Walls and Gates

Walls and Gates

Addis Ababa, July 2018

Addis is a bustling hub of Ethiopian life. Everywhere you look there are people, animals, cars, and trucks going about their daily lives in an indescribable harmony that becomes oddly comforting after soaking it all in for a third year. What I’m struck by this trip as we go about our travels are the walls, and the gates. Houses, huts and businesses are stacked side by side and back to back separated by a wall, and a gate. Everywhere.

I look and wonder. Wonder why all the walls and gates? To keep things in? To keep things out? To indicate ownership, to define boundaries, for privacy? Yes, I realize, all the above.

The families of Bring Love In (BLI) live in houses behind walls and gates in the neighborhoods around BLI headquarters. This creates a sense of family independence while, at the same time, proximity (walking distance) to allow the incredible staff at BLI to do their critical work helping the kids and families thrive. And, thrive they do. It’s inspiring, humbling, and evidence of God’s hand is everywhere.

But, I wonder what God thinks about all these walls and gates? I suppose that depends on what they protect, what they keep in and what they let out.

Back home, someone on our team shared they wanted to feel the God they feel when they’re in Ethiopia. At the time I thought it was a nice thing to say, but, really, isn’t the God in Ethiopia the same God in America? The answer is yes. But, He has a lot more competition for our time in Bozeman than here. We’re very busy people with deadlines, calendars, bills to pay and Jones’s to keep up with; not all bad of course, unless all that stuff gets in the way of our relationship with Him. I suppose that’s where walls come in.

Lord, build walls in my life to keep the busyness, competition and desire for more away from my heart as I long to know you the way these families know you.

We are here with these kids for two short weeks. But in that time with intermittent electricity and dial-up speed some-of-time Internet, you feel many of the distractions of life back home slip away. You rejoice when there are a few drops of lukewarm water in the morning shower. In fact, it’s praise time that you get a shower! But, what fills that void left by the absence of TV, smart phones, pets and Facebook are relationships. Relationships with the people around you, the families you spend time with, and, most importantly, God. There is a difference between how I experience God here and how I do back home. But, I realize now that He’s been the same all along, it’s me who’s different. It is, at the same time, wonderful and a bit sad. I need a few gates to open and close.

Lord, I pray that you will close the gates to distractions and things that keep me from knowing and following You in a more meaningful and intimate way and, to open the gates to meaningful relationships that really matter with family, friends and You.

So, what’s my plan? It’s simple but difficult; prayer and choices. Prayer for strong walls and well-oiled gates that I open and close as the God I experience here in Ethiopia desires me to do back home.

Here we go.

– Chuck

My husband Brandon has gone to Ethiopia the past two summers.  Whenever he left I would lay on the guilt trip about him being gone for two weeks.  He was always very gracious and kind toward me during my childish episodes but what he should have done is taken me by the shoulders and shouted at me, “You have no clue the difficulties of the world and the grace with which they handle them.  Two weeks is nothing in relationship to eternity.”

This year he asked me to come along.  My initial response was “No”.  How could we possibly leave our four children for two weeks?  How would they survive without one of us to parent, to take care of their every need or control how their days went?   Really what I was more concerned with was controlling my life.  After many discussions, much praying and planning and a bit of worrying I said “Yes” to accompanying Brandon to Ethiopia for his third trip.

God in His infinite wisdom knew I needed to be here and see this remarkable country and meet these beautiful people.  I am humbled that I get to be here.  I have cried tears of joy as I am experiencing this place and its people, being with the Bring Love In children.  I have wept in my bed at night as I think of the Ethiopian people who have humbly served me.  I am praying for God to continue to soften my heart.

I see the ugliness within me that comes out daily and it makes me want to weep.  How can I be so shallow about this life?  The desires of my heart are not something I want to publicly admit.  My desires and daily prayers have not been for more love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness or humbleness. My desires reflect where my treasures lie.  Jesus warned me, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

Recently, back at home, I was quite upset by what was going to be built across the street from our home—it will block my view of the mountains.  Ugh.  How gross. My easy life has given me a very warped view of reality.   Is this the reality that God wants for my life?

Speaking of my daily life, I love my children very much but as I reflect on my parenting many times my prayers have been for success and ease of life.  I am more concerned with what extra-curricular activities my kids should participate in than how to disciple them and show them the fruits of the Spirit.  Again, ugh.

In Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount he calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  He says, “In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.”  I want our four kiddos to see us live out a faith that follows what Jesus called us to do, love people, love widows and orphans and “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  This will be impossible but it is what I want to pursue.

A sermon I recently heard, the pastor said “Love is how success is defined in the Kingdom of God”.   Sadly, I miss the chance to love others, more often than I would like to admit because I make up lame excuses or chicken out because it could be awkward or ignore things because it will get in the way of what my heart desires.

On the 14-hour plane ride to Dubai, I sat next to a kind Ethiopian man named Solomon.  He was talking about the humanity in their new Prime Minister.  Humanity.  I have been stuck on this word since then.  Humanity means “the quality or state of being human•compassionate, sympathetic or generous disposition”.  These are the traits that are to define us as human beings.  How do I get it so wrong? Is my life defined by these human qualities?

Dear God, Forgive me for not loving people well.  Forgive me for not being compassionate, sympathetic or having a generous disposition.  Forgive me for my fear.  Forgive me for storing up my treasures on earth.  Please change me into a person more like your Son.  You are a good, good Father.  You are perfect in all of your ways.

– Stephanie

Anticipation

Anticipation

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope!” 
- Jeremiah 29:11

Today we made our final leg of the trip and touched down in Addis after two full days of travel – after circling Addis a few times, we landed amidst a bumpy thunderstorm.

The feeling of being back is truly indescribable. The first thing that came back to me when I stepped off the plane was the smell; the smell of Ethiopia is so incredibly unique – there is no way to really describe it, but I love it, and I missed it. As we walked out of the airport and started to see familiar faces such as our drivers; Ephraim and Ishy, everything finally became so real, that we are here! We finally arrived in this perfect place! We loaded 35 bags of donated luggage full of clothing and shoes for the children on top of our vans, loaded up and headed home. The feeling of being here was surreal, it felt as if we almost never left. Adjusting into simplicity here takes no effort.

We arrived at our guest house and so many familiar customs came back to me, things like not being able to flush toilet paper, carrying a bottle of clean water to the bathroom with me when I brush my teeth, and electricity to name a few. All of which I take completely for granted in my everyday life.

These next two weeks I get to experience a God fully present in front of me in every single moment every single day. I get to experience life, love, friendships, hardships, faith, personal and spiritual growth all with no distractions. As we prepare to see the Bring Love In children tomorrow my heart is nearly overwhelmed by the amount of joy that I know is to come. To keep this simple, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here! I will be still in the waiting as I watch God work through me, with me and beside me during this once again life-changing experience.

Love,
Kirsten

Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11

In preparation for this trip, I reread my journals from 2016. One sentence said, “Relationships are what matter.” Man, what a reminder that was. A prayer I continue to have throughout this journey is a mind that is open and intentional. As we entered the town of Addis all the familiar sights and smells brought me back.
Though it was the same, it all also seemed so different. This time I wasn’t just seeing all around me, but I had an eye locked on the people. I forgot how many there were. They wander the streets all day and night. I couldn’t help but tear up as I thought about the 6 million stories and lives here in Addis, now mine included. But where does mine even fit in? On the first day back I found myself thinking, “what in the world am I doing here?”

This is a scary thought when you have just spent 3 days traveling to get halfway across the world to a place familiar yet so unknown.
During this trip I have so far questioned my purpose in every way, but have remained focused on trusting God, knowing He is in control and taking in all that I can.

Today, our first day with the kids, was one of excitement, love, and learning. Not only was the learning done through what we are teaching them (English and Bible stories) but it was done in rebuilding relationships with the kids. It took a bit for our group to warm up, but once we were started, the kids began their ruckus. After school, we had the opportunity to visit one of the families’ homes. The mother prepared a coffee ceremony for us. This included corn on the cob, eaten mostly piece by piece rather than big bites, mixed nuts, popcorn and dark, rich coffee. It was amazing to see all she did to provide us a welcoming and how she so selflessly served us while we visited. On the way walking to the house I walked with Aida and we chatted quite a bit.
Though there was a significant language barrier, I enjoyed sharing stories and laughing with her.

Following the gathering, I spent the car ride conversing with our driver Ishy. He told me his story of coming to Christ and how it has affects him today. He said that it was a mission group that returned year after year that showed him the love of Jesus, and he realized that was what he wanted all along.

Today gave me some purpose.

The song lyric that keeps reflecting in my head is, “God you don’t need me, but somehow you want me.”

This is so true regarding the place I am in. The weight of the world is off of my shoulders in knowing that God’s will can be fulfilled no matter if I am here or not, but I want to be a part of it and so does God.

So, as I end my day, I no longer ask, “what in the world am I doing here?”, but rather, “what in the world are you trying to do through me, God?”

This question may never be answered, but I know God has a plan in it all.

– Josie

Arriving

Arriving

After hours and hours (and then a couple more hours) of travel, our team is on the final stretch today, flying from Dubai to Addis Ababa. Friends old and new await us there, and we are expectant of twelve very full days.
Our team is made up of third, second, and first-timers. High school age to middle age.  Married couples, friends, an entire family. While this trip is certainly about the ways we will spend our time and energy serving alongside our friends at Bring Love In, as well as several other Ethiopian ministries (more on that to come), it is also a journey that joins our group together in an unforgettable experience. No one goes to Ethiopia and returns home the same person. Some have unexpected disruptions to their lifestyle after returning home. Some see every person they meet a bit differently. Some experience a slow-burning shift in perspective that takes years to germinate. Toss in a healthy disenchantment with consumerism. All are changed.
The ripple effect of decisions is felt clearly on trips like these. One couple’s wild calling from God and their subsequent decision to follow it are what created Bring Love In. Other ministries all over the city, in Ethiopia, and around the world have similar stories. Chains of life-altering events are created when people decide to do something good. It’s true that bad decisions can have equal effect on the world around us. But we’ve probably read enough bad news for the day, right?
When people are able to take even a small portion of their time and energy, focus it away from self-interest and towards a need they find in the world around them, the Kingdom of God breaks through.

We’ve just left a country where many children are neglected, abused, abandoned, and simply not cared for. In every state in the union, the foster care system takes on more kids every day. In Montana particularly, the need has grown exponentially in the last decade. Today, we’ll arrive in a country with millions of orphans and its own great needs, but also some of the closest family bonds and welcoming people that you will encounter in this world. The lesson is the same everywhere: family bonds hold societies together.

By looking out for children – truly caring for them – wherever we are, we prove with our actions that we want to see God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Look for a pond, so to speak, where you can throw in even just a pebble. Your act of kindness and mercy is a simple, small (and yes, let’s be real, sometimes costly) decision that will ripple through someone’s life.

– Logan

Praying Blindly

Praying Blindly

Carl and I were sitting in the fire tower on top of Garnet Mountain (I know, right?) when our dear friends asked us what we were most looking forward to in going back to Ethiopia. That wasn’t a hard question for me to answer as I responded with an answer that surprised them. “I want the God I experience in Ethiopia to be the God I experience here. I can’t wait to encounter that God.” Let me back up for a second.

Upon our return to the United States last year, our team had a follow-up meeting and one of the team members (who is coming with us again this year), made a comment about how tangible God feels in Ethiopia and she said that exact same thing; “I want the God I experience in Ethiopia to be the one I feel here.” The group nodded in agreement as we all understood exactly what she was talking about.

In that conversation with our friends, I came to a realization that I am craving an encounter with Jesus. I am craving to feel Him and know Him in the way I do when I am in Ethiopia and with the kids. More importantly, I am excited for God to invade my heart and teach me how to be more like Him. Our friends beautifully asked why it is that we think we experience God differently there and we proceeded to brainstorm all the “American things” we could blame for disrupting any encounter with God: The glorification of busy, the grip of consumerism, and the misconception of comfort and security. All these things get in the way of depending and relying on God because it makes us the god of our own hearts.

As I have been reflecting on the conversation we had that night, I keep praying that God would open my eyes and reveal what exactly is keeping me from “experiencing” Him here in the United States. I keep praying that He would provide clarity in the prayers I’m praying and that He would help me know how to bring Him back; and then, I find myself randomly asking God to break my heart for what breaks His. I don’t even know why I am praying these things, but I know He is pulling me towards Him…and I’m going. I’m running.

I have absolutely no idea what God is going to do while we are over there, but I humbly ask that you would continue praying for us as we all begin to break down any walls in our hearts and experience Him in radical ways. Pray for healthy relationships among our team of 18 and pray for the kids of Bring Love In. Whatever it is that you feel compelled to pray for, even if you don’t understand why you’re praying for it, pray it big because He will answer these prayers one way or another. Our team thanks you for all your support as we begin this journey.

I can’t wait for you to meet the rest of our team,

Jourdan

Coming Home

Coming Home

July 31st: Today is a very special day for me.  Not only are we coming home but it’s also my 13th birthday. If I was Ethiopian that would mean 1/4 of my life would probably be over.  Why? Because of the unsanitary conditions, lack of medical care, unclean water, sewer drainage, poor shelter, etcetera. Even under these conditions, the people have more joy than many Americans. They appreciate the small things and friendships.

During this trip to Ethiopia my mom and I went to Uganda to visit our sponsored child. He and I share the same name; Moses. We’ve been sponsoring him for five years now and have been writing back and forth.  As we gave his family gifts, people from the village exploded with ululation (i learned what ululating means on this trip). Just like the Ethiopians I met, they were so appreciative, from barettes to soccer balls.

I won’t forget the sights I’ve seen these two weeks and the new friendships I’ve made. They’ve changed my life forever. I would like to ask everyone to pray for the 2017 Journey Ethiopian Team.  Please pray that we will hear what God has to say to us and be obedient to what He tells us to do.

Amasaganalo!!

– Moses

 

Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

  – Colossians 3:12

This post is a conglomeration of thoughts, feelings and emotions from my journey in Ethiopia.

Two weeks has gone by incredibly fast. We just boarded our plane to Dubai, and I am sitting here thinking about the journey home and returning to “normal life”, whatever that will look like for me. To try to describe this experience seems nearly impossible. Attempting to put into words the sights, smells, sounds and tastes from this trip is indescribable. My life is forever changed!

Immediately upon arrival into Addis we were immersed into a new culture much different than that we came from. Evident poverty, abnormal driving, a language barrier, unfamiliar smells, trash lined streets filled with tarps and metal scraps for building structures and most importantly a welcoming of love from our hosts at the guest house. Anxiously we settled in and eagerly waited for the first day with the Bring Love In children.

Waking up and leaving for our first day of school I had no expectations but I was quickly amazed when the kids came flooding through the door with arms open wide, smiles and joy beamed in their eyes and it was so overwhelming. My eyes filled with tears meeting, hugging and falling in love with every single child that morning – and in this moment I knew God had brought me here with all of the best intentions. I was given purpose all over again.

Throughout my two weeks, I had many uplifting moments as well as my fair share of heart break and emotions. Each day was filled with a new set of emotions – but I can truly say God has broken my heart for the things that break his: The woman we drove past on the streets at 9 o’clock at night sleeping on a tarp with infants and young children, to the homeless man with one hand and no legs lying on a fence post unable to transport anywhere, the children selling odds and ends on the sides of the road just trying to bring in enough birr (Ethiopian currency) for food that day. That is what breaks God’s heart. Those are short glimpses of why I too, am left leaving Ethiopia broken hearted. Never before have I seen beauty and pain intertwined in such a powerful way. God, you truly take what is in front of you and you make it beautiful. The country of Ethiopia that I got the blessing to experience from Addis, to Meki, to the countryside at the Portuguese Bridge – it was all an absolute beautiful disaster.

I am sitting reading through pages of journal entries, pages of tear-filled thoughts, laughs and moments – moments of impact I will never forget.

Returning home I think of things, small things that I am excited and grateful for, things that I mistakenly took for granted:

  • Toilet paper (that I can flush!)
  • Personal hygiene
  • Drinkable water
  • Clean air
  • Easily-accessible medical care
  • Nutritious food
  • Clean clothes
  • Family and friends
  • Access to education

I did not fully realize the blessings I am so fortunate to have daily until I experienced those around me that have literally nothing but the tattered clothes on their backs – who still walk with grace and joy because no matter who is against them, God will always be for them. I did not realize the negativity an ungratefulness around me until my heart was broken for those I was surrounded by. The eyes, the smiles, the love, it is all burned inside of me and engrained in me forever. I am going home with a feeling of uneasiness knowing God has stirred something inside of me and waiting, praying and trusting to know his plans are better than I could ever imagine.

See you in the states,

Kirsten

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick.

God has laid a lot on my heart this trip. Particularly, I’m struck how He uses ordinary people to accomplish impossible things.

Addis is a sprawling and chaotic metropolis of grey half-finished concrete skeletons stretching for miles. Seemingly everything is built of concrete using cheap labor and what would take months to build in America literally takes years here. The work schedules, or what passes for them, don’t align with what we would call “normal”. Nonetheless skyscrapers rise cinderblock by cinderblock with concrete buckets hand carried up ramps built of eucalyptus poles. Men hang off wooden scaffolding built of sticks nailed together 15 stories in the air hand troweling mortar over walls of blocks carried by others up those same ramps. OSHA and labor unions haven’t made their way to Addis Ababa. But, still, remarkable buildings take shape through sheer determination and years of effort.

In an odd way this scene makes me think how lives are transformed. God’s timing is His alone, not ours. Sometimes He works quickly and other times he works over years or lifetimes, but, he is always working to fulfill his perfect plans – if only we would listen. Gentle pressure relentlessly applied moves mountains and changes lives.

God, help me to never give up, help me look for opportunities to build others up, opportunities to affirm and to use whatever I’m given to show your love no matter how daunting the task.

So next time I visit, some buildings will be starting, some will be finished and some will not have changed. Just like all of us.

– Chuck

Beautiful Things

Beautiful Things

We all know the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is Ethiopia: its land, smells and people in a nutshell. When I first arrived, smells were the first thing I noticed. Some were hard to place, a few were new, others were much more obvious. Since I’ve been here, I’ve grown accustomed to what I’m smelling and understand a majority of them. Ones I didn’t like or were hard to place now remind me of food and customs I’ve shared with new friends while bonding over mutual appreciations and smiles all around. Ones that I know, I can spot and brings back a smile to my face over memories made. Coffee for instance and invaluable memories made learning the importance placed on friendships and the honor bestowed upon us to be welcomed into their homes.

Beauty is everywhere in this land if you take the time to stop and appreciate it. Where there is a small flower growing next to a garbage pile, beautiful trees against dilapidated corrugated metal long forgotten or in bright green hills contrasted with the red dirt beneath. The beauty of the trees here are nothing like I’ve ever seen, well except for in iconic “this is Africa” in a National Geographic. This land is beautiful!

But the people steal the show and they steal our hearts. We were exposed to many ministries in Ethiopia while we were here, whose hearts all beat as one. Taking care of the widows, the sick and women and children. They are helping these people by giving them a hand up, not a hand out. These directors and leaders literally have a glow about them. The beauty from within is blatantly abundant and obvious. Their crowns will be amongst the most beautiful in Heaven.

In addition to the ministries, the people of Ethiopia are beautiful as well! I’ve noticed that it’s easy to make eye contact and keep it with them. In a world where I don’t know the language, I have absorbed the greetings they make with their eyes and eyebrows. I have really absorbed the looks, kindness and fascination that they have with making eye contact. I feel an immediate connection to them through that simple act and it’s one of the happiest moments of my day. The joy that spreads from their eyes to their lips knows no bounds, no class separation or language division. My prayer as we interact briefly as we pass by each other is that they will not see me, but see Jesus loving them. Like I see in my fellow Ethiopian brothers and sisters.

We sing the song Beautiful Things, with the children and it’s a perfect way to sum up Addis Ababa and all of Ethiopia.

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of us

All around

Hope is springing up from this old ground

Out of chaos life is being found in You

If you have the blessed opportunity to come here, I pray that you won’t judge this book by its cover. Open it up and immerse yourself. I feel as if I’ve just begun to crack open the book and it’s titled, Ethiopia and its Beauty!