Today’s date seems strangely fitting... It is November 11th, a day we reflect upon our freedom and the cost of such freedom... and here we are, gathered in the living area of Jantsen’s House with a handful of the older girls at the Village Of Life. Girls who have been rescued from the unspeakable... but we must speak it. Perhaps it is not speaking it that gives darkness permission to remain.
(Note: Names withheld to protect the identity of these trafficked children)
Our hopes were to continue the connection we had already begun earlier today when we sat on the steps of Jantsen’s House and sang and laughed together. A few of the girls brought out the clothing they had made in their sewing skills classes, and I must say they are much better than I am. Tiny shirt after tiny shirt sewn by hand, with collars, pleats and buttons, even zippers – great skills to grow their future upon. One of the girls had learned to braid hair, so she showed us her skills using Debra as an example. Watching her fingers confidently and swiftly braid thin strands of hair was nothing short of amazing. Debra loved having her hair done, I’m sure it was very relaxing.
The girls were interested in learning how to use the camera, which was entertaining to teach, given the slight language barrier. All the girls speak English in varying degrees of ease, their voices rich and warm. I handed my camera to one of them, as she wanted to take a photo of Tia and I. The first obstacle was to remember to take the lens cap off – that helps! Then, to teach her how to use the viewfinder, as she was waiting for something to appear on the screen at the back of the camera. Once that was done, we instructed her to press the shutter release whenever she saw what she wanted to take a photo of, but she kept giving us this baffled look, which in turn confused us as well... why wasn’t she taking a photo?
Joshua, who had been standing nearby to coach her a little, realized that he had turned the camera off. Oops – somehow, that explains it all!
Once the camera was turned back on, she was able to take a handful of photos... she took some of us, and then some of doors, the room, the walls, everything and anything! It was good to see her having fun!
We took a small break for lunch at Bryan’s House, the boys’ residence, where our team gathered for meals each day. At mealtime, we had been taking turns saying grace, but Joshua hadn’t yet taken a turn, so we encouraged him to pray on our behalf. It’s something he had done at home on occasion, where he felt more at ease, but he hadn’t done publicly outside of our home. He felt he wasn’t “good” at saying grace, so we explained that it was simply an expression of gratitude, a conversation with God about our gratitude to Him. He accepted to try, and hearing his heartfelt words was such a sweet gift – I could already see how much Africa had grown his heart and his perspective. As a mom, I can not control his heart, his mind, his decisions, his perspective – nor do I want to. All I can do is simply teach by being a living example and provide opportunities and experiences for him to use to widen his perspective. I quietly prayed my gratitude to God for that moment, and all that He had provided for us through this journey, including this precious moment.
When we finished our meal, we returned to the ladies’ residence with Joshua in tow, and as we sat around in a semi circle, Tia announced that she had a “game” for us to play. We would each take turns sitting in the empty chair, and as we sat in the chair, we would share a story from our life.
Tia went first and shared how she and Stephen met, how they spent their times together when he flew to Michigan, and how their relationship was strengthening.
Then, one of the girls sat, and she chose to talk about life “on the islands” (of Lake Volta), and what it was like to be in captivity. She shared her typical day on the islands – the endless work, the impossible conditions, the abuse, and the effect it had on her. She then shared about the day she was rescued and was brought to the Village of Life, and how it transformed her life.
Encouraged by her testimony, Debra also shared about her childhood and her past, and how it grew in her a passion to help people facing similar situations.
Meanwhile, Joshua was quietly listening as I watched his reaction to be sure that he was taking all of this information well, as it may have been difficult for him to hear such things for the first time, but he was attentive and respectful and seemed to be doing well.
Another girl came, and offered her own story of life on the islands. Similar situations, different details. Heartbreaking. Year after year of slavery had taken a toll on this young woman, but here she was in our midst, strong, courageous, healing... and free.
We gave Joshua a turn to break up the heaviness of what we had shared. We talked about his dreams, his aspirations in life, his friends, embarrassing moments, and anything else that came to mind.
When he was done speaking, I gave Joshua the opportunity to be excused and play with the other children outside if he wished to take a break from the talking, but he expressed his wish to stay and take part in what we were doing.
After Joshua, another girl stepped forward and shared more in depth detail of her days as a child slave. Like the other girls, she had been brought to the islands as a domestic servant, but had also been involved in the fishing itself. She spoke of the frustration of being given tasks she did not know how to do, or being made to re-do a task over for no reason. The slave masters’ family acerbated the problems by undoing her work so that she would be punished and beaten for not having complied to the master’s demands.
My turn was last, and given what they had shared, I felt led to share with them the abuse I had faced as a child. It was a situation that Joshua had not yet been told, but I always knew that when the time came to share it with him, I would have peace about it. It was time.
In having shared, it is my hope that these women can see that they are not alone, and that in many ways, God used my past to lead me to Ghana and make a difference in the lives of children that I understand their pain more than I should.
Perhaps, at the same time, Joshua can gain an appreciation for what God used to shape me into who I am today.
It was hard to sit across from these beautiful, humble, gracious young women and hear of the way they had been treated – starved, beaten, and enslaved.
Perhaps the most difficult part is the responsibility that comes with having heard their stories. In having heard these young women speak, I must now carry their voices back home with me and share what they have been through, and should I not be able to properly convey the severity and horror of what they endured, I will feel as though I have failed them.
For anyone who has ever doubted the severity of what happens to these children and the reality of slavery – come... come to the Village of Life. Meet these precious children, feel their scars, watch the pain as they speak the unspeakable, witness the joy in their freedom and redemption.
If that’s not enough to convey the reality and the horror... walk with us as we share tomorrow’s account of our time with the child slaves on the islands of Lake Volta. Post to follow shortly.