Changing One Teenager’s Perspective

Like most 13-year-olds my son’s age, Joshua had difficulty grasping the reality of what we would see and experience in our efforts to make an impact on the child slavery situation in Ghana, West Africa, where five of our Compassion children live.

boy wearing glasses

“I admit it. My first thought was simply getting two weeks off of school.”

This trip was an experience Joshua nearly missed altogether. He had wrongly assumed that wanting to go was enough, and was surprised when it came time to book our tickets that I did not book his.

I sat down with him and told him the hard truth – this was not a vacation, not a matter of simply showing up at the airport when it came time to travel. He’d have to invest his heart and spirit into this before we’d invest $1400 into his ticket. Slowly, his attitude began to change.

As the middle child, he often seems to perceive a deficit when it comes to receiving attention, so imagine his surprise and delight to find himself mobbed by a crowd of joyful children at the Compassion center of our sponsored child, Sam. They all wanted to interact with Joshua and touch his pale skin and have him take their photos.

boy taking picture of group of children

Back home, I think he would have been embarrassed to be seen playing with younger kids, but from the moment we landed in Africa, the walls, the facade and the attitude crumbled to the ground. He lost himself in simply being a kid.

“Meeting the Compassion kids helped me see that these were real kids, kids just like me except that they are surrounded by poverty and they don’t complain like we do.”

In the capital of Accra, Joshua became an easy target for aggressive hawkers. One approached him, simply asking his name and where he was from. Not suspecting that this was anything but friendly chatter, Joshua answered him and walked on.

Moments later, the hawker presented Joshua with a custom made bracelet with his name on it, in the red and white colors of Canada.

Thinking it was a gift, Joshua took it. The hawker then insisted on being paid. Joshua recalls,

“I felt so bad. He had made this just for me and I felt guilty about not buying it, but at the same time, I didn’t ask for this and did not want to spend my funds.”

We had to step in and ask the hawker to not pressure him. We returned the bracelet to the hawker.

Joshua, fluent in French, vowed to pretend not to understand English for the rest of the trip. From that point forward, whenever hawkers approached him, he babbled on randomly in French about liking tacos and having an excess of pocket lint. Humor seemed to be his stress relief.

There are some places, though, that even humor can’t touch. We traveled north to Lake Volta and met some of the children who had been rescued from slavery.

Joshua sat and listened to some of the girls’ testimonies, hearing personal accounts of abuse and injustice done to children for the first time in his life.

It seemed to be the turning point for him. He had heard the word “compassion” before, but this time, he experienced it. His perspective had finally shifted, from himself, to others.

Joshua’s heart was already softened by what he had seen and heard to that point, and later he shared that going to the islands of Lake Volta and seeing the child slaves in person was painful.

“The kids in the boats, the look on their faces… it made me sick. I could see how hopeless they felt, especially Richard*, the one we couldn’t save. It was like he was already gone. He looked lost or something. I can’t really explain it.

The whole place was just so… dark. Heavy. Sad. Kids my age have no idea what these kids go through, or how lucky we are. We have everything. They have nothing. Even people with so little in other parts of Ghana were happy. These kids weren’t happy. It’s worse than I ever imagined.”

Back in Accra before leaving to go home, navigating through crowds of people and traffic on one of the busiest streets of Accra, we hear a shout,

“Jush-uh-wahh, JUSH-uh-wahhh!”

two smiling boys

Joshua whipped around, shocked at being summoned in a place where we knew no one.

As he narrowed in on who had been calling his name, his face, still pale in spite of having spent two weeks in the hot African sun, went three shades whiter.

The bracelet hawker. Stunned speechless, Joshua gave me a look of desperation and held out his hand, saying only “Mom, help.”

We had a new one custom-made with his nickname.

Would I take my son on a trip like this again? In a heartbeat.

As a mother, my instinct is to protect my son, but by sheltering him from what’s hard, I’m not protecting him, I’m holding him back.

Putting my own expectations on him wouldn’t help either — as much as I wanted this trip to change him and impact him, I had to completely let go and trust God in making those changes His ways, not my ways.

I had to trust that even if I never saw the changes, the impact, that it was still there.

Speaking of not seeing the changes…

As I was packing our bags to leave, I realized that Joshua had gone two weeks with only two pairs of boxer shorts, and not once had I seen those boxer shorts when washing the laundry by hand over the past two weeks.

There was no way we were taking those back on the plane. I don’t think it would have been legal.

I wonder if the hawker also sold underwear…

*Not his real name.

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17 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Mindi March 30, 2012

    Would you explain what he means by “the kids in the boats,” and “the one we couldn’t save”? I feel like I’m missing some details with that part.
    Awesome story. I love teenagers.

    1. JD July 3, 2012


      My apologies for not seeing this sooner. The kids in the boats refers to the child slaves trafficked into the fishing industry on Lake Volta in Ghana, which was the focus of our mission work in Ghana. While in Ghana, our team negotiated for the release of three child slaves, two boys and a girl, two of which were released to us, but the third, “the one we couldn’t save”, remains engraved on our hearts… along with all the children still enslaved on Lake Volta and elsewhere. Once you look into their eyes, it is as though God engraves their faces into the back of your eyelids so that they will never be forgotten, and to remind us to press on while we advocate for their release.

      Thank you for asking, for wanting to know… if you need more information, simply let me know. The link in this post with the words “our sponsored child Sam” gives a little more background on our work in Ghana.

  2. Nina March 14, 2012

    Thank you so much for this blog – it is awesome! And please thank Joshua for allowing his story to be told here. It is an important story that must never be forgotten.

  3. Bibi March 14, 2012

    Hi JD, I’m a friend of your mother. As she told you, my grade 5 students just learned about and did a project on The Rights of Children around the world. I showed them your blogs, and they were touched to their very core. They will never be the same… those are their own words. I showed them the blog on the value of a penny, and in 4 weeks, the class collected over $160.00, which they donated to the school librarian to be added to the funds collected by the school to build a school in Sierra Leone. I thank you so much. My long term supply teaching job finished a few days ago, but I will visit them again and share these new blogs with them. They are very proud of themselves, but foremost, they are very proud of what you, Josh and others are doing to save as many kids as you can. We support what you are doing. God bless!

  4. Jill Foley ~ Compassion Family March 14, 2012

    What a great post. And what a neat opportunity for the two of you to have experienced this trip together – and to continue to experience all God is doing as a result.

    You are a gift, JD.

  5. Laura Dorsey March 13, 2012

    just found this, wonderful post! thank you again & don’t stop writing! I read about your hiking adventures and hopes to send textbooks yesterday, on your blog….my legs hurt after I read your journal, whew!
    Loved the mention of the Holy Spirit’s prompting…for you to raise your arm, and the gift of the backpack from your daughter! God is using you so much as an example for your children, and for others.

  6. Christine March 13, 2012

    Beautiful job recounting this, JD. Such an important lesson for every parent. Bless you for loving these children and working so hard to help them!

    1. JD July 3, 2012

      Thank you!

  7. Katie Axelson March 13, 2012

    I’ll be honest, when we were at the silk market in Beijing, the hecklers would shout at us in every and all languages. Luckily my friend and I are conversant in one they don’t know: American Sign Language. I was amazed that they left the “Deaf” people alone.

    Good of Joshua! What a wonderful growing experience for him!


  8. Mom March 13, 2012

    So grateful Joshua could experience this trip. Thank you for this account. I am reminded of what is worth fighting for and what is insignificant. Love to you both.

    1. JD March 13, 2012

      SO grateful that God provided, through the support of family, friends, community and even strangers. So glad you provided me with a brother, (and Joshua with an uncle) through whom God made this possible! <3 It's been a week of boxer stories for them both, eh? 😀

      It's not only these children who are worth fighting for, it's ours as well — it was beautiful to fight for them all in one amazing experience.

  9. Gail March 13, 2012

    Great post! But don’t show Jush-uh-wahh, I think he might be a bit embarrassed by all the attention, being 13 and all 😉

    1. JD March 13, 2012

      We made a deal — he collaborated and gave his blessing for this post, provided I didn’t tag him on a FB link ;o) He’s done presentations at school about his trip, including Compassion sponsorship and how it prevents slavery, his friends think it’s super cool, but the part about the boxers… yeah, uhm, no. 😀

  10. Katie March 13, 2012

    So interesting. I see myself in this 13 year old boy 🙂

    I’d love to go on a Compassion trip soon.

    Great post.

    Blessings and love,
    Kate 🙂

    1. JD March 13, 2012

      I encourage you to join a Compassion trip — life changing, so inspiring, totally worth it. It has really helped me in understanding the life of the children and families I advocate for and sponsor.

      As a bonus, I find that although we expect the trip to be about the kids, the Compassion program, etc, God always uses the entire experience to teach us something else entirely, along with everything else! It’s always a surprise, and a sweet one!

  11. Lindy March 13, 2012

    JD, This is a wonderful Blog!!! You’ve taught me a wonderful lesson about trusting God to teach our children. (I love your sense of humor, too!)

    1. JD March 13, 2012

      I’m learning that lesson right along with you, Lindy! We have a huge responsibility in raising our children, guiding them, and teaching them, but the results aren’t ours to control — we lead by example, teach, provide opportunities, and then WE learn to let go and trust God with the outcome. More and more, I’m learning this as my kids get older — Joshua has provided plenty of opportunities 😉

      Thank you — we love to laugh, it’s sweet to the spirit!

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