Just over three weeks ago, we walked out of our second village in Ghana with a group of FORMERLY trafficked children. 22 kids that will now have the chance to run, and play, and go to school, and live a full life. While rescue days are exciting and full of emotion and buzz for what is about to happen, it’s a long and slow journey to that day that we don’t want to overlook. It starts with relationships. It ends with relationships. In fact, it doesn’t really end at all because the relationships continue long after we leave a village with trafficked kids. When we engage a community, and learn to truly love them, everyone gets a chance to be rescued. Including us.
I’m being reminded, a lot right now, of how slow the process of meaningful change really can be. It’s long, it’s slow, and it drives us “Type-A, get it done, make it happen” types nearly crazy.
But I’m also reminded that this is an unavoidable reality when we choose to invest in people. Because people are hard. Their lives are dynamic and nuanced. We can’t easily follow spreadsheets and flowcharts to “fix them.” But that’s really the beauty of it all, isn’t it? That this work is less about a few steps to fix a problem and more about a process and journey of walking alongside some beautiful people in desperate needs of friends and partners who are willing to walk by their side on the good days and on the terrible.
And so we trust that what we are doing matters. That it’s meaningful. To the children, to the men and women who own them, and to the moms and dads who first sold them. And that truth far outweighs the slowness of the process. And it must.
Two of our three kids are starting school tomorrow for the first time. Our three and a half year old bio daughter will be in a two day a week preschool program at a local church, and our seven year old son, newly adopted from Africa, will be in first grade at the elementary school just down the street. For both, a whole new world awaits. Their experiences will be different, but they will be much the same. Here’s a letter, a prayer, a blessing that I’m saying over them as they begin their respective journeys out into the world without mom and dad by their side:
My precious Micah and Famous,
I can’t believe you’re going to school. It seems like just a few short months ago that we were hushing you to sleep and putting tiny bows on your head or visiting you in your village and playing soccer with you in the open fields of Ghana. And now, just like that, you’re going to school for the first time. I don’t remember my first day of school specifically. But I do remember the first year well. My kindergarten teacher, my school, my classroom. If I close my eyes, and focus, I can still remember which side of the hallway it was on and how the room was laid out. I remember reading “Spot” books for the first time. I remember our Kindergarten circus (I was the lion tamer…ha!). And I remember my best friend John. So many good memories. So many chances to be light and hope and goodness in a hurting world. So many times I didn’t take advantage of those or even created the hurt instead of the healing. I want to talk to you about that as you start school.
For the first time, you’re going to be making lots of decisions and choices that won’t be overheard by mommy and daddy. Your teacher will surely hear some of them but not all. Much of what you say and do, the faces you make, and the way you treat your neighbor, won’t be seen by anyone but your peers. I want you to remember that good is good, and right is right regardless of whether anyone is watching you. Being kind and loving is always right and good. I wish I could tell you that others will always treat you like you treat them, but I cannot tell you that because it is not always true. You can be as good and kind as possible, and there will still be people who don’t treat you well. It’s okay. Good is still good, and right is still right. This doesn’t mean I want you to be a punching bag or a pushover. I know you too well to think that you will be either of those, but it does mean I don’t want your first instinct to be hitting back or dominating those weaker than you. I want you to remember “hands are for loving” even when we’re not there to mouth it to you on the playground.
Even at a young age, you’re going to see and meet other kids who are different than you. Some of them will be different from almost everyone else in your class, maybe even your whole school. Some kids will make fun of these kids. They will tease them for being short, or tall, or white, or black, or purple, or whatever. They will tease them for being different. When that happens, stand up for these kids. Be their friend. Hold their hand. Look at the teasers in the eye and say, “This is my friend, and I don’t think you should speak to them like that.” It’s going to be hard for you to do this. But it’s good. And it’s right. And it honors that child and God. And those teasers, like me, are going to grow up and wish they had as much as courage as you. Believe that.
School is going to give you a thousand chances a day to do good and right. To your classmates, the lunch ladies, your P.E. teacher, the custodian, the principal, and to your teacher. Even though most of the people I listed are grown-ups, they want and need to be loved just like you do. To really be seen. To be heard. You can do this. At a young age, you can look in their eyes when they talk and smile to show them that you care. Take the extra 5 seconds on the way to recess to do this. You’ll never know how much it means to them. Please pay special attention to the janitors and lunch ladies. They work so, so hard and often go days without anyone telling them “thank you.” Tell them every day, with a smile, and maybe even a hug. I promise it will change both of you forever.
You know those words we have you say every night before you go to bed? “I’m beautiful, God made me, and I’m going to change the world.” Those are true. It’s time to let those words become more than a nighttime ritual. To let them fill you up and spill over into every moment of each one of your days. To live in such a way that those words become a truth that brings an overwhelming light and hope into the world around you.
Love deeply. Love unreasonably. Forgive. Trust. Do your best. And when you get home and it’s been a terrible day, we will be here to kiss your cheeks and tell you how amazing you really are. And we will get up again tomorrow and do it all over again. A beautiful, terrible mess. All of us. Just doing what we can to make the world a better place. We’re so proud of you and can’t wait to watch you change the world at school like you already have in our lives.
Daddy and Mommy
p.s. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, please. And don’t pick your nose
Our Ghanaian social workers (that is plural, we hired a second one last month!) are traveling this week and this weekend to begin tracking down the families of the children who will be a part of our next rescue. These children are from the village of Sabonjeda and range in age from 5 years to late teens. Many of their parents haven’t seen them in many years, some don’t even know if their children are still alive. It’s really an amazing thing to get to tell a parent that A) their child is still alive, and B) coming home soon.
I am so grateful for our social workers Samuel and Cynthia. For their compassion. For their gracious hearts. For their ability to relate to these parents and help them know that we want what is best for them. That we are on a journey with them to bring hope and freedom both to the kids on the lake AND the parents who often trafficked them because of financial bondage. We want to seek freedom WITH them.
As many of you might remember, we had a second village agree to partnership with us this past Spring. It was a village called Sabonjeda, and it was very exciting for us to get this second commitment. Now, another step forward for the freedom of the trafficked children who live in that community. This past week, we built the first two aquaculture cages that will eventually begin to produce income for them that will allow them to no longer need the children. Next, they’ll be filled with fingerlings, or baby tilapia, that will ultimately grow and be harvested. These steps will give the village an income stream and source that does not require the use of the trafficked children. For that, we’re grateful.
Two cages doesn’t seem like a lot…especially for those of us who live in the western world where money and efficiency are readily available and highly valued. But in Ghana, where we might have to travel 8-10 hours just to get the right piece of netting for a cage, to get two more cages put together and ready for baby fish is a big deal.
So we will celebrate–the big milestones along with the small ones. And we will trust that God is working in the midst of it all to free us from our bondage as we work to help free the children in Ghana.
It’s all around us. In nooks and crevices near and far. It’s occasionally found in really big, profound, and obvious places. But usually it’s tucked away in little corners that we don’t even see because we walk too fast. Hope–I believe it’s everywhere. Everywhere at least that someone is willing to dream big, hope for the impossible, and dig their heels into the ground until good change happens.
The realist might say that hope is worthless. That it doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t produce results. But I disagree. I don’t believe hope is the finish line, but I think it’s a darn good place to start. In fact, whether they labeled it as such or not, most ideas, dreams, visions, and plans were birthed out of some level of hope. Yes, needs often drive our societal advances, but the people who actually accomplish those advances believed in them, were filled with enough hope in them, to actually act. So while hope may not drive the car, it may well be the factor that gives us the courage to try and build a machine that runs on four wheels in the first place.
So we will work hard, plan well, and execute. But ultimately, we will hope. Because without that, without a belief that what we’re doing is going to make a difference for many generations to come, then what’s the point and how long could we possibly sustain our energy and passion?
About a year ago, I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography aptly titled, “Long Walk To Freedom.” It was a moving and poignant telling of the long, seemingly endless, journey to freedom for those with dark skin in South Africa. It was a fascinating book that I would recommend to anyone. But the title of his book, that’s what is really sticking with me this morning.
We (Mercy Project) are on a long walk to freedom. It’s not a jog, certainly not a run, and probably not even a brisk walk. It’s just a slow, sometimes arduous, walk. But we’re okay with that; we own it. And I think that brutal honesty and transparency has really resonated with our supporters. At a time when there are more non-profits than ever, in a day and age when quick, fast, and sexy seem to rule the day, when shortcuts are often valued more than doing things right, we’ve stood out as being different. From day one, we’ve told people that we’re in this for life. That we will be in Ghana as long as we need to be. This is not just a job for us. Not a one, two, five, or ten year project. Ghana is where we will be, until Ghana is not where we need to be. And that deliberate and intentional focus is the heart behind everything that we do.
Yes, we want results. Yes, we want to rescue kids from child trafficking and return them to their families. But not at the expense of our future ability to do more and better things. In other words, we will not sell out today to get immediate results that will ultimately hurt us (and more importantly, the kids) in the long run. We don’t want to give up on our process just to hurry and save the next 20 kids. We want to build a process that allows us to save hundreds, even thousands over the next decade. So we keep building, one block at a time, slowly, painstakingly, walking the long walk to freedom.
Will you come along?
I’m sorry for the delay between posts, but I’m committed to blogging more regularly so that we can continue to chronicle our journey to help the children and fishing villages in Ghana, Africa.
The last several months have brought a number of exciting changes including:
-All of the children (24) from the first rescue (except for one–more on him later) have been reintegrated back into their families and communities and are attending school today. What an amazing thing to be able to say!
-A second village on the lake (Sabonjeda) has agreed to partnership with Mercy Project. We hope to start teaching them aquaculture this summer and potentially rescue their trafficked children by fall.
-Two American couples will be moving to Ghana late this fall to live on the ground and among the people of rural Ghana day in and day out. We believe this is going to enhance our relationships and understanding of the scope of the problem tremendously as we continue to develop relationships with the fishermen on Lake Volta. We’re very, very excited about this addition and the ways it will enhance our work.
-Finally, I mentioned one of the children who hadn’t yet been reintegrated back with his family, and that is because he is an orphan. His name is Famous, and he is 7 years old. My wife and I are actually in the process of adopting him into our family, and we hope he will be here with us by the end of the summer or early Fall.
As I said, lots of developments and many things to be thankful for. Thanks for being a part of the journey with us.
If we’re going to solve big, complex, and difficult problems, we’re going to have to think outside of the box to do it. For far too long we have attempted to solve complex problems with simple solutions. That’s just not going to cut it. The complexity and creativity of our solutions must match the complexity of the problems we’re trying to solve.
One moment, one day, one step at a time, our work is moving forward in Ghana. Sometimes, okay most times, it doesn’t move as quickly as we would like. But we’re getting more and more comfortable with that. The pace of life in Ghana sometimes makes us crazy, but it’s also a great teacher for us. We need the reminders that our frantic pace here in America may be more efficient, but it’s not always better. There can be something good and right about slowing down and just taking the days as they come.
Our work on the lake is at an in between right now. First group rescued, rehabilitated, mostly reintegrated with the last few returning home very soon. We have started conversations in a few new fishing villages, but as mentioned above, their pace of making decisions and agreeing to partnership isn’t quite as quick as we would like. But we’re learning to be okay with that. We’re going to be in Ghana a long time. We won’t dawdle, or delay, but are becoming more patient and letting the process come to us. One step at a time.