Beautiful Things

Beautiful Things

I have taken a liking to keeping myself busy during our hour-long commute (it’s really more like an hour and a half) by either reading or listening to music. What used to be staring out the window in wide-eyed wonder is now tarnished by grief and guilt. I’m not sure when the breaking point happened for me but it’s absolutely overbearing to watch life go by as we drive to the school. It all passes by in an instant yet each frame is seared into my mind. Frame 1: Orphaned horses and donkeys whose homes are now in the middle of a busy street. Guilt washes over me as I am reminded of why they are there in the first place. Frame 2: Little children stand outside our trusty van in nothing more than tattered clothes, hands cupped, begging for even 1 birr (which is equivalent to 5 cents). Frame 3: A crippled man solely relies on a single wooden branch to hobble along the sidewalk. Frame 4: A man relieves himself into a bush, exposed, but totally oblivious because it’s normal to do so. 5: There’s the planks of meat hanging from hooks with a single man occupying the hut, waiting for a hungry customer to come so he can slice off a piece of the unrefrigerated, day-old ox. 6: Water bottles and bones litter the sidewalk. 7: Various huts sit empty, cluttered with the debris of cornhusks from the previous day’s business. 8: There’s the incessant head turning toward our van as the locals realize that “ferenge’s” (pronounced fer-en-ge) sit and observe their world like the foreigners we are. Some will smile widely and wave while others don’t and continue on with their day. Each frame stacks on top of one another and creates this overpowering, overwhelming feeling and I look down, trying to persuade my mind that the song I’m listening to is more important than what’s going on through the glass to my left.

I realize the song I am listening to is “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. The melody of, “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” has me nodding my head in agreement of all this pain and all this earth…this dirty, heavy, earth. I wonder where the good is. Being here is such a paradox. There’s this conglomeration of messy, dark, and heavy sights that are soon diminished the second we get out of the van and see the kids of Bring Love In running towards us. I swear I can almost hear the rest of the song play out as I hug the children I get to love for such a short amount of time. “You make beautiful things/You make beautiful things out of the dust/You make beautiful things/You make beautiful things out of us”.

He is truly making beautiful things, and we get to see those beautiful things in even the littlest moments. There are the precious smiles, the soft-spoken “Jour-dahn’s”, the memory verse recitations (I die every time they say “commandments”), and the laughter that fills the air. I am continuing to learn that there will always be darkness creeping around us but it’s the grand, little moments we have to treasure and store in our hearts. It’s those little moments that God uses to say, “I know it’s messy, but I am here and that is sufficient.” We have to trust in Him and let His light overcome the darkness of this world. This experience has been one I will never forget.

See you at home,

Jourdan

 

  1. Just wait until you see the video of the kids singing “Beautiful Things”. Oh. My. Heart.
Time

Time

“How long will it take to get there?”, I ask.

Our new friend and Addis road warrior, Ishy, gently shrugs his shoulders, tilts his head slightly and says “30 minutes.” We’ve heard that before. Time is different here and life moves at a different pace. Yes, there are clocks with numbers and hands that tick off hours, minutes and seconds. But here they mean something different and speak to a different sense of urgency. Every where we go takes 30 minutes. Some 30 minutes were an hour and some 30 minutes were longer, but we always arrive where we’re going and it’s always alright. We are in Addis and it’s all good.

I’m reminded of the Jimmy Buffett song where he buys a watch from a man on the street. The watch has no hands and his friends think he got ripped off. But he soon realizes the watch is never wrong; he tells his doubting friends to breathe in, breathe out, move on.

Something like that happens here. Time is not something to be a slave to, but rather an indication of what is, what was, and what may be coming next. Through it all I’m reminded we’re not in control; it’s God’s time and God’s place and we’re blessed to be here. Period.

This is not to say punctuality is not important or that we shouldn’t strive to keep our commitments. For me it’s a reminder to keep everything in perspective. Most of what I think is critical at the time won’t even be a memory in two months or two weeks or even two minutes.

Let me share an example that, for me, speaks perfectly to this – the coffee ceremony.

Every day after lunch at Safari Academy, the dishes are set aside and we have the coffee ceremony. A coffee ceremony is a centuries old tradition in Ethiopian culture. It centers around the elaborate preparation of a really great cup of coffee. At it’s core is the entire process: roasting beans over a charcoal fire, grinding the beans into a fine powder, boiling water over that same charcoal fire, rinsing the cups, boiling more water, adding the coffee, boiling again, testing the consistency of the mixture, letting it sit and then finally pouring the finished coffee into small cups, adding sugar and then enjoying. For our ceremonies, we have a gracious lady, Qelemua, who takes time out of her busy day to prepare our coffee ceremony, it’s done with love and smiles and nary a word.

The first coffee ceremony left me a bit skeptical of the process. Come on now, really? Surely we could fire up Mr. Coffee, or better yet Mr. Keurig. Both are simple, fast and relatively yummy. Besides, we have things to do; we need to get back to class on time ready to proclaim the importance of pronouns and conjunctions. Who wants to light a charcoal grill anytime they want java. Yeah, I admit to having more than a passing fancy with coffee. Alright, if I’m honest it’s a full on love affair. I love coffee and I’m used to my cup of black gold when I want it; no fuss, no muss, and no waiting, place your order, pay the money, or push the button and get your cup.

Not so with the coffee ceremony. At first it seemed like a lot of work and, even more concerning, very slow. Not to mention the cups were so small! No grande, no venti, no insulated mega tanker mug to last 200 miles, just a little teacup looking thing with no handle. After much discontentment and concern, it finally dawned on me that the coffee ceremony wasn’t about coffee after all, it was about time. Time with friends, time with family, time with coworkers. Time to chill and get to know the people you’re with, not with passing courtesies, but to really get to know them. Dig deep, share, learn and, yes, love.

All this is not to say that our time isn’t important and can be wasted with careless disregard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Time is to be treasured and what we do with our time is valuable. But, until my coffee ceremony revelation, busy and slow seemed mutually exclusive. Sure it’s REALLY good coffee, but more than that it’s time to be; be with friends, be with co-workers, and be with family. And talk.

So, as I prepare to leave this place. I pray that I take these memories, the many new friends I’ve met and the shared experience with me forever and always remember to breathe in, breath out, move on.

Chuck

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Moments

Moments

Today was our second day spending time with the older children of Bring Love In. Like teenagers anywhere in the world, they aren’t as immediately open to new faces as their younger brothers and sisters.  Their joy is more hidden by time, perhaps like my own.  It takes moments of levity to reveal it (acting out the animals from Noah’s ark, for example).  I like interacting with excited little kids, but I can also put myself in the shoes of the solemn teen sitting in the corner with a friend, hoping they won’t be called on to speak in front of their peers.

A primary focus for me on this trip is capturing our experience through photo and video. During our days with the Bring Love In kids, I get to wander between our two classrooms, looking for the “right” shots. There are little tricks to finding those shots, like waiting until someone cracks a joke or makes a mistake while reciting in English, and the other kids giggle (even though we ask them not to).  I scan the room for a smiling face, and reach out with my trusty 200mm lens to grab that moment and save it.  However, I’m not just looking for the smiles.  Those smiles are what most people like to see in a photograph, but truthfully the smiles are just one dimension to the beautiful faces of these kids.  There is contemplation, melancholy, worry and warmth – the entire human experience existing in a soul who was born probably around the time I was in college. Man, I feel old.

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At random times throughout the course of our day in the classrooms and on the playground outside, I remember…  I remember that these kids have all had some kind of distorted childhood that brought them to an orphanage and then to their forever families at Bring Love In.  I think about my girls back home and what they would have to experience if my wife and I were out of their lives through some difficult circumstance, and there were no family members around to take them in.  Pretty painful to imagine.  Then I snap out of it, and I’m back in the here and now, watching the expressions of the kids and wondering what they are thinking.

Our team of nine Bozemanites has resolved to focus on relationships and connections ahead of purely educating the children. It’s a tricky balance. Today it seemed to work. The older kids are warming up to us. They all have hidden dreams and talents. At lunch you can catch a glimpse of it on the muddy football (“soccer”) field at the school. I watched Hirut, a girl who was playing goalie for one team, practice her Bible memory verse with a friend while the ball was down on the other end of the field.  Coincidentally, she is also playing the blinding light of God in our upcoming play about the conversation of Saul.

Tomorrow each class continues learning the ins and outs of the English language, and preparing for their plays on Friday.  Our time is limited – just two days left with the kids. We’re trying to soak it all up. This whole experience is a relatively short moment in the lives of the kids and our team, but it will leave an undeniable imprint on our hearts and souls.

– Logan

Hirut
Hirut

 

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Week 2, traffic, and a few thoughts on hope

Week 2, traffic, and a few thoughts on hope

Being that it’s Tuesday, two things happened: new traffic feats were seen and we started our second week of work at the school.

First the traffic. In a jam this morning I saw through a gap a small, blue, three wheeled taxi go flying on the wrong side of the median, closely followed by a sedan. I guess they couldn’t wait in traffic and jumping the median and facing oncoming traffic was a better alternative.

On to school. This week we are with the older kids. The ages of the kids are essentially middle school through high school (12-18ish if the age range escapes you).

The first day for my class was a little rough. We had the middle school aged kids and they were more reluctant to participate than the younger guys and gals. The girls especially. They clumped in the corner and giggled most of the time. Even louder if their friends spoke English to the class.

Wait, middle school girls clumping together and incessantly giggling? I’ve seen this before! Apparently that doesn’t change no matter where you go.

Abiy, our class help from Bring Love In, said that the culture in our class is such that if someone messes up on their English the rest of the class laughs at them. So no one really wanted to speak. Again that sounds too familiar to middle school in the states.

But towards the end of the day we were able to get most of the class to partipate outloud. So that gives me hope.

Hope…

Hope is a seemingly cliche thing to talk about on a missions trip. But I have had a lot of thoughts on hope. So bear with me. There is a kind of a twist.

We were driving through the market a couple days ago and Ishy was giving us good running commentary of the area’s happenings. He’s gifted at that. At one point he turned to me in the front seat and with a chuckle said subtly, “This is hell.” All the dirty streets jammed with people as goats and dogs weaved through openings. I gave a chuckle back in agreement.

It’s true though. Addis is a very dirty city. I think othe team members and myself have nodded to that earlier. It was either later that day or sometime else that Ishy said, “Addis Ababa will never be clean.” (I’m not sure what his context was. I just caught that statement from him.)

Not to say that Addis is hell. It is a fairly peaceful area where beggars and business men feel safe walking. But all the poverty and trash and stray bedraggled animals, remind me of Gehanna, the Greek word for hell used by Jesus. Gehanna was basically the town dump of Jerusalem. Fires burned trash as dogs fought for scraps amounts the waste heeps.

So again, I am merely saying the scene of the streets make me reminisce of Gehanna (hell) in the Bible.

And the fact that Ishy said it will never be clean, wells that’s just depressing. I know I wouldn’t want to make a living on those streets. I’m thankful that Bozeman is very clean. (And that the law enforcement is sound. A diplomat lives behind us and has super loud music most nights. We are told police come by but they just get paid off with beer. Can you believe that!)

But, in the midst of all this poverty and despair, I was sent a message of hope in the book I’m reading.

“We are forbidden to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.”

(The book is A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd and he is quoting Rabbi Emil Fackenhiem writing to Jews post-holocaust. Fackenhiem himself escaped Sachsenhauser concentration camp.)

That, that is an interesting thought.

Here is why it’s a twist on hope for me. As much as I am overwhelmed by all the mess and poverty and general human-sin nature I see on the streets of Addis, as much as Ishy says the streets will never be clean, if I believe in Jesus and the kingdom he spoke of, hope is all I have. That is what this quote is saying to me.

If I believe in the kingdom come (U2 anyone?) hope is what I have for the city. Hope is what I have for the kids I work with. Hope is what I have for the kid in front of the bank with the purple shirt and blonde Mohawk I see everyday we drive by it. Hope that in some mysterious way I cannot understand that God will mend all this brokenness that surrounds me and is within me.

That’s all my thoughts for now. Give me three minutes and I’ll probably have some more.

– Phill

A bitter sweet end to a beginning

A bitter sweet end to a beginning

Today seemed to end, just as it began. One moment we were driving to meet Betsalot at her Project, and the next we were hugging and kissing goodbye.

Betsalot is a seven-year-old girl who our team leader, Brandon Edwards, sponsors through Compassion International. It’s amazing to actually see, in person, how much that seemingly small donation can change the life of a child. Seeing the tears of joy and relief in the mother’s eyes, it truly is beautiful.

We (Brandon, Steven, Heather and I) started our visit by meeting Betsalot at her Project where she’ll be tutored all summer until school begins.

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We were greeted with two rows of kids handing us flowers as we entered the room where we shared a coffee ceremony with her mom, Kuku, Mihiretab our translator and Sisay, a financial director for Compassion International. From there, we traveled to where Betsalot and Kuku lived. Their home was made of mud and grass and consisted of two rooms, a common room and a bedroom.

We sat in the common room as Bestalot served us bread, toasted nuts and little candies as part of yet another coffee ceremony. But not until our little hostess was in her birthday dress, gold shoes and tiara, was she able to pass around her treats.

Betsalot playing with her new doll from Brandon.
Betsalot playing with her new doll from Brandon.

And it wasn’t the look on Betsalot’s face when Brandon pulled out his Santa bag of belated birthday gifts that stole my heart. Not her smile when we figured out how to tell her she was beautiful in Amharic. The moment that captured our hearts and filled our minds was when her mother Kuku asked us, through a translator, to pray over her. She struggles with a kidney infection that threatens her life if she is to become pregnant, which is a desire she holds and asks God every day for healing and mercy.

Kneeling on the ground, we laid hands on Kuku and began to pray. Her arms, reaching out to receive our prayer, asking for healing and blessing over her life and family. And this woman, in a position of complete vulnerability with strangers praying in a language she hardly understood, she began to sob. And in that moment, it was as though God unveiled the sweetest, purest moment of beauty.

After we said amen, she wiped away her tears, put on her head scarf and led us out the door, just like that. Though, her head was held a little higher and the spirit of God seemed to make her glow.

Saying goodbye was incredibly difficult because we just met this little girl, whose life had been changed and completely turned around by something we did. We smiled, laughed and I taught her how to dance. She may have been shy in the beginning, but by the end she was giggling and talking to us like we were her best friends. But in a way, my heart is at peace, knowing she will be cared for, well fed and have a great education.

As the week moves on, we prepare to teach our second round of kids. This week…the older kids. And I’m not going to lie, I am both nervous and excited to see what the next four days bring.

– Rachel

 

Betsalot's mother when we first met.
Betsalot’s mother when we first met.

 

Our Sunday Experience

Our Sunday Experience

There is nothing more exciting then stepping on a plane and going to a country you’ve never experienced. The sights, the sounds, and all the people you meet along the way have all been a blessing from God.

Today we got to experience our first church service in Africa. We went to a church called Beza International Church in Addis. It was an amazing experience. The service was spoken in English and lasted around two hours.

The church service was a bit similar to our regular Sunday worship at Journey Church. The music was a treat because the band had an African soulful kind of touch that incorporates saxophones and trumpets into their band. The energy of the crowd was a bit more interactive than I’m normally used to. The pastor liked to hear feedback from the crowd by asking “Do you feel me?” or “You know what I mean?” I definitely heard the word “hallelujah” praised a handful of times both from the audience and from the pastor himself. It was a fun new experience to be in such an interactive crowd. I really enjoy seeing how people in different cultures praise and serve God in their own individual ways.

– Steven Shiplet

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Montana Boy Meets Crayola

Montana Boy Meets Crayola

The kids like to color, oh boy do they like to color. Today I had the privilege of coloring Jesus saving Peter from drowning with an incredible little girl named Kalkidan. Kalkidan is a precocious 8 year old who is more adept in the proper use of Crayola crayons than I’ll ever hope to be. She knows about shading, color variations, and how to properly store each instrument back in the box before removing another. In short this young lady knows how to color. I watched in awe as she deftly brought the page to life while her tongue danced on the side of her face in concentration. Near the end, she looked up at me and said “Mr. Chuck, when I get done you tell me it is good and amazing.”

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It hit me on the flight over that I was halfway to 104 years of age (oh how the youngin’s in the class like to remind me I’m the oldest) and had never really traveled. Oh sure, I had roughed it once or twice on a cruise ship and even stepped out of my comfort zone at a 5-Star all-inclusive on a Mexican beach. I’ve been to sunny California, Florida, New England, and a lot of places in between but, I never really traveled. “Traveled” in my context means going somewhere where you are not the focus of attention; not the gringo with American dollars, not the tourist, not the guest.

Today, however, I am beginning to see what I’ve been missing all these years. I’m bummed it took so long to do this, but I am thankful it didn’t take longer, or that it never happened at all.

I came to Ethiopia with a pretty pathetic view of what a short term mission trip meant. I was going to help the kids, do good work, show them hope, and help them pick themselves up by their boot straps all with an eye to a better future. Well, this afternoon, 5 days into the trip I realize that maybe I’m the one who needs some help.

One of my primary concerns planning for the big adventure, other than finding the elusive yellow fever vaccine, was making sure I had the right adaptor to charge my iPhone. Heaven forbid I go without an instant connection to Bozeman happenings for two weeks! Sure, I knew to drink (and brush my teeth) with bottled water, but wasn’t sure what happened when instant access to Facebook or worse yet, Instagram, was severed. I was loathe to contemplate such a future. Thankfully however, I’m not addicted to my phone like some of those poor Pokemon Go folks. I only check it a few times a minute for life-safety alerts, critical emails and important texts. But, it was only 16 days so, Africa, here I come.

The main purpose of our trip is to help teach a vacation bible school-type English class to the children of Bring Love In (BLI). BLI is an incredible organization that finds kids in need and works to support those needs by creating forever families. BLI knows the importance of families in a child’s development and that a loving parent/child relationship, too often missing in their lives, is critical as they face the future. New families are made by placing orphans with widows. BLI provides the extra assistance needed (clothing, housing, social services, schooling, etc.) to help while the families provide the love and acceptance so many of these children have missed out on. It’s quite the operation to behold and God’s hand is everywhere.

We do our little part at Safari Academy which is a good hour plus drive from the Well Springs guest house where we’re staying. We do this twice a day through the bustling streets of Addis Ababa. Logan tells me it’s 25 kilometers but I think he’s just trying to make me feel better about the traffic; I’m positive it’s only 5 miles away. Google Addis Ababa traffic and you’ll see what I mean.

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But, back to Safari School. Like most other buildings here it is made from concrete and cinder blocks covered with stucco applied smooth as plaster. Its classrooms are brightly painted but fading, and like typical elementary schools back home, their walls are covered with the visual implements of learning; the alphabet in both Amharic and English, colored cutouts of animals, common household objects, parts of the body, and titles of family members (mother, aunt, brothers and sisters). Family means everything here – everything. The layout is simple and utilitarian and ingenious; nothing goes to waste. There is no insulation in the block walls or ceiling, no computer center, the classroom doors are made from repurposed shipping containers with no knobs, and the restrooms are quite different from what our kids are used to back home… I’ll leave it at that. But, no one notices and no one cares; it all works and it all works well. Watching the entire operation hum along fills me with respect for how they operate, watching the kids learn and interact fills me with love for the people that make this happen, and watching the staff and families work together to love and learn together here, now, in this place, fills me with hope.

Concrete is limited to building construction, not walkways, and asphalt is non-existent. The small courtyard is surfaced with red stamped tiles and the larger courtyard, which doubles as a playing field, is covered in a type of ubiquitous crushed gray gravel seen all over Addis. Spontaneous games of football (I called it soccer, but not any more!) break out every time they find something that passes for a ball, and the sounds of laughter fill the air during lunch and game time. It is a wonderful thing to watch: joy and love are everywhere and it is obvious that being at school is a privilege and not to be taken for granted. I wished I had felt a bit more like that growing up.

All our arts and craft supplies, including the Jesus and Peter coloring pages, arrived unscathed and perfectly organized (thank you, Jenn!!). We worked hard to carefully follow the lesson plans within the time allotted, keep the kids focused on the tasks at hand and be ‘good’ teachers. Very quickly however we came to realize that time and presence and love, not a clock, are what’s most important here and now.

So, as our first week of class came to an end, and Kalkidan put the finishing touches on her masterpiece, she looked up at me so proud of what she had created. As the tears welled and I worked to keep my composure, I looked at her and said “Your picture is wonderful, but you, little Kalkidan, are what’s good and amazing”.

My life is forever changed.

Mr. Chuck

Giggles and Gut Checks

Giggles and Gut Checks

Snickers and giggles come from a group of boys as Brandon introduced me to the class. I guess some part of my name was funny to them, but I have yet to find out why.
I currently teach the younger 14 kids (5-10 years old) with Jourdan, Chuck, and Steven. I am surprised by their eagerness to learn. My favorite moments (which have been caught on camera) are when the children share the memory verse of the day.

Day 1 – “Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” – 1 John 5:3

Day 2 – “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” – Ephesians 2:8

Day 3 – “God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, so whoever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (We sang this one)

Day 4 – “But God showed his love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” – Romans 5:8

Everyone wants to try, even if there is no candy involved. The level of English known in our class varies from those only speaking english for a few weeks, to those who can perfectly recite the memory verse. I have personally enjoyed working with Aysema. She has only been a part of Bring Love In for 2 weeks. She knows her numbers and her alphabet, but struggles with the rest of English. Earlier this week I worked with her on colors, and the joy the both of us shared through her success is incomparable. Yesterday, she was doing so good and I could see the confidence she had as she asked “May I borrow your brown crayon?” (Which is a common phrase in our room). Working with these children has changed my heart in so many ways. Today we said goodbye to the younger kids, and there were hugs and kisses all around. We will see them again next Friday as the older kids perform a play and I am so excited for that moment. Within 4 short, fast, and long days, my heart has grown so much. They have filled it with love, hurt, and patience.

The love has shown me that there really is no limit to God’s love. I have received numerous hugs, kisses on the cheek, and learned many new handshakes. All of these moments are engrained into my brain and stamped on my heart. The children have taught me how to love education more than I have ever known. Each morning their smiles and excitement fill the room. Their bulging beautiful eyes lock on “Mr. Chuck” as he shares the bible story of the day. The love I have learned from these children is more than earthly love. It has to be coming from God. I know that each of these previously orphaned children have experienced much more hurt and pain that I have, yet they still live on and love Jesus. I know this because of a song they sing, “I love Jesus, yes I do. I love Jesus, yes I do. I love Jesus, how ’bout you, how ’bout you?” Of course as I sing this song in my head I hear their sweet accents, but I also picture the numerous children that point at me in those moments. As they ask, “how ’bout you?” They lock eye contact with me and I can’t help but want to shout that I do, because they show the true love of Jesus and their faith is an inspiration to me. Today we decided to bring a guitar that was at our guest house and play it for the younger children. Brandon played Beautiful Things and Only You. Hearing them sing Beautiful Things brought joy and love to my heart!

Along with the love, I have experienced hurt. Honestly, I thought that this would hurt a lot more. But I have a feeling that the hurt will come when I am back in America. The hurt I have experienced here has been from seeing how little the children have, yet how much they want to give. Speaking with Nazarwit, she shared a general description of what some of the children have gone through and it breaks my heart. I cannot imagine my life without my parents and all they provide for me, and these children spent time in orphanages where all of their relationships were shared with only peers. The other hurt that I have felt tug on my heart has been how much the children want to give. Each and every day, during snack/lunch, they ask for us to join them, and they always offer what they have, which most of the time is injera, rice, or pasta. Along with giving food, they have given prayers. During the first day we did a prayer activity and many of the kids said that they were going to pray for us. This really spoke to my heart, because the kids have so many more needs than I do, yet they are praying for us.

Lastly, I have learned patience. Patience with our team, the children, me, even those around us every day. It has been so amazing to work with such God-loving people and I am so glad that we all share that in common and can get along and share what is in our hearts. The patience I have learned from the children has forever changed me. Trying to communicate with those speaking in another language can be very difficult on both ends, and the patience I have seen from the children has helped me. Lastly, the patience with traffic has been amazing to see. There seems to be four lanes of traffic where in America there would be two. At one point in traffic I reached my hand out and touched the car next to me easily. I am surprised by the mutual respect of everyone. We have only seen two car wrecks so far. The best moment was when we drove past the little kids as they drove home on the bus. They were so excited and shouting our names.

The biggest thing God has taught me on this trip is the importance of being open to others – that creating relationship is the most important thing you can do in this life.

– Josie

Oh My Heart.

Oh My Heart.

Oh my heart. This place. It keeps you on your toes and teaches you so much about yourself. The kids are everything I had hoped for and more. They have a joy so contagious and outrageous that it infects you even if you’re tired and your patience has worn thin.

The day (yesterday) started with some DELICIOUS cinnamon rolls; I unashamedly had two. Breakfast was not as uneasy as the day prior because we knew what to expect for the day as we had already been to the school and met the kids. In fact, I was so excited to go back just to hear their voices and see their smiles. They exhibit pure joy. We piled into the van, and traffic was insane like always, complete with honking and the aroma of diesel floating around. As the headache builds from the fumes trickling in, I look out the window at the chaos outside our little van. I’m amazed by the Ethiopian way of life. It’s so relaxed and content compared to our American hustle bustle, must-get-to-where-I’m-going lifestyle. They casually stroll alongside the street with no worries about time. Rarely do you see someone running to get somewhere or a driver huffing and puffing behind the wheel. Time doesn’t feel constricting here like it does in America. They will simply get there when they get there. I’m convicted about how consumed my life is by busyness back home and I make a mental note to slow down when I make it back. I have to take the time to slow down, build relationships, and be okay with the fact that I do not have to complete every single thing on my mental checklist for the day. Heck, I need to get rid of my mental checklists altogether and just be. Be focused on the relationships. Be focused on the people around me. Be focused on the people who are in need in the Gallatin Valley.

That has been one of the most humbling aspects for me. The streets are lined with elaborate buildings followed by shacks that are barely holding on. I oftentimes catch myself thinking, how is it that there so much wealth and poverty in one place, on one street, right next to each other? Then I immediately recognize that there is extreme wealth and extreme poverty in Bozeman as well. There is a need everywhere, not just here in Africa, and I have to be more intentional about doing what I can do to alleviate those needs.

I wish I could put in a box the emotions that circulate when you walk into the classroom for the day so I could give it to you and you could feel what we feel. The kids immediately start shouting our names–they sure do love saying Chuck’s– and we start off the day. Unlike my own classroom at home, the kids here are so eager to please that when asked a question, so many little hands pop up. I struggle to pick just one kid to answer. Thankfully, we have Abhi to help us out in the classroom and keep it under control. Abhi oversees “Keep One Home” where he organizes support for 156 kids who live in extreme poverty so they can continue to live with their single mothers at home. I don’t know what we would do without him. He’s so helpful and so willing to help us out and to be there. I absolutely and unconditionally love the people who are helping us and serving us, all while loving us at the same time. They have meek and humble spirits. I’m also so thankful for the team. Despite our varying personalities (all beautiful personalities, of course), we get along and they are quickly becoming family.

I can’t figure out if the days are going by slowly or if they are passing by in the blink of an eye but I do know that I am cherishing every single moment I witness, every taste I experience with the local food, and every word I hear from the children’s mouth.

Until next time,

Jourdan (or as the kids say it, “Jour-dahn”)

Varying Energy Levels

Varying Energy Levels

Our second morning started out much earlier than the first. For some reason, half our team, myself included, individually woke up around 3am and could not get back to sleep. Logan, who is staying in the bunk below me, saw this as a opportune time to get some work done. (Who doesn’t want to send emails at 4:30 in the morning?)

We all gathered around seven to do team devotionals which was when we all found out about the shared night of bad sleep. Someone even decided to spill coffee to illustrate the fact we were sleep deprived…that was me. Spilling coffee in the morning is one of the greatest atrocities known to man. During the devotional, one of us mentioned how much they are effected by the poverty and general welfare around us: the people begging in the street, the mistreated animals running around. It was then I realized how emotionally unengaged I was from the whole scene. This might sound bad, but I haven’t been that moved by what I have seen  the level I anticipated. I think it is because I feel so powerless in my surroundings. I feel there is nothing I can do to help the all the abused animals, the millions living in poverty, all those people sitting on the street side, shovels at their sides.  “Why should I even emotionally invest?” ‘Thats not even why we are here.” Is what I tell myself. That is probably a cynical view. But I just feel so powerless from it all.

Ishy arrived at around 8, we packed up some of the supplies we brought and headed out to the school. The ride took a little longer than expected and we were a little late to class. (Teachers late for school? how fantastically ironic.) But the ride through town was not without intrigue. At one traffic jam we encountered, a little three wheeled buggy decided to hop the curb and drive on the side walk. It was followed by another, and another, then a full size van. They were driving on the side walk like it was just another Tuesday. No one honked angrily or flipped them the bird, it was just business as usual. In fact, honking is almost incessant on the streets, rarely ever as road rage. It is more a form of communication with really no negative stigma attached. The patients of the locals while driving amazes me!

Ok, now to the school. Brandon mentioned last night the students might be a little scared by us since we come once and year…and they were anything but. The kids were all smiles and giggles for the moment we walked in the room. I guess they found our names funny because during our introductions, a few generated laughter amount a group of eleven year old boys.

After introductions and a reading of Noah’s ark, we split into older and younger groups. The kids were ages 5-8 and were lead by Chuck, Jourdan, Steven and Josie. Myself, Brandon, Rachel and Heather were with the older kids ages 9-12.

A second thing we did not anticipate was the education level of the students. The older groups english was very impressive. Many could speak complete sentences in English, something we thought would be a challenge for them. In one activity, we had the students piece together the noah ark story. Lets just say that went quick because they found the numbers on the back on the cards. Apparently we thought they wouldn’t check there.

The whole scene was beautiful to see. None of these kids has smartphones, or video games, or high tech toys, but there as a happy as can be. They have an energy I cannot wrap my head around. Chuck commented on how amazed he was that one boy, Darik, could get so much fun out of pushing a tire around the playground. It made contrast the middle schoolers I work with back at Journey, some very close in age to these kids. They come to youth group with their iPhones out and cruise around the Commons on hover boards. (Yep that actually happens.)

Ishy picked us up at 3:20 and took us for a quick tour of the Bring Love In headquarters ten minutes away. On the ride home Chuck and myself fell asleep in the back seat. I am like five-for-five for sleeping on car rides. But most everyone else was pretty talkative.

We closed the night with dinner back home and a meeting on the day tomorrow. Brandon lost it when the idea was presented we do a “how old are you” song to the tunes of “Carol of the Bells.” That was awesome.

This is only a quick overview of what this day had instore with us. I could go into so much more detail about each of the students and how full of life they are. But we have time and I’m sure you will hear much more in the days to come.

-Phill

(“Now you’ve been Philled in” -Logan)

 

Photo from left to right: Mikias (in the background), Akele, Biruk, and Darik