We are writing with heavy hearts. It seems so calloused to "announce" this through a blog post, but we feel the need to address what's been going on and clarify a few details. Eight Oaks has been going through some changes. Sarah Sr. is, at this point in time, not living at The Yellow House in Akatsi, but with her family in Yeji. It has been a long, exasperating ordeal--and too complicated to accurately describe here, but we'll do our best. First, we need to begin with a little history:
The most common questions about the girls relate to their removal from Lake Volta. We try not to employ the term “rescue,” as it inaccurately paints us as heroes in this situation, when in reality, for every girl we “saved” we left behind a thousand more. God is the only one with any capacity to really rescue us. We were simply allowed to be a part of the redemption of eight girls—we are not responsible for their liberation. Not to mention, the term “rescue” connotes a covert operation a la Ocean’s Eleven or Mission Impossible. In reality, it was not a made-for-Hollywood production and, if properly depicted, would make a really boring movie. It was miraculous and thrilling, but instead of helicopters and explosions there was a lot of paperwork and meetings and waiting and traveling.
We wanted to obtain custody of these girls legally and respectfully, which meant working closely with the department of social welfare, the Ghanaian police and other institutions that had helped children in the past. One such organization coordinated the release for us through a local volunteer named Joseph. He identified children who were living in poor conditions without their parents and not attending school and secured their discharge from each of their caretakers (in some cases this was an elderly grandmother, or an uncle, or an unrelated fisherman). Joseph never provided financial incentive for the adults in exchange for the girls, and all were willing to release the children peacefully, even happily. One of the fishermen called us to make sure we made it home safely: a few of them gave the girls some change so they could buy themselves a snack. The situation on Lake Volta is not concocted by an evil, multi-millionaire who drives a Porsche and cackles maniacally at the thought of babies suffering: it’s a result of extreme poverty. Everyone is simply trying to survive and it perpetuates an inescapable, terrible cycle.
In Sarah Sr.’s case, she was released by her grandmother. Her father is dead and her mother is thought to be living in Kumasi, about 4 hours away. Sarah later told us that she had not seen her mother in over 2 years. Ghanaians use familial terms very loosely. You call a stranger “Auntie” or “Sister,” an older woman “Mama,” and rarely use first names. This, combined with the fact that Sarah has been moved around quite a bit, makes it very difficult to decipher her exact relation to these people.
We first heard from Sarah’s family in November. They’ve called us about Sarah on-and-off for several months, and we were generally told to ignore them and dismiss their threats as feeble attempts to get money. Sarah made it clear that she wanted to stay in Akatsi. She talked to her uncles on the phone and communicated this in no uncertain terms. However, exactly a week after our arrival in Akatsi in June of this year, we heard from Joseph, who said that Sarah’s family had gotten the police involved and we needed to return Sarah. The organization that coordinated Sarah's initial removal from the lake confirmed that the situation had escalated into something very serious. They said they would send someone to pick Sarah up, and we offered to meet them in Yeji, in hopes that a face-to-face meeting would persuade her family to allow us to continue caring for Sarah in Akatsi. On Saturday June 21st we (Ellie, Teddy, Mercy, and Sarah Sr.) departed for Yeji. It’s a long trip: we spent the night in Kumasi and left early the next morning with a team of Ghanaian abolitionists visit Sarah’s family, social welfare, and the local police. The meetings went well, and everyone seemed to agree that the best place for Sarah was in Akatsi. She was allowed, briefly, to speak for herself and verbalize her wishes. We were hopeful that we’d be able to bring her back with us that night.
However, social welfare and/or the police can’t make the family release her to our care, and the family wanted her to spend some time in Yeji. It was indescribably difficult to leave her behind: one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. We are fully expecting her to return to the Yellow House, but it may continue to be a drawn-out and frustrating process. As with any scenario involving children, guardians, biological family, social workers, and police, things are messy. It’s not black-and-white and there are no “good people” and “bad people” in this situation…which is why it’s so difficult to explain. We don’t want to be disrespectful or dismissive of Sarah’s family. We don’t want to anger or upset them: we want to have a peaceful, healthy relationship and give them the opportunity to sustain a connection with Sarah. However, we also desperately want what’s best for Sarah, and we are yearning for her to be back at The Yellow House. Our family is incomplete without her: her absence is noticeable and we ache knowing that she’s far away: missing school, maybe missing a meal or two, and missing us, too. We ache knowing that she would rather be in Akatsi, too.
Thankfully for her, and us, she’s the daughter of the King. She’s the apple of Jesus’ eye, and He holds this precious girl in the palm of His hand. Our Heavenly Father knit Sarah together in her mother’s womb: He made her incredibly smart and strong and beautiful. He has great plans for her. This is, for some reason, all a part of her story and we are trying to be patient, trying to trust. Our only comfort is knowing that God reigns supreme. He is sovereign. He upholds the cause of the oppressed. When one of His sheep is missing, he leaves the ninety-nine and searches until He finds it. We are desperately clinging to the truth that nothing can separate Sarah from the intense love of her Father. He’s on her side. He’s holding her, wrapping His arms around her, keeping her safe, and we are so, so thankful.
Still, this is not a satisfying end to the story. We hate saying, “we don’t know and it’s completely out of our control.” It’s true that we have little control and power in this situation, that we are facing many unknowns…but here is what we do know: we will not give up. Sarah deserves a life full of love, health, and education (she would like to be a nurse someday, undoubtedly inspiration she’s drawn from Auntie Kate). We will be relentless. We’re writing this in hopes that it answers some questions—and to ask that you’d continue lifting Sarah up in prayer. We are so thankful for the Body of Christ that has surrounded this girl in love and intercession. Please continue praying for her family, for the girls at The Yellow House missing their sister, and for us to have grace and wisdom as we navigate this scenario. Thank you for caring enough to ask for news and to read this (lengthy) update. We will do our best to keep everyone informed as the situation develops, although we might not have much to report for awhile.
We are thankful for all of you, and grateful to be a part of your family.
Ted & Ellie