Sometimes it seems crazy that Ghana adoption has now been part of my life for six years (coming up on 5 years as an agency rep, but 6 as adoptive parent). I think of all of the people the Lord has allowed me to meet over those 6 years and am sort of blown away. Some friendships start out on fire and die down quickly into ashes. Some friendships are definitely God-given for a season, but die out over time. Some start with just a spark and grow slowly and steadily as time passes. And then there are those special friendships that are strong from the very beginning and only get stronger as time goes on.
I should feel only happiness at all of the people the Lord has allowed me to meet, and how sometimes, when paths cross, it has shown to be for His glory. Tonight, my mind is on three special friendships and I hope that these three men won't mind my sharing.
The years melt together for me, but I would guess it was around 3 years ago. I was on a Yahoo Group that was nothing to do with adoption. It was a group of people who loved Ghana. That's it. Some people lived there; others had never been there but dreamed of going someday. One of the members of that group posted about a supposedly great guy who ran a small orphanage in Accra. He and the children had been kicked out of their home, and were living in the hallway of their former home. Soon, they would be completely homeless. At the same time, AAI was running a small orphanage named Eban House. We had outgrown our current residence and were moving into a larger home. I figured it couldn't hurt to contact this other director and let him know that there would very soon be a decent home in Teshie that rented for 400 cedis a month (low rent) and had already been used as a children's home. The Lord worked it out, and the man and his family of orphaned children moved into the "old" Eban House, while we (Eban House) moved to a larger house down the road.
The man was interested in the work we were doing in adoption, and six of the younger children in his home were eventually placed through our adoption program. Families visited Teshie, and visited the man. They loved him and his mission. Word started to get out about this little orphanage.
Maybe a year after first meeting him, we had to close Eban House, with more than a year left on the lease. At the same time (just like last time!) this same little orphanage was running into problems with their home (the former Eban House). Once again, the Lord worked out the details, and as Eban House closed, we celebrated that we were able to gift this other orphanage with a larger home, and rent free for about a year. Yea God!
That man was John Nyavor, and that home was Great Mission International (formerly Charity Kingdom Orphanage). We've assisted in the adoption of several children from GMI through the last 3 years, and have supported GMI as we are able. The best thing about this story is that GMI no longer needs little 'ol AAI. Now, the home is very well known throughout the adoption community, and has many organizations and private families supporting it. This is truly the goal, isn't it? You give someone a leg-up when you are able, in hopes that they will eventually be able to support themselves. It's the same goal, whether a little-known children's home or a struggling Ghanaian family.
About 4 years ago I was in Ghana and made my first trip to the north of the country--specifically to the Upper West region. Until that time I had been in the lower regions of the country, but had never experienced what the north of the country was like. We drove for 14 (or 15?) hours to Wa. A children's organization there had contacted us and asked us to do a presentation on adoption to villagers. I had expected to speak to a few dozen people, so imagine my surprise when over 400 people showed up! It was an experience I will never forget.
On the way from Wa to the small village where I was to speak, our driver pulled over suddenly when he saw a sign for some sort of children's NGO. If you've been to Ghana you know how very important connections are. You never know when someone you meet might come in handy for a future problem. The place was mostly empty, as their funding had just been cut off. I vaguely remember trading email addresses with one of the young men who worked there. Life went on.
Several months later I got an email out of the blue from this guy I traded addresses with. He mentioned that he was out of work, and were we hiring? [At the time we had actual employees in Ghana, not NGO partnerships.] I asked our then facilitator if he was interested in an assistant, but he wasn't. So that was that.
Several months later I experienced one of my first big disappointments with Ghana friends. My friend and employee had misused my trust, and had not been working in the best interest of our adoptive families. I found myself firing someone who 6 months before I would have said I would trust with my life. VERY painful time. It was VERY personal. And to top off the personal hurt, I was left with nobody to process our AAI adoptions.
I remembered that young man that had sent me his resume. I dug through old emails. I searched and searched! Eventually I found him, and WOW was his resume good. A teacher. An HIV/AIDS advocate. Former director of a children's NGO. And a licensed social worker! He didn't have any experience with adoptions, but could we make it work? We did. And now I call this man a forever friend. He has proven time and time again that he is actually worthy of my trust. And he brought our program from good, to good AND incredibly ethical. Joha is now his own boss, as the director of The Ripley Foundation. Through a chance meeting in a remote area in Ghana, the Lord made a way for me to meet the person that would eventually make a huge difference in the lives of dozens (if not hundreds) of children and families around the world.
In February 2007 we passed court for our son Bright. I had not met Bright to that point, and knew that we were probably still several months away from bringing him home. One of the kids went to the doctor for one reason or another, and I asked our doctor to take a look at the medical we had received for Bright. Our doctor did a double-take at his numbers, and told me that he presented as a very sick little boy. I KNEW he was sick at referral, but at that time (several months later) he was a SUPER plump and healthy-looking little guy. Little did I understand that his numbers showed severe anemia. Our doc has been through a lot with us (Samren's illness) and does not over-react, but she looked me in the eye and told me if this was her son, she'd be on the next plane to Ghana to get him into the hospital. Thus started my mad dash to make my first solo trip to Ghana with 4 days notice!
We were REALLY strapped for money at the time. I posted on the above mentioned Ghana yahoo group, asking for cheap hotel recommendations. Instead, someone from the list emailed me privately to tell me of a small children's home she was involved with, and her good friend that ran the home like a family. She said I could stay there rent-free and would be welcomed with open arms during my 3 week stay. Gulp! Okay Lord! I'm heading to Ghana for the 2nd time, first international trip alone. I know one person in the country, and I've made arrangements to stay with a man (and his family) that I've only heard of through the internet. Okay Lord!
It was one of the most precious times of my life. There was no air conditioning. There was no hot water. Heck--there wasn't even electricity half of the time. [This was during a major power crisis in Ghana.] But there was so much love. I didn't realize it then, but they treated me like a queen. Every day I ate a huge egg sandwich for breakfast and a wonderful chicken dinner at night. I had a private bed and bathroom where I could shut myself off and have time just with Bright and I. [He wasn't that sick after all.] I learned on the last day of my stay that the man and his wife had actually given me THEIR bedroom, while his family of four had been sleeping in the garage for 3 weeks! I spent hours talking with this man of God. It seemed that we never ran out of things to talk about!
By the end of my trip the Lord had provided a trust-worthy foster home for Bright to live at until I could return for him. He had laid the ground-work for me to work with AAI to establish an adoption program in Ghana. And He had provided the friendship and caretaker that would assist us in the care of the first children through our program.
It's five years later (next month!) and my friendship with Paul Anaba has never been stronger. Paul has been a constant friend and source of encouragement. He has never taken advantage of our friendship. He has never once mis-used funds that were sent to him. In fact, he goes out of his way more than any other person to make sure we know funds are being used appropriately (sending receipts, or photos of children with medication, etc.). Paul is still "Daddy Paul" to many children. He runs two amazing (and amazingly family-like) group foster homes in Ghana. The boys who were elementary-age when I first met them are now growing into amazing young men, thanks to Daddy Paul!
More than any other man I have ever met, Paul has a gift to care for children. I know it sounds strange to some--especially if you know Ghanaian culture--but in his home he is the nurturer and caregiver. I've never seen him eat a meal where he wasn't also giving bites to one child or another! This man who is small in stature, I am convinced, will have many crowns in heaven!
Not only does he have a gift for care taking, but also of encouragement. Today I received an email from him. This month is financially difficult for our program and, as a result, we weren't able to send as much as usual to help Nyame Dua (Paul's home). He could have written me to complain, or at the very least to express to me how much that money was needed. Instead, he wrote to me to encourage me not to be too worried. He let me know that he and the children had been praying for me (and believe me, they really do pray!). He wanted to remind me that the Lord will provide and that we will all be okay. Truly, I count this man as my brother.
Forgive my VERY LONG reflections! I don't know what purpose it serves to put these stories up on my blog. I guess the overwhelming message to my heart is that the Lord has a purpose for each and every season of our lives. I hear of a guy on an internet group, and it turns out to be John Nyavor. I meet a random young man in Wa, and it turns out to be the future hero of our program. I step into a stranger's home to stay for 3 weeks, and it turns out to be the man who would make AAI's Ghana program possible. Some friendships are meant for a season, and others for a life-time, but the Lord's hand is in all of them. I am thankful for every single experience--good and bad--that He has given me with Ghana these past 6 years.