Left: Rescued from ritual servitude, a young woman learns cooking skills over an open fire. Right: Students in a cooking class at Baptist Vocational Training Center, Frankadua, Ghana.
Photos by Kimberlee Bruce
Article by John Palen

Dressed in red cotton check and a white apron, the tall young woman bends to a kettle that steams on an open fire a few inches above the primitive kitchen floor. She pours water from a large tin can, still in its brightly colored label. What the photo doesn’t convey is that the young Ghanaian woman is a liberated ritual slave, and that a Midland church seeks to raise $35,000 to build and equip a new kitchen for the school that is helping her toward a new life.

The Ghana Mission Team of First Baptist Church will hold a fund-raiser, "Build a Kitchen, Build a Future," at 7pm on Nov. 6 at Midland Community Center. Proceeds go to Baptist Vocational Training Center, Frankadua, Ghana. The center’s director, the Rev. Grace Akunor, will speak at the event, said Kimberlee Bruce, part of a July mission trip to the West African nation. Donations and pledges will be accepted.

The center trains young women in skills that will help them become self-supporting after having been enslaved under a system of illegal but still prevalent ritual servitude known as "trokosi." High school student Hillary Hitt, also a mission team member, explained that among trokosi adherents, "a family that commits a sin or a crime gives a virgin daughter to a shrine." There the girls are often abused, Hitt said, and various organizations rescue girls by paying off the shrine.

At the school, young women are trained as caterers or in other employable skills like Batik fabric printing, dress making, hair dressing or weaving. Catering class, however, takes place with primitive equipment over open fires. That’s a situation First Baptist Church hopes to remedy with the fund drive to build and equip a kitchen.

The mission team has pledged $10,500, Bruce said, and other pledged giving totals $6,500. The rest is up to the Nov. 6 fund raiser that will include a talk by Rev. Akunor, music by a jazz trio, refreshments and a slide presentation on the mission trip.

While in Midland, Rev. Akunor will talk to a Dow High School class and visit Gantec, Inc., a company that uses African tree seeds to produce organic fertilizer. She will preach at the 9:30am service Nov. 7 at First Baptist Church,

Rev. Akunor will stay with a Ghanaian family in Midland and meet with Ghanaians from the Great Lakes Bay region at a reception before the fund-raiser. A Saginaw Valley State University professor is also hosting a reception for her at his home.

Hitt, a 17-year-old Dow High School senior, described the mission trip as a life-changing experience. "I understand pain now," she said. "I understand poverty, and the importance of being positive." She recalled visiting a town devastated by a storm. "It was completely destroyed," she said. "There was nowhere to go. But the people were still on the street, selling their stuff, determined to go on with their life."

Hitt remembers one story in particular about trokosi. Martha, who was 26 when Hitt met her, had been sent into involuntary servitude by her father, who began to abuse her after learning she wanted to become a Christian. Rescued, Martha came to the training center and eventually reached out to try to rebuild a relationship with the father who had placed her in slavery, Hitt said.

The mission trip left Hitt convinced that "we as Americans take so much for granted. Something like that really changes your point of view." One change for Hitt is that the trip strengthened her interest in anthropology, which she now plans to major in at Michigan State or DePaul. She is the daughter of Jim and Debbie Hitt of Midland. Her mother was also a mission trip member.

Twelve people from First Baptist Church made the two-and-a-half-week mission trip. Their blog is at rel="nofollow"

© John Palen, 2010