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International Orphan Finds Purpose in America’s Heartland

Tom Buehring


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Emmanuel Crawford is a record-setting high school running back in Grove, Oklahoma – and a Gatorade Player of the Year! You’d expect his rare explosiveness and vision, but not Emmanuel’s early childhood start – that led to a unique, elaborate match of one’s longing for family and another’s desire to adopt. 

“This family in Grove and an enslaved kid in Ghana come together,” says Audrey Crawford, “that’s – that is God!” 

At age three, Emmanuel was sold by his birth parents, victim to human trafficking and forced labor, enslaved in Ghana’s fishing industry.

Question: “Emmanuel, what's the stamped memory you have of those early days in Ghana?”

Emmanuel Crawford: “There was a pretty dark, um, memory and stamped memory of what it was like. Just a wooden canoe with holes. You know, my job as a three-year old was to scoop the water out of the boats to keep it afloat. Taking water, throwing it over the side because the holes were, you know, so big.”

Question: “Not a place to sit?”

Emmanuel Crawford: “No!”

Question: “On your knees?” 

Emmanuel Crawford: “Mm-hmm. Yep! I remember waking up super early mornings and being out there all day.”    

A world away in Grove, Stan and Audrey Crawford are both dentists and in 2010, raising their five growing kids.

Stan Crawford: “Audrey had always had it in her heart from the Lord that there was to be another child, even though we were already a pretty big family. One day I was at the dental office, and I had a patient and she knew another lady. They had been rescuing kids and gone to West Africa.”

Audrey Crawford: “And so, that’s what opened the door, and then through asking our friend, Pam Cope, who had Touch a Life Ministry, who was part of the rescue for Emmanuel. For us to be chosen was – was amazing, because she said, ‘Look at this video and take a trip with me to Ghana.'"

Stan Crawford: “Before we did anything, we made sure with all the siblings that they were going to be okay with it. That it wasn’t gonna feel like it took away from their lives or from their attention. We got their blessing and – they’ve loved him ever since!”

After 6 trips to Ghana and 9 months of paperwork, the adoption was ready!

Question: “Take us to that day your mom and dad come in and you're introduced to them …”

Emmanuel Crawford: “I kind of just knew something better is coming. It was an immediate connection. It wasn't something that was forced, and you could really feel that the Holy Spirit had made that connection possible and it was, it was meant to be. I just always thought it was funny that, you know, God would put me in a town with a lake. The very thing that, threw my life into a spiral at the beginning would be the very thing that I would live on and begin to appreciate.” 

Question: “Where does it make you go when thinking a Creator goes ahead of us?”

Audrey Crawford: “I think Emmanuel believed and came in agreement with God as a little child. We are told this story by the Ghanaian that rescued him he would go around saying, ‘I will wrestle with the white man.’ Say that in his native tongue. Now where did he get that because he had not seen a white man? It just flowed with his brothers - they've wrestled plenty. Definitely out on the football field with his teammates. He has wrestled with the white man for sure. In his formative years he had to protect himself. So he saw everything. He can see the whole field from a hover view. He sees and he knows how to protect himself to get to the endzone.”

Question: “Stan, what has football brought uniquely to Emmanuel?”

Stan Crawford: “Well, it's brought him the opportunity to trust other men, meaning coaches, to listen to them, because he grew up without any father figure. Other men treating him harshly.”

Emmanuel Crawford: “There was a lot of cussing and you know, yelling. But I felt a sense of peace, um, which is crazy for somebody that's been through, something like that at a young age to feel that I never felt like I’ll trust human beings.”   

Question: “Where did you find that peace?”

Emmanuel Crawford: “The times I feel the most peace is when I'm just talking to God. I just started feeling this unnecessary anger or frustration. I just heard a voice say, ‘You gotta let it go.' I sat there and cried, and you know, said, ‘I forgive you mom, I forgive you dad. I forgive the people that hurt me when I was younger.’ I grew so much spiritually just letting go of the baggage – and getting into the word. Just being able to have that moment at a young age has completely change my outlook.”  

Question: “Emmanuel, what does your name mean to you?”

Emmanuel Crawford: “Even from a young age, it was very evident to me that there was something bigger than myself. So, when I got here, and I learned the meaning behind my name - God with us - that's been my whole entire life. That's the only way that, you know, any of this could have happened. Because God is with me!” 

Question: “How important was community in their support for your family?”

Stan Crawford: “Oh! Community support was huge! You could tell the community was going to be behind him. You know there was some fear - in me – and you know, we’re an all-white community in Grove, Oklahoma. And I think of my dad who was always a little bit prejudice. He changed! It changed him! (emotional pause). And one of his last times he talked to the family before he passed - and said eh, (emotional pause) ‘How proud he was of Emmanuel – and that we brought him.’”

Question: “To those that want to adopt an at-risk child, what’s your encouragement to them?”

Audrey Crawford: “Ask God. Ask those around you. We’re gonna have to take a step and when we said ‘yes’ to Emmanuel we didn’t know how long the process or how much it would cost us, that step of faith of not knowing. I appeared bold but I was always afraid. I didn’t realize it, but I was fearful. I’m not afraid anymore! When you see God do something that magnificent and just the joy and satisfaction of night turn to day – if He asked me, I would say ‘yes’ to anything!”

Stan Crawford: “I just see His love for us, for everyone! His love flows through each of us and He’s a great father and a great example to me to be a father.”

Emmanuel’s storied journey shifts to Fayetteville, Arkansas, soon to run as a Razorback, continuing a transformation that surges with redemption! 

Emmanuel Crawford: “Don't be a victim to your circumstances, things that have happened to you, the things that have been done wrong. You become a prisoner to your own mind. I would have hardened my heart to promises and redemption that God has brought me through.”

Question: “If not a victim, Emmanuel, then what?”

Emmanuel Crawford: “A conqueror! Look how big your God is.”

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About The Author

Tom Buehring

Tom currently travels as a National Sports Correspondent for The 700 Club and CBN News. He engages household sports names to consider the faith they’ve discovered within their own unique journey. He has over 30 years of experience as a TV sports anchor, show host, reporter and producer, working commercially at stations in Seattle, Tampa, Nashville and Fayetteville where he developed, launched and hosted numerous nightly and weekly shows and prime-time specials. Prior to his TV market hopping, Tom proposed and built an academic/intern television broadcast program at the University of North