She’s on a Rescue Mission

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Carol Chapman Stertzer

She’s on a Rescue Mission

Pam Cope didn’t close her heart when she learned about vulnerable African orphans. Today she is reaching children around the world.

She’s on a Rescue Mission
Some people can read an article about an alarming human rights issue without giving it a second thought. Not Pam Cope.

On October 29, 2006, The New York Times reported that a 6-year-old named Mark Kwadwo and other young children were working as slaves on fishing boats in Ghana. Cope and her husband, Randy, read the article during a trip to New York, and Cope was so moved that, upon returning to their home in Neosho, Missouri, she tracked down the reporter and put the wheels in motion to rescue Mark and six other children who had been sold into slavery.

Nine weeks later, the mission was accomplished. The children were safe in a Christian-run orphanage in Accra, Ghana, where they would receive an education.

Oprah Winfrey noticed the same newspaper article and sent correspondent Lisa Ling to investigate. Much to Ling’s surprise, Mark and some of his friends had been rescued by the time she arrived. She reported her findings on The Oprah Winfrey Show in February 2007. Oprah invited Cope to appear on the program and honored her for her heroism.

“The next time you see a story and the story grabs your heart and it haunts you, you’ll think about Pam and what one woman can do to make a difference,” Oprah told the audience.

Cope, now 47, made her seventh visit to Ghana this fall. She and her team rescued 13 more children and placed them in three homes, where they will be cared for, educated and provided life skills. Village of Life, a new center built by donations Cope helped raise through her Touch a Life Foundation, celebrated its grand opening in March. It is located in Kete-Krachi, a fishing town near the Lake Volta region, and can accommodate 24 children and house-parents.

Led by the Spirit, Cope is following the biblical mandate to serve orphans and those who have no means to return a favor. To date, she has helped free 69 children by working closely with George Achibra, a former teacher in Kete-Krachi who now holds an administrative position in the region’s educational system.

Careful negotiations with the fishing village’s “master” have enabled him to rescue the children; no money changes hands for their release. Achibra explains to the masters that their activities are against the Human Trafficking Act, a law passed by the Ghanaian government in December 2005.

Russell Simmons, who was recently appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Permanent Memorial to Honor the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, says some 27 million people worldwide are being exploited through human trafficking. This broad category covers child labor, migrant smuggling, sex worker trafficking, debt bondage and “old-fashioned slavery.”

In Ghana, part of the challenge in rescuing children is finding good homes for them. If returned to their parents, they will likely be resold. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the money to care for all of them long term,” Cope says. “We budget for approximately 10 years of support per child [$100 per child a month].”

Investing for Eternity

If she had not experienced deep sorrow herself, Cope might not be rescuing kids on the other side of the world. But her son, Jantsen, died unexpectedly on June 16, 1999, from an undiagnosed heart ailment when he was only 15 years old. The tragedy rocked the Copes’ small Missouri town, where Pam owned a hair salon and Randy worked as a publishing executive.

After Jantsen’s death, Cope spent time re-examining her life, as she details in her book, Jantsen’s Gift (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette). “When tragedy comes, you are forced to sit and reflect and evaluate what has been driving your life, what your focus and true core values have been—and it can be pathetic,” she told Charisma.

“As I was going through that process, I asked myself, ‘What am I investing my life in that truly doesn’t have any eternal impact?’ I discovered that, when I was really honest, most of it didn’t have any eternal impact. I was ready to turn things around.”

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