This month we are celebrating 5 years of freedom for our little chicks…and we’ve decided that it’s time to share the full story of our trip to get the first five. I have my journals and some notes I took, emails I sent in the thick of it, and a rough timeline I put together in the weeks following, but I’ve never sat down and written it out chronologically. It took several days and the final draft was EIGHT PAGES, SINGLED-SPACED on a Word document. I briefly considered whittling it down, but to do that would be an injustice to the story! So here is your disclaimer: this is a L-O-N-G read, but one that I hope you find worthwhile.
Writing this was a worshipful act for me. All glory is given to Jesus, the Great Redeemer of us all.
Ted and I had arrived in Ghana on August 9th, 2013. Landon and Kate joined us in September. We had found a home, overseen renovations, furnished it, and hired staff. We had met with social welfare and completed all of the necessary paperwork (or so we thought—spoiler alert!). You can read back to the beginning of this blog if you want to relive those months! Kate also kept a blog that you can find here. In summary, though, we had been walking in favor, favor, favor. Everything had fallen into place. We called Jeff on our third day in the country because we had found the Yellow House and wanted his two cents. “Man,” he sighed, “it’s just way too easy for you guys.” Our group of high school students and other supporters continued to pray and those intercessions paved the way for us for our first three months.
Flash-forward to early November. Beds were made, extra food was in the kitchen, and we were finally ready for the girls! It was Sunday, November 3rd, and we were preparing for a long trip to Yeji to meet our eight little ladies and bring them home to the Yellow House. We went to church that morning, packed, did laundry, etc.
Mercy had just moved into her room at the house and we were getting to know her. All morning, she had been saying, “the darkness is coming,” excitedly which was…unsettling, to say the least. After several hours of this statement, Landon realized she was talking about a solar eclipse that was set to occur in Akatsi that afternoon. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes over the sun and there is darkness in the middle of the day. Akatsi was not in the “zone of totality,” but it was gray and eerie outside. There was a terrific thunderstorm in the early evening and we sat outside and watched the courtyard fill with rainwater. I started painting the words “The Yellow House” in the front room—I remember tracing the letters and praying over our trip.
At the time, we thought that social welfare had prepared files for thirteen girls as a result of a miscommunication, and that we were going to have to choose eight to come home with us. We were all trying to prepare emotionally for that and praying that God would make clear the choice for us. Kate made potato soup for dinner—by that time it had stopped raining. We ate and tried to go to bed early, although I didn’t sleep much at all.
Our alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. and we prepared to leave The Yellow House for a week—taking out trash, cleaning the bathroom, locking doors, etc. We piled into a tro-tro (which is basically a 12 or 16 passenger van in which the driver rents out seats for a few bucks) just as the sun was coming up, and Bernard said a prayer to bless our journey. My stomach was in knots. Kate took a picture of our group and we headed to Accra, where we caught a flight to Kumasi (normally about a 6 hour drive, mercifully whittled down to a 30-minute plane ride). We arrived in Kumasi at around 12:45 and then went to a tro-tro station to find a ride to Ate Bubu, which is a town about 45 minutes away from the lake, where we’d be staying for the week. The scenery on the drive was beautiful—Kumasi is called “The Garden City” and the area around it was filled with lush vegetation and rolling hills. We arrived in Ate Bubu at about 4:30.
Traveling cross-country in Ghana is not at all akin to traveling in the United States. There is no air-conditioning—it is hot, the roads are bumpy, irregular, and dusty (and if it’s rainy season, FORGET IT. Ted and I rode a 50-passenger charter bus through a mudslide once and barely lived to tell the tale). I’m not sharing these details so you’ll feel sorry for us, but so you’ll understand that when I talk about being exhausted after a day of traveling, I mean you literally ache in your bones and can taste red dust in your teeth.
We met up with two volunteers, Francis and Joseph, at the hotel that had been recommended to us. A quick tour of the premises revealed crumbling walls, frightening bathrooms, and other questionable amenities but we figured it was our only option. We were worn out but happy to be that much closer to getting the girls.
Unfortunately, when we all sat down together, Francis explained that out of the 13 case files assembled by social welfare, only five were girls. Ted and Bernard clarified that we were only prepared to take female children. Francis responded that he would not have time to assemble three more case files before the end of the week. Apparently quite a bit had been lost in translation whilst we had communicated from Aktasi.
Discouraged, tired, and starving, we went out looking for dinner. It was after dark and we were totally clueless. A girl named Hannah was sitting at a kiosk selling electronics and offered to walk us to a restaurant that was about 30 minutes away. We spoke with the owner, who told us that the hotel we were staying at was the worst one in town: he recommended another one nearby that was cheaper, safer, and cleaner. Ted, Mercy, Bernard, and I returned to the hotel to collect our bags while Landon and Kate went to the new location to get rooms. As we were trying to leave, the manager became irate and threatened violence if we didn’t pay him the full amount for the week. After many minutes of tense conversation (mediated by the ever-patient and gracious Bernard), he relented and we left. Ted and I stayed up late talking, praying, and sharing our frustrations. I confessed to Bernard that I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. “It’s all a part of the process,” he said. “We have a saying here in Ghana: hard training, easy battle.”
We awoke the next day refreshed and optimistic. Our plan was to visit the lake and meet the girls, but first we had to get their releases signed at the social welfare office. Ted, Bernard, and I met with the chief in Ate Bubu who, after looking over our documents, told us we were missing a critical piece of paperwork that would take months to obtain. We were shocked, given that we had worked closely with a social welfare representative in Akatsi up to this point. We were sitting on a veranda and I remember walking around to the side of the house to weep and pray. We were confused and frustrated. The chief we met with was a wonderful man, and did his best to help us, but after a draining afternoon of discussions and calls with social welfare, we realized there was nothing to be done. Back at the hotel that afternoon, Ted called Matt Garrett, co-founder of the Father’s House. Matt was unavailable, but his wife Tammy answered the phone. Ted’s voice broke as he explained how the day had unfolded. She told us she felt that the solar eclipse the day before we left had been prophetic: that everything would be swallowed up by darkness and then the light would break through. She told us that she would be praying.
We ate dinner in almost total silence that night.
On Wednesday, we headed to Yeji. It took us about an hour by car. The head of social welfare, named Fostinos, was incredibly helpful and suggested we contact another organization in Ghana that runs a similar rehabilitation center for children. Their director, whom Ted and I had met a few months earlier, suggested that we come to Kumasi and talk things over face-to-face.
Francis had left town, but Joseph proved to be invaluable: he has lived in Yeji all his life and used to be a fisherman (he’s missing a left thumb that was caught in a net many years ago). He knew the area and the local customs and was passionate about helping us. He encouraged us to persevere and offered to take us to see the girls. We drove about 45 minutes to the edge of the lake, where fishermen were cleaning their nets. They pointed to a rickety old canoe that had inches of water splashing around the bottom as our transportation. Teddy laughed and said, “No way.” As the leader of our group, I think he was picturing a newspaper headline that read “GROUP OF AMERICANS AND LOCALS GET IN LEAKY CANOE AND DROWN.”
Landon said he and Kate were fine with it. I wasn’t fine with it, exactly, but I argued that after coming all this way, a few inches of water was the least of our problems. The only person left to convince was Bernard.
When Bernard was in his 20’s, he was in a boat accident. It was a ferry of some type that capsized. Bernard didn’t know how to swim, but as he hit the water he prayed to God and found his way to the shore. He swore to himself that he would never get in a boat for as long as he lived.
And before him sat a little canoe.
“Bernard,” Teddy said, “we cannot do this without you.” Bernard closed his eyes and made the decision to get in the boat. My own faith wavered many times during this week but was constantly buoyed by the group of people who surrounded me. Bernard, Mercy, Landon, Kate, and Ted, all displayed great trust in the Lord when I was ready to throw in the towel.
So we set off across the water. Bernard was sitting in front of me and prayed constantly—he was murmuring in Ewe but I heard the name “Jesus” about 1,000 times. At this point it was midday and incredibly hot. We were out of drinking water already, and at exactly the half-way point across the lake, the canoe engine inexplicably sputtered and died. Water was splashing around our ankles and the sun was merciless. About ten minutes passed before one of the boys helping Joseph was able to fix the motor and we continued on our way.
So, we finally arrived at the island, but upon reaching the first congregation of huts we learned that the children were gone—they were either out fishing or helping at the market. Joseph suggested we visit one more village, and after a thirty-minute walk through the “bush,” we arrived at a clearing filled with mud huts. We sat down with the chiefs while Bernard and Joseph spoke with them in their native language. Mercy was so moved and distraught by the living conditions and the state of the children that she silently cried for the entire time. Many of the kids had gathered around to see the Yavus, and I noticed one little girl in particular out of the corner of my eye. She was scrawny and timid-looking, wearing an orange dress that was nearly falling off of her shoulders. Bernard asked Joseph if we could meet the child from this village whom we might take home, and the chief nudged the girl in orange.
Bernard reached forward and took her hand, and said “Efɔa?” which is the way you greet someone in Ewe. I can still hear her sweet voice as she responded, “Eh.” My heart soared. Bernard asked her what her name was and she whispered her response. Bernard turned to us and said, “her name is God’s Way.”
Ted and I looked at each other with wide, tearful eyes. A story I had heard dozens of times prior to this was about the trip the Father’s House team took to get their boys. The first boy was named God’s Way, and the last boy was named God’s Way. From start to finish, the rescue had been done God’s Way. To see this little girl and hear her name was a definite sign from the Lord. The Spirit was moving, even if it felt like everything was going wrong.
I asked to take her picture, and to this day it’s one of my favorite photos of all time. I showed her the image using the back of my camera and she shyly smiled. It was difficult to leave the island that day having met her and knowing that it might be days, weeks, months, before we could bring her home…or that (worst of all) we might never see her again. We clung to the promise of her name.
I remember walking back to the canoe alongside Bernard when he sighed and said, “to think that we are living in such abundance in Akatsi, while others in Ghana endure such poverty.” YIKES. For context, Bernard lives in a house with no running water and scarce electricity. Akatsi is much more advanced than these little villages, but still very third world. I inwardly groaned at the thought of him visiting the States someday. What would he think of our abundance?
We returned to the canoe hot, thirsty, and overwhelmed. Ted hadn’t been feeling well since he contracted malaria a few weeks earlier and was terribly ill on the ride back across the lake. Once the water was shallow enough, he literally jumped out, waded to the shore, and was sick in the bushes. That sounds like a small thing but we were hours and hours and hours away from medical care. I was extremely anxious about him getting sick.
An hour and a half later, we made it back to our hotel in Ate Bubu. At this time it was about 5:00pm, and we were physically and emotionally spent. Ted and I needed to get to Kumasi in the small hope that this other organization could help us with our paperwork. Everyone else stayed in Ate Bubu while we headed to the Tro-Tro station, bought a hunk of bread off the side of the road for dinner, and left for Kumasi at about 6:30, once the sun had set. A few hours into the journey, we stopped to get gas and both of us got off to use the bathroom (i.e., pee on the roadside). The tro-tro started to pull out when we were about 50 feet away, and Teddy literally ran after it yelling and waving his arms while he was still pulling his pants up. This is a detail that is hilarious in the re-telling, but was terrifying at the time. A few feet separated us from being stranded in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness, for who knows how long. We got to Kumasi around 10:00, and found a cab to take us to a hotel we had stayed in on another trip. They told us they had no vacancies, but offered another guest house nearby. We finally arrived at about 10:30, and fell asleep.
It would be nice to write that, although we had several setbacks, my faith was strong and I was confident that the Lord would see this mission through.
That was not the case.
We were set to leave bright and early the next morning to visit with the other NGO in a Hail Mary, a last-ditch effort to see if we could get the paperwork we needed.
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take another hour-long trip to hear “No,” yet again. I basically just sat on the bed and cried. Each time I tried to get up to get dressed or brush my teeth I’d crumple. Ted was gracious with me. He told me to stay behind and pray while he was gone. We had Internet access for the first time all week, so I sent an email to my parents that, amongst other things, said the following:
“Literally everything has gone wrong since we arrived.
Teddy and I went to Kumasi last night and arrived at about ten. We are totally exhausted. He is meeting with the other organization now to see if, by some miracle, we can borrow their NGO status long enough to bring some of the girls home.
I have to confess that I am totally worn down and feeling defeated. I do not understand why everything has gone so perfectly up to this point, and as soon as we stepped foot in Ate Bubu it all fell apart. If this is solely an attack from the Enemy and his objective is to make me feel hopeless and depressed and tired then he has succeeded. I'm trying to trust in God's timing but I am so frustrated and disappointed. I wish He'd just wave his all-powerful hand and make the situation right again.”
My Dad has a way of reacting to stressful situations that is very comforting to me. He did not offer suggestions for how we could work with social welfare or advice regarding the earthly side of things. He responded, “God’s Power is complete and absolute. Last night at church we studied the prayer of the Church in Acts 4. The prayer reinforced that power and victory belong to God. The Church was absorbed in worship and praise and asked for boldness. The rulers thought that they were the powerful ones after they crucified Jesus but it was all a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to us (which is similar to the way He is bringing salvation to your girls). Get your faith out of your hip pocket and activate it. It sounds like you’ve had many events and people trying to shove it back.”
So I prayed. I spoke to God the way you speak to your sibling after you get in a fight and your mom makes you make up. It was forced, it was angry, it was tearful.
The door opened after a few hours, and Ted walked in, looking bedraggled but smiling. “I think this is going to work,” he said. We bought Snickers for lunch at a Shell gas station and boarded yet another tro-tro to head back to Yeji (Snickers are my favorite candy bar, for this reason). We prayed for the entire trip. I was re-reading the journal I kept during this time and this is part of what I wrote:
We’ve semi-jokingly referred to this whole process of waiting for the girls as a “pregnancy.” I suppose we thought the delivery itself would be easy and romantic and lovely. And just like in real life, it’s a bloody, screaming, painful mess. But all I care about is getting these babies.
Help me to TRUST. Help me to rely on you. Help me to rejoice in all circumstances. Help me to not be discouraged. Help. Help. Help.
I’m astonished that I was able to decipher anything I wrote on that bumpy, emotional ride. It was fun to re-read this bit, because Ted and I just had our first baby in late May. After the labor and delivery, as we were hungrily devouring Panera delivered to us from my parents, I said, “the only experience I’ve had remotely similar to this is that trip to get the girls.” The adrenaline, the rush of emotion, the exhaustion...they were similar encounters, in many ways.
At 4:00 p.m., we met Mercy, Bernard, Landon, and Kate at the social welfare office and Fostinos signed the release papers for the girls. We drove another hour back to Ate Bubu, ate dinner, and fell asleep with our hearts in our throats.
We awoke on Friday morning at 5:00 and loaded up. We bought a loaf of bread to split for breakfast (Ghana sugar bread is the best, which is good because it comprised about 80% of our sustenance that week) and we ate as we traveled the dirt road to Yeji. It was one of those beautifully quiet, cool mornings unique to Africa. To our right, the sun started to rise: a big, red, African sun. I heard Tammy’s voice in my head, “the light will break through.”
Our driver had misunderstood the directions from Joseph, took a 30-minute detour, and got hopelessly lost. We were rescued by a local man riding his bike, who valiantly led the way for us down a rocky path until we found the road again.
I include all of these little details—Ted getting sick, us getting lost, the hotel being awful, because literally everything, big or small, had gone wrong. We had experienced one setback after another. We were in the midst of spiritual warfare. And even that morning, lost in a tangle of wild trees, there was doubt.
We rounded a bend in the path.
And saw five little figures on the side of the road, nervously clutching small bags filled with their only possessions.
We stumbled out of the tro-tro and they nervously greeted us with appraising eyes. Mercy and Bernard spoke to them in Ewe. Gloria reached for my hand. Kate elicited the first smile.
The sun was shining brightly overhead as we climbed back into the tro-tro, and set off on the long journey back to the Yellow House.
The girls spent most of the first fifteen minutes or so whispering to each other in their own language and undoubtedly wondering whom these white people were. I simply marveled at them. After all of the heartache and pandemonium and disaster, here they were, eating bananas for breakfast and dancing to the radio.
We had not had internet access or good cell reception in Ate Bubu, but when we finally saw a blue light on our phone I texted my parents, “Got 5 girls and headed back to Aktasi. Will call later.” Hearing my Dad tell the story of when they received that text is hilarious: the last thing they had heard from us was my email of despair on Thursday morning.
About half-way to Kumasi, the girls started screaming in unison. We asked Mercy what was going on and she giggled, “I just told them that they are going to ride on an airplane.” Mercy was invaluable on this trip, which is appropriate since she is the heartbeat of the Yellow House. She could speak to the girls in their native languages and her presence was immediately comforting to them.
I knew we HAD to tell the high schoolers what had happened as soon as possible. Bouncing along in the back seat, I uploaded a picture and had a Facebook post ready to go so I could share it in the few minutes we had at the airport before our flight left. I literally opened my laptop, clicked “share,” and crossed my fingers that the connection was strong enough before we had to leave. I was hopeful that it would be posted in time for the group to see it before school started.
The 45-minute flight to Accra was definitely a highlight. The girls giggled and screamed and inspired laughter from everyone else on our little puddle-jumper plane. The flight attendant gave them extra juice boxes and cookies. They kept the plastic water bottles for days and days afterwards.
On the drive to Akatsi, God’s Way fell asleep with her head in my lap. I remember watching the stars overhead and marveling at the faithfulness of God. I cried for probably the 500th time that week.
We arrived back in Akatsi late that night, but Mama Helen and Celestine were waiting at the gate to greet us with hugs and shouts of joy. They had prepared akple with okra stew. The power and water were (mercifully) working so after the girls feasted they took baths and were shown their new bedroom with bamboo bunk beds, pink mattresses, and clean sheets.
They went to sleep, and I finally opened my laptop to see if our post had gone through. It had and Ted and I hunched over the computer, laughing and crying, at all of the comments and shared joy…the worship happening on the other side of the world. Here is a link to that post.
I still visit it every so often to remember how mightily God moved that week.
Of course, you might be wondering about the other three girls: Sarah Sr., Richlove, and Regina. Ted, Mercy, Bernard, and I went on a second trip about a week later to bring them home. That journey is it’s own story—it was initially the complete opposite of this experience (we left Akatsi on Monday morning and were back on Tuesday evening with no complications!). However, if you’ve been following us for very long you know that it was the start of a drawn-out, painful journey of reconciliation with Sarah Sr.’s family. It deserves it’s own time to be told.
Thank you for reading, for being a part of what has happened over the last 5 years. For loving the girls from afar, for praying for them, for being so generous with your time, hearts, finances. For not laughing Ted and me out of the room when at the wise ages of 22 and 21 we said we wanted to start a non-profit and use high schoolers to fund it. To be a part of this ministry has been the greatest gift of our lives and we are so grateful for it, so grateful for the girls, for our staff, for this story, and for Ghana.
John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Here’s to many more years, many more holy encounters, many more messy weeks and disasters that point to His sovereignty, love, and grace. Love to you all.