themselves up for ridicule. One little boy, P, had been very emotional for the entire day. P has held a very special place in our heart for a long time and tears had come more than once during the day for him. As we left, P was crying hard. Sobbing. Franklin, our 14 year old, was the one holding him. Franklin was offering P what little comfort he could. I prayed over P with my hand on his head, and my face tucked against him. My heart broke to see him in so much pain wondering what all of the triggers must be behind his emotion. It was such a gift to see Franklin loving him so well...holding him, comforting him, wiping his tears away.
I've realized how hard it is to attach...then say goodbye...attach...then say goodbye...attach...then say goodbye. Our hearts are still raw from all of the continual goodbyes we said to friends and family before coming to Ghana. Now we find ourselves doing more of the same. It hurts to see people we love go back to the place we have known as home.
But it is also a reminder of why we are here. I think of little Christopher in Ethiopia. I am praying that someone is there now - holding him and showing him the love of Jesus. I think of precious P at the orphanage. I know we will be back playing with him. Maybe our family provides some stability and assurance to his little heart when he sees us the next time. We've seen some of the dire need in villages near us, is God calling us to help meet some simple needs such as clothing or medicine?
I don't know. Does our presence make a difference? I do know that is what I want to believe. God has given us a purpose for being here. Right now, all I can clearly determine is that our purpose is to love like Jesus. How to do that well seems fuzzy sometimes. Especially when it requires stepping into the pain. It's overwhelming for us. But it's not for Jesus.
That's why we are seeking God.
For the ability to love, and love, and love, and love, the way He would.
I always close my posts with a Bible verse. It's usually a reflection of what's been written drawing me back to God's assured promises. I've had some good, long, hard cries recently. Just honestly crying out to my Savior about all of these questions and uncertainties. I know Jesus understands. He has felt the overwhelming need. He knows the exceeding desperation around Him for Hope. He feels all of this through his unending compassion. He is with us in our emotion from all we are experiencing. And He is good.