In 2011 I was introduced to a book by Reverend Becca Stevens titled Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart. Readings from this book were used for devotions before the suppers at Daybreak in Macon on Sunday nights. They were really, really good. So I got the book myself and started reading it. At the end of the book, it talked about the mission of Thistle Farms. I was fascinated. So I started learning about them and their mission to help women in this country who have been living on the streets. They are doing beautiful things. And that’s a story for another time.
On September 14, 2011 they shared in a Facebook post that they would have jewelry from ABAN (A Ban Against Neglect) of Ghana in their Evening Survival kits. I clicked on the link…..and I fell in love.
In Ghana there is an ecological epidemic. Because of unclean drinking water, water is sold in these little sandwich-sized bags and then mostly discarded on the streets. So the city of Accra is littered with over 40 tons of these little bags…..every day. There is also a heartbreaking problem in that there are over 30,000 homeless youth sleeping on the streets at night, with over 10,000 of them young mothers and their babies. I’ll stop while you re-read that. Yes, 10,000 young mothers and babies. Sleeping on the streets. Every night. Awful.
Two young women went over to Accra as foreign exchange students in 2008. They were blown away at the pollution. And then they realized the greater crisis of lost children in the city. It was in creating a mock non-profit for class using recycled products that it occurred to Callie Brauel and Rebecca Brandt that they could make this happen, and work to change two crises at one time. ABAN was born.
If you look at their products, you’ll see that these young women are truly talented–making their own batik, sewing pouches, all kinds of bags, aprons, and picnic blankets from these recycled water pouches that were previously litter. Just amazing. They attach tags with ABAN’s story and a picture of one of their young women. I left the tag on my bag to remember. I hope always to remember. It’s so easy to take simple things like a clean pillow and a shower and food in the refrigerator for granted, isn’t it? Gas in a car, places to go, family and friends who seem happy to see me. These young women had none of these things…..but thanks to ABAN they are on their way to having a life that is redemptive and healing. What a gift.
I was fortunate to get to know both Callie and Rebecca via phone conversations and then in person back in 2011. We were arranging for Rebecca to come and share the story of ABAN and their beautiful craft at Bare Bulb Coffee in early December that year. In the midst of the planning e-mails back and forth, my Daddy was declining and it was apparent that it wouldn’t be much longer. I let Callie and Rebecca know, as I would be out of pocket for planning for a few days. Both sent the sweetest of messages.
Each morning we begin the day with prayer, announcements and a short message – we call it “Sister Circles”. These girls know and recognize loss as well, and have a unique sense of compassion toward it, so tomorrow, prayers for your father, for you and for your family will be on our hearts and our lips.
And from Callie, after I shared with them our loss–
It amazes me how much joy and celebration I read in this message. In Ghana, a funeral is an all-day celebration that usually lasts into the night. There is singing and dancing and praising and it is absolutely beautiful. Isn’t that what death should be about? Remembering and celebrating the beautiful moments that individual created and how his/her memories will live on inside of others? And it definitely sounds like the world was a much better place because of your father’s presence. I think this ABAN party should be his honor.
I love these young women. They are all about redemption and light in the brokenness. And about kindness and healing. They are saving lives and bringing joy to our world which so needs it.
The night after Daddy died, my sister, my Mama, and I couldn’t sleep. It brought us all comfort to know that these young women across the world were gathered, possibly at that very moment, in their Sister Circles and lifting us up in prayer. Comforting–like warm, gentle waves washing upon weary souls–and oh so humbling. We were connected–our lives and theirs over distance and time. Forever.
There is a group of young women graduating from the ABAN program on July 27th. I am so excited for them. They have worked hard and learned so much, and now they will move on in their journey, taking the next step. On that day I will celebrate here in Georgia, thinking of them, and telling God how much they mean to me. I will cheer for them on this, their special day, for all they have left behind and all they are moving towards–these young women who are my sisters. For that’s what family does–multiply our joys and divide our sorrows. Mama always said.
If you have a few minutes to learn about what they are doing, I think you’ll fall in love as well. Those beautiful smiles, their indomitable spirits, and their beautiful wares. And if you have time on July 27th, grab a glass of sweet tea and a slice of pound cake with me, and celebrate these young women Southern style. And give thanks for Callie and Rebecca, for dreaming big of redemption coming out of brokenness, and for all the people who work with ABAN to make that dream come true.