Let Your Love Be Sincere
Johnbull and I met in Ghana, West Africa, in January 2001. We were both living at the Youth with A Mission (YWAM) base in the harbor city of Tema. I was attending the Discipleship Training School (DTS), and he had returned to the YWAM base to help construct a large auditorium for an upcoming conference. Johnbull had previously graduated from his DTS program just a month earlier.
We had known each other for a short four weeks and knew that God was binding us together for a lifetime. Seventeen long months later, we were married on a Tuesday in a small church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Nothing about our beginning was conventional, but we did find the American dream. We both found meaningful work; he worked for Naatje's Concrete, and I ran an at-home daycare. We owned our home, served on the ministry team at our church, and welcomed two beautiful boys into the world. We enjoyed our life and the security of our daily routine, but we always had a dream of returning to Ghana together.
In 2006, the American dream that we were living began to shift. Johnbull, a Nigerian from Benin City, knew that his father back home had been sick for several years. In October 2006, his father passed away. In Nigeria, it is common for families to keep their deceased loved ones in the mortuary for several months while planning their funeral. So, John’s family waited to bury his father while we began to make travel plans for the end of the year.
During the months leading up to the funeral and our return to Africa, we felt God's leading to begin the ministry that we had been dreaming about over the past five years, City of Refuge Ministries (CORM). While we were headed for Nigeria, we knew that CORM was meant to be located in Ghana, the country that first brought our lives together. We began to dream together all the possibilities of what a ministry in Ghana would look like. Though we were headed for Nigeria, we added Ghana to our list of destinations. We collected donations of children's clothes, baby items, and over-the-counter medicines for our trip, and we made plans to reconnect with old friends and classmates in Ghana. All the while, we wondered if this meant we would be moving to Ghana. What about the American dream? What about our two little boys under the age of three? What about my family that we would be leaving behind?
Our trip to Nigeria for Johnbull's father's funeral was successful. The third day of the three-day event was a beautiful church service held in the family's front yard and led by Johnbull. His father had been a fetish priest and worshiped idols instead of Jesus. That morning, several family members and visitors made commitments to lay down their idols and to follow Jesus. This Sunday service marked the beginning of something new for our Nigerian family.
From there, we traveled to Ghana, where we visited hospitals and children's homes. We gave money to help families living on the street and helped pay school fees for needy children. We felt alive while we were sharing and helping where we could, but we returned to South Dakota without a clear vision of what God was calling us to do. All we could do was wait in anticipation for God to reveal the next piece of the puzzle.
Little did we know that the next piece of the puzzle would change our lives forever. A few weeks after returning from Ghana, a friend told us about an article that had been written in the New York Times about an evil injustice happening in Ghana. On Ghana’s Lake Volta, the world’s largest man-made lake, children were trafficked into slavery, working endless hours in fishing boats. We hadn’t previously heard about child slavery and with the news that it was happening in our beloved Ghana, we began to learn more about the injustice of human trafficking, reading article after article, one horrific story after the next. We were learning, for the first time, that many people around the globe were considered disposable. Among these “disposable people” were thousands of children, living as slaves on Ghana's Lake Volta.
We discovered that the lake was created from previously forested land that had been flooded. There were thousands of trees under the water that were prone to catching and then snaring the fishing nets. Fishermen brought young boys to work for them because of their tiny, nimble fingers that could untangle the nets from the underwater branches. They brought young boys because they knew they could work long and hard hours on minimal food and with few expectations. They brought young boys to work for them, and there, these young boys lost their identity, their dreams, and their voice.
The more we learned about the issue of child slavery, the more we knew God was leading us to go to Lake Volta to discover the truth for ourselves. A few months later, we traveled back to Ghana for our first trip to Lake Volta. It took us seventeen hours of long, hard travel on dusty, rough, red roads in an old Nissan double cab truck before we reached the northern shores of Lake Volta.
We made our way to the banks of the lake, where a canoe sat on the shore. There were two young boys and a young man who appeared to have severe learning disabilities mending the fishing nets that lined the canoe. Our Ghanaian friend spoke Twi to the boys, asking their names. The boys shared their names with hollow eyes. It seemed as if they were physically present, but they had no idea who they were. When asked how they ended up at the lake, all they could tell us was they had been given to the fisherman by their mother. They were told they would be given an education, but they were now fishing and had never been to school. I saw my boys’ faces and wondered how we were so privileged to not find ourselves in this situation. Their mother believed she was doing the right thing for her children.
The brothers had not seen their mother since she gave them to the fisherman several years earlier. They couldn't remember where their mother's village was or even their last name. Our hearts broke for these boys. Their distended stomachs, hollow eyes, red hair from malnutrition, and stolen identities captured our hearts in a way that we could not contain or fully express. Right there on the banks of Lake Volta, we heard God speak so clearly to our hearts.
"Be a voice for the voiceless. Rescue my children from this bondage. Introduce them to me. I will restore their identities. They will no longer be slaves but children of God."
We could not rescue those brothers, but during that trip, we were able to participate in the freedom of three other children. Their lives were forever changed, and so were ours. Since that first trip to the lake, we have been a part of serving over one hundred children who had been rescued from slavery on the lake or other vulnerable situations.
In January 2010, we relocated our family to Ghana from South Dakota and began building the CORM Children's Village. Our campus had over twenty acres of land, children's homes, a house for single mothers, staff housing, an administration building, a primary and junior high school, sports fields cafeteria, and a church and prayer house.
Over the past 11 years, we have witnessed God change lives, families, and communities through our obedience and faith in Him. Today our ministry, City of Refuge Ministries, is the home to almost one hundred children who have found refuge. At the CORM Children's Village, we provide restorative care for children who have experienced trauma. We do this through education, counseling, medical care, mentorship, and discipleship.