The door bangs open and a flurry of color and giggling girls fill the space – eyes wide as they take in the room and choose their very own bunk beds. "Have you ever had a bed like this before?" Chris asks through the shelter manager who translates. "No, never" comes the answer. And in unison, "We love it! We love it!" rings out, reverberating pure joy from the walls. It is life giving.
I am watching Ruth. She was wary when we first left the village, caution and anger in her eyes. What was she thinking about... Who am I to be handed off to now? Where are we going? Who can I trust?
As the oldest girl, she has assumed a caretaker role over the younger children. She remains cautious, but her guard is slowly coming down. Though we cannot exchange words, I have seen the anger in her eyes melt into a shy smile. I catch her in this moment on her new bed, the prized top bunk, and all inhibitions are gone as she flashes a "thumbs up".
Ruth is interviewed at the shelter before we leave. Her story is utterly heartbreaking. She tells of abuse and her friend who had drowned in the lake, among many other horrors that we suspected but had not been able to confirm with this particular group of kids. And though it matters not how well these kids were treated – a human being as a commodity is wrong any way you spin it – our purpose has come full circle. Every moment – worth it for this one. Every moment – worth it for Ruth. She says she wants to be a nurse, and God is redeeming her life before our very eyes. He is rewriting her story with a future.
We play clapping games next to the futbol field and the girls attempt to teach us their dancing game. They laugh at my failed attempts at coordination and switch to teaching us words in Twi (their native tongue). I struggle to make the right sounds, much less the right words, but they think it's absolutely hilarious. Out of the corner of my eye, I am watching Ruth. She cannot stop smiling and laughing and hugging us.
And so we leave with an insatiable desire for more – more children, more freedom, more stories of rescue and redemption. It occurs to me once we have returned to the States: this is certainly near the end goal of our overall process and the time we've worked towards for two years. It felt so much like the ending… until now. Now I see that it's truly just the beginning.
These precious 24 are the most beautiful beginning to our journey.