This whole trip has been worthwhile! There are so many things that I will be taking home with me, and bonding that will never be broken, between the people here and with the team.
It’s awesome doing hand on activity’s, and that when I get back I won’t be listening to people tell there story, we will be telling the story.
There are quotes that I love and would love to share with you!
“A mind once stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension.”
“Never say goodbye because saying goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”- Peter Pan
“There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there’s so much more to the book then the page you were stuck on.”
“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”
Everyone here has a huge smile plastered on their face, and no matter what there story is when they go home or back to the streets, that smile never fails to appear. Everyone here is so strong spiritually, that they create a positive vibe. I am so glad that we got the chance to experience Ethiopia. My favorite part would have to be hanging out with the kids out side of the guesthouse. It means so much for me to remember the little kids names, and when I do they just get the biggest grin, that I took the time and effort to remember their names. It is just heart breaking to know that I may not get the chance to see there angelic faces again. Considering that when I was saying goodbye to the little group of girls plus Ramadan I all ways had clanged to my side say “I love you” I just never want to leave them.
Everyone on this team has a very unique character strength
Jackie- The ability to make everyone smile with her smile.
Carly-Always caring, and attending.
Natalie- knows how to get to the point.
Alex- knows how to put a grin on the boys face.
Sarah- good at keeping us organized
Noah- very good at bartering.
Eddie- can pick up a language by the snap of a finger
Leslie- knows how to capture the moment
Brandy- very quite but has a lot to say when she talks.
Kate- has a growing heart for Ethiopia.
This has truly been the best trip, I am so glad that god presented me with such an indescribable trip.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to read about our trip.
Disclaimer: I didn’t even want to write this blog. Only because words simply cannot capture the essence and feelings of human interaction, whether in America or Africa. Words cannot capture a relationship that is complex, that transcends oral communication and cultural barriers. That’s what it’s been like here. I frequently cannot have a conversation past 4 sentences with the people here, but there is still a connection made through eye contact, touch and simply being together. Please read this with a grain of salt—knowing that words cannot capture the things that simply don’t have words to describe it.
I want to thank the Journey Church family (and all other families involved!) for supporting this team—financially, emotionally and spiritually. This place has crawled into my heart and taken over completely. I cannot thank my friends and family enough for supporting me and encouraging me. I love you all with more love than words could ever begin to do justice. This trip has been so much more than simply saying “I’m going to Africa.” That belief and sentence simply demeans all that this trip has been. I have seen how the Ethiopians (Hybasha) are incredibly rich, and I’ve seen things that have broken me to tears, changed my life, my faith and my soul.
First, a summary of today. Today, I met the child that I sponsor. Her name is Debora, and she just turned six. She lives in a town called Holeta, which is 30 minutes outside of Addis Ababa in very beautiful country. It was Brandi, Carly and me in our group that went to the visit. We were hoping to see monkeys like one of the earlier groups did on their visit. The driver and our translator insisted that there were not monkeys on the road that we would be able to see.
When we arrived at the Holeta project, I felt next to tears getting to greet Debora. She was the sweetest, cutest little girl ever and she greeted me with a big fistful of roses. She was so shy at first, but gave me a great big hug. We got a tour of the school and had a very traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. We also got to visit Debora’s home and have more coffee (YUM!). Getting to spend time with Debora today was a very fulfilling experience. I got to sit with her, snuggle with her, hug her, tell her she is beautiful, color pictures with her, and get to know her. Debora’s favorite game is playing dolls, her favorite color is green and her favorite food is pasta. It was difficult to say goodbye after only meeting her for two hours.
And on the way back to Addis Ababa, we got to see monkeys! Very exciting. I almost died by lion attack, but I figured that would be a cool way to die. (Just kidding Mom!)
A few cultural differences in Ethiopia that have stood out to me:
The Hybasha people are incredibly rich in emotion, joy and beauty. Here, the people are so free with their joy. Their joy doesn’t seem dependent upon their health, wealth or material items. I’ve seen people with severe physical ailments that give out more affection, smiles, hugs, kisses, blessings, love and pure joy that I could have ever guessed was possible.
The kids are so full of joy it’s almost tangible. They run up to you and hold your hand, give you kisses and snuggle all the time. They want you to know their name, their age and who their brothers and sisters are. They want to be near you, with you, stare at you and to hold your hand. Most of all the kids want to laugh. They want you to speak Amharic because they want to laugh at your forenge accent (Amharic word for foreigner). They want you to play with them so they can laugh. Even if you do nothing they want to giggle with you.
On top of that, our translators are so full of joy and want to laugh too. It’s hard not to win a smile from them and for them to brighten up your day. I could go on for days about our wonderful translators, but there simply isn’t time or space. Find me at home and ask me.
The Ethiopians are rich in support. Family bonds are strong here. They pray for each other, pay for each other and don’t leave each other behind.
The Ethiopians are affectionate. Being an American, this is a bit weird at first. I was ready to see affection between other people because I’ve seen that in my other travels here too. The people here hold each others hands, lean on each other, touch shoulders in greeting, kiss each others cheeks, stand with their arms around each other, and are overall affectionate. It’s a different story when they want to do that with you too. At first, it’s semi-awkward. But then it began to change my heart. Having our translators put their arm around you while you’re standing there, or having one kid want to walk with you and hold your hand—it’s changed me. It’s so comforting and it’s their way of saying “I want to be with you and I enjoy being next to you.” I’m thankful for this lesson.
The Ethiopians are so free with their emotions. My experience in America is that we don’t want to cry around each other or that we don’t want to “emotionally dump” on each other. Here, they aren’t scared of expressing their emotion. In America, we are so cognitive. We are ruled by our brains, logic, structure and thoughts. Here, there are those things, but they communicate with their heart, their emotion, their facial expressions, and their physical touch. The Hybasha are very engaged emotionally, and their communication frequently has more emotional depth to it than my experiences in America. Perhaps this would change over time the longer I stay here, but initial greeting with people has much emotional engagement.
I know that there are varying views on whether people should help, volunteer, and give to foreign countries. I’ve had many a debate about how there are people in America that need to be helped just as much as people abroad and in Africa need to be helped. That we should be helping at home before we should be helping in Africa. I’m not trying to start up that debate here, nor do I desire to turn anyone away from experiencing a trip like this. However, this trip has had enormous impact on our group and me. I know from group discussion that this trip has possibly changed the course of several of our lives. I can never thank everyone enough for helping us come here. I have much more to say, explain and express about the trip that I would love to sit and talk about with you over a good cup of coffee. (Maybe Ethiopian coffee!)
Hi everyone! So I had an inspiration for my blog post last night and decided since our time is coming to a close here, we needed a recap of the Ethiopian and African experience. The acronym “TIA” is said all the time here meaning “This Is Africa”. I had to write them down because so many of these things just added to the joy and uniqueness of this experience. Most have provided laughter for us during our time here. The others are just a reflection of the beauty of the people of Ethiopia.
So, my TIA list:
– The power could go out anytime for no apparent reason
– Two men hold hands as a sign of friendship
– There is no need for ladders; men climb power poles to fix them with hooked boots. Crazy!
– Herds of sheep wander all over the city. Dinner anyone?
– Donkeys are used to transport grain through the busy streets of Addis
– You may or may not be trampled by a cow when walking through the streets, so watch yourself
– Pedestrians do not have the right of way.
– Ethiopians don’t seem to worry about specifics too much, i.e. adjectives: a monkey is a monkey, a spider is a spider (not black widows, spider monkies, etc….)
– A restaurant order must be discussed at least 5 minutes before the order is clear
– Ethiopia runs on injera (bread-like sourdough), wot (soup), and tibs (beef and sauce) …and strong coffee!
– Busses and taxis are not full until people are hanging out the window
– “Forenge” (foreigners, white people….us!) draw everyone’s attention
– There are no lanes for traffic; whoever gets furthest into the intersection first gets to keep driving
– There probably should be a video game named “Ethiopian Taxi”
– Raw beef (tresega) with injera (of course) is the local delicacy
– According to the Ethiopian calendar, it is 2004 (not 2012); so technically I am 21 years old again…yes!
– Children will always meet you with the biggest smiles
– An Ethiopian will give you his or her best without any regard for him or herself
– Habasha people have no “bubble”; my American “bubble” decreases the longer I am here
– Where else would you find a shop called “Nice Christain Butchery” ?
– Knock off restaurants rule: Big Mak (McDonalds), In and Out Burger (the sign only, no actual restaurant), Kaldi’s Coffee (Starbuck’s plus burgers and fries), and Hut Pizza Hut
– Goats and sheep ride in taxis, usually on the top or in the back. When they bleat it might scare the life out of you!
I could go on and on, but just wanted to give you a taste. There have been so many laughs associated with all of the above. Also, the love, smiles, and warmth of the people here have created an unforgettable experience.
To update you on what is going on with our team: yesterday we were able to see Wendison (who you have heard about previously) and take him in his wheelchair on a walk throughout the neighborhood. It was a seemingly small way to serve him and his family, but they were so appreciative for the time we took to do this. And the joy it brought to him….everyone on our team who saw him from the first day until now noted how much more interactive and joyful he was yesterday. He displayed a giant smile the entire walk. It’s that joy that makes what we are doing here feel so worth it.
We finally broke out our spending money yesterday and took to the streets for a little (or in some cases a lot ) of souvenir shopping. Noah was the bartering “ashenaffi” (champion); he was pretty fun to shop with although he did not usually get the prices he wanted. It was a fun time. We want to give many thanks to Josi for putting up with us and our crazy group through this!
As our time comes to a close in Addis, I have been trying to reflect on all of the things I have learned about God and myself through these experiences. I think we all have been continually doing this throughout the trip; I know I have been, but I am trying to develop some take home points that I can share with every one of you back home. I have definitely been shown how big God is, and that his love has no boundaries in contrast to the many boundaries that exist in our world. I have become so much more aware of how I will manage all my resources at home since I am now overtly convinced I have way more in my life materially than I need to survive. Possessions are just that, possessions. They have no soul and no true worth. At the same time I know that I have been given so much in my life for a reason, and having been here in Ethiopia I know I will forever be changed with how I use my money and time. I also have a more real view of joy. Joy is exemplified in the smile and laugh of a child here. These children don’t let the worries of the world affect them; they just love God and love people. This can be said of so many of the adults here, too. I aspire to learn from them and be more like them.
Thank you all for your continued prayers, support, and encouragement. Please pray for us for the last two days of the trip and for our safety on the trip home starting Tuesday night.
Today I want to write about a couple of experiences I’ve had over the last 2 days. The first is meeting Wendeson. You may have read about him before. Wendeson was born healthy but at some point contracted an illness that caused physical and mental challenges. But when I think about my experience meeting Wendeson, while his challenges are significant, the challenges aren’t what I think of first. The first thing that comes to my mind is his huge, joyful smile. As soon as we stepped through the door to greet him, he had such a beautiful grin on his face. I’m not sure how long we hung out with him, but I can’t escape that smile. I can’t escape the joy that was on his face. We are going to spend some more time with him before we leave, and I find that I can’t wait. I’m excited about seeing that joy again. It’s infectious and addictive.
The second experience is meeting the young woman we sponsor through Compassion International. Her name is Wudnesh (which gave us a chuckle when we found out the name means “expensive”). She is a beautiful 16 year-old, and we found out she wants to be a doctor. In 2 weeks she has an exam that the government administers to determine what a student’s future path is. If she does well on the exam she will get to go to professional school and can indeed pursue a career as a doctor. If she does not, then she will go to vocational school to learn some sort of trade. Needless to say, we will be praying hard that she does well on her exam. It was a great experience meeting her, seeing the Compassion project she has been a part of, and meeting her family. What sticks out to me the most from that experience though is a re-enforcement of how great a sense of community there is here in Ethiopia. We participated in a coffee ceremony with her family. But I realized while sitting there that the central part of a coffee ceremony is not the coffee. It’s the community. The ceremony is a chance for everyone to gather and talk about whatever. And this isn’t once a week or even once a day. It is done as much as 3 times each day. There is even a tradition in some ethnic groups that when someone must leave the sitting area for any reason, when they return the others stand and welcome the person back to the group. That intense sense of community is amazing. And it’s something to strive for.
I’ll leave you with some verses that have been particularly important to me on this trip.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-18
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do you “Rejoice always?” Have you even taken joy in something one time today? Have you focused on someone else? Encouraged the fainthearted? Helped the weak? Have you even spent time with anyone long enough to know they need help and encouragement?
These are the questions I’m asking myself. I hope you’ll ask them with me.
It is morning & like most mornings we are awakened by the chanting wafting through the alleys and the purposeful crowing of a neighbor rooster. I sit up and place my feet on the cool black & white checkered linoleum in the aqua green guest room and my eyes sleepily gaze upon the few items that decorate the walls; the small 8×10 mirror, that I have to stand on my tiptoes to see in, the Amharic prayer plaque and the charcoal drawing of an Ethiopian couple. Although it is unclear who they are, it is beautiful. My gaze falls to the z-shaped tan line that has developed on my feet from my Chaco sandals and I take a moment to reflect. I am thankful for the experiences we have encountered here, from the many death-defying taxi rides (complete with purple shag ceilings, fur lined dashboards, and Justin Bieber on the radio), to miles we have walked, the smoke filled air that is a constant reminder of where we are, and the Machiatos that put Starbucks to shame. Mostly I think of the hope and the humility that is on the many faces of those we have had the honor to meet and serve. It is an encouraging reminder of how precious our time is as we are here to build relationships and serve those in need. Even if we make a difference to one life during our time here, then this trip is worth every minute, and every birr (dollar).
The hospitable culture is almost unimaginable yet it is one to learn from. We are welcomed guests everywhere we go and the people take, and make, time for one another; whether it is through their generous hugs or through the beautiful coffee ceremonies that encourage bonding. Ethiopia time is not American time. There is no rushing (except when driving) and the time spent for one another is quality.
Each day has brought new adventures and lasting memories, especially the simple way of life that has crept into my soul one beautifully amazing face at a time. They have so little, yet so much to offer and the littlest things bring the biggest tooth-full grins and innocent giggles. There is no judgment, there are mounds of tolerance built in to so many concepts that we have yet to grasp, and everything has a deep lasting meaning. It is impossible to not be inspired and lifted when you can see how the smallest things that we so easily take for granted are so appreciated and produce the happiest emotions – from the heartfelt thank you’s at the Hope University mission, where we had the opportunity to feed over 800 people injera and doro wot per day to the absolute largest full faced smile I’ve ever seen on the face of sweet Wendisen when we visited him and his family and gifted him a simple new outfit. Even though he can’t talk, his brightened face said everything and more. Bless his heart because it is truly wonderful.
To think, that he, like the old woman we walk by every day who sits by the side of the road smiling and laughing, and so many others that endear so many trials and hardships on a daily basis, they still let their spirit soar and shine through their beautiful eyes and wide smiles.
Every day is an adventure and an opportunity to learn something new. Everyone should be so fortunate to be a part of this, for this is an experience…this is Africa. TIA. – Brandi Lansing 5/18/12
I’ve learned a lot about Jesus this week. I hope everyone has, but you never know. It’s funny how the individual take-away from our time in Ethiopia varies – to a large extent we’re all doing the same things but everyone has different stories at the end of the day. I’m not going to write about those things we’ve been doing in particular, but they’ve been the vehicle for appreciating Jesus. The longer I live, the more I see Jesus in everything. I think this is what Paul meant when he talked about having so much room to grow [when we see him as a super-Christian].
My eyes aren’t as fresh as the 10 Americans I came with, so I notice people/smells/sounds differently than they do, and this is fun for me. What was once novel to my senses is still novel to them, so I get to experience their reactions, their confusion, their delight and frustration by observation. We have the sweetest, most sensitive team in Ethiopia right now. All ten of them (or 11 Americans + Aki, Yossi & Masti) care deeply for the people around them and it’s a wonderful thing to experience. Bob Goff talks about this idea of “leaking Jesus” in his book, Love Does. This is what I’ve seen for the last 10 days – people (Americans & Hybesha) leaking Jesus all over the place.
I feel compelled to tell you a little about why I love these people. I suppose because today I get to turn them loose with my co-leader (Sara) and go back to the States I’m feeling a little nostalgic 😉 So, in Leslie-esque style:
Noah is hilarious, very few people have made me laugh in Ethiopia like this 17-year-old, goofy, pretend-quiet, very tall young man. Obviously his parents are quality humans to turn out a guy who can deal with/laugh with 9 older “sisters” for 2 weeks. Aki calls him Giraffe, which makes me giggle every time I hear it. Everything is nice for Giraffe because this is Africa (TIA).
I know Jesus had a plan for Libby to be here, despite our best efforts to screw it up, and everyday I’ve thanked Him for his hand in securing her passport from the USPS at 4AM on the Sunday morning before we left. She is 15, fantastically observant, and brings the fun to the party. We would not be the same without her.
Some people have exactly the right energy for a moment, and for us this is Alex. If someone needs love, she is there with a smile that can light up a room, she is there to hold a hand, she is there for a hug. She doesn’t have to ask, she just does it and it’s right. This is a wonderful gift, Alex. Thank you for sharing it, and please don’t stop.
We’ve always had at least one individual on each trip who has a soft, malleable heart and takes every moment and wrings it out for all it’s worth. I think this is Brandi. When we talk together at night, we know Brandi has taken the best moment of the day and hung onto it. Often compassion is painful – blessing and a curse – but if Jesus is anything it’s compassionate, and so is Brandi.
If you get a chance to see Carly work with her physical therapy skills, you know she’s in the right profession. Her gentle and sweet demeanor combined with her intelligence brings some serious skill to the table. Jesus makes everything new, and Carly has the talent to be his hands in that. I wish we would have caught Addis’s broken arm a little earlier in the healing process, but I’m thankful in particular to see Carly love him in the way only she could.
Insight lives in Sara. In every discussion, she has fresh perspective. Some of this probably comes from well-travelled life experience and some probably comes from a seasoned relationship with Jesus. In both cases, we’re all better off for it. Sara will also pick up the reigns when I fly off, and I’m very grateful. The rest of the team isn’t ready to leave (obviously neither am I, am I ever?) and I am so thankful they have more time here together.
Jesus has used the last two years and my [six] times in Ethiopia to make some pretty significant life|heart changes. Some people are always looking for the way God will use them and satisfy the specific purposes resting in them. Some people aren’t aware of these purposes and some people are, and Jackie is so aware. To see her seek and question God is reminiscent of my own time here so I’m particularly thankful for the opportunity to share a room with her and dissect every moment of every day. Cheers to verbal processers!
As our default male leader of the team, Eddie has revealed himself to be extremely wise & intuitive. Not much slips by him. He has a low tolerance for injustice and an overflow of compassion, which, for those of you who know me, ring clearly inside me as well. Not to mention, he has navigated 9 female teammates flawlessly – you might even think that he likes us 😉 He and Leslie are a great match – [obviously] Jesus knew what he was doing bringing them together.
One of my favorite things about Leslie is her photographer’s eye. I absolutely believe in creating art is a space where we are very close to God, our creator. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but I think she would know what I mean. Her photographs are evidence of her skill, but they’re also evidence of her heart – she sees the beauty in everyone. Jesus makes beautiful things, everywhere, and Leslie sees them.
There is always someone that everyone loves and for me, this is Nat. We have this saying, “heart of gold” in English, and Natalie unquestionably has one. Her sweet affection is evident in every conversation and I know people walk away from her feeling loved. I’m not sure if this can be taught or learned, but I do want to be more like Nat.
If I explained why I love and am thankful for each of our sweet Hybesha (Ethiopian) friends, I’d never wrap this up, but if you have met Aki, Jossi or Masti, you have met the sweetest, most selfless men. They take care of us and watch over us like little mother hens and they’re quite adept at “herding cats”. We couldn’t do much of what we’ve done without them and their pre-existing ministries. Aki is so passionate about loving people tangibly and meeting the needs, one-by-one, of the people around him. Yossi can make anyone feel understood and accepted – Hybesha or American. He’s so good at navigating and bridging our cultural differences. Masti knows how to have fun and enjoy life. He’s always smiling and laughing with the people around him and you know how this energy is the kind you like to have around. They are all close to the heart of Jesus.
All Sons & Daughters says in a song,
It’s for freedom that I’ve been set free.
This group of people is free and full of love. I love this team because they’ve shown, in beautiful fashion, that Love Does. See you at home, sweet friends!
On Monday our team went to Ziway. It’s really nice there because it’s more out in the country. We were going to go see hippos but it too windy out. I also did not get to see a monkey; although I did get to see a truck full of camels .I think what I have learned a lot from this trip is to be a lot more thankful for what I have because people here have a lot less then I do. My favorite part about this trip is getting to see all the different places and serving other people. The most interesting thing I have seen here is how they build buildings. They use all cement and the way they support it is they use Eucalyptus branches to hold it up. It takes 15 days for the cement to dry.
A note from the rest of the team: Noah is absolutely hilarious and some of our funniest, most laugh filled moments have been because of his antics. We just wanted you to know because this blog post is not at all indicative of his true nature!
Cultural Differences, Lasting Impressions, & Ziway
Wow! We’ve had so many experiences since arriving in Addis Ababa several days ago. I hope you’ve been able to read some of the previous posts about the amazing things happening here.
I’m always fascinated with the many cultural differences when visiting other countries. I often have to remind myself to think “Oh, so this is how they do (fill in the blank” rather than “WHY are they doing (fill in the blank) that way?” It can be easy to fall into the trap of judgment just because the method to accomplish something is different than my own.
Here are a few cultural differences that I’ve experienced:
Greetings: There are several ways to greet another person here in Ethiopia. The one I’ve experienced most often is a regular handshake but with an added right shoulder to right shoulder touch. People like to make contact with each other either by handholding or arms around each other while walking or standing. This includes men as well. In our culture, men holding hands with other men or walking with their arms around each other would most likely not be received kindly.
Personal space & taxi rides: An Ethiopian taxi (similar to a VW bus) with about 11 passenger seats might carry 15-20 people. However, the taxi drivers and their assistants (who take the money and control the door of the taxi) are aware that we Americans require more space than Ethiopians. Not only do we tend to be bigger in size, we aren’t used to crowding together so close. We try to split up into groups as we ride taxis because otherwise they would want us to contract the taxi (in other words, pay more). There’s that, but there’s also the fact that we’re like a circus sideshow when all 11 of us walk down the street together.
A collective society: Our team talked about this a little before we came, but Ethiopia is very much a collective society, as opposed to an individualistic society as we have in the U.S. For example: To feed your friend (with fingers of course…this is Ethiopia!), is a sign of respect and love. When ordering food, or making any decision really, consulting with those around you first is the norm. Ethiopians tend to default to their friend’s opinion over their own, which can sometimes result in a long decision-making process.
A few things that (I hope) have forever changed me:
One night we took the boys who live at the guest house, including Addis, the boy you may have read about in a previous post, out to eat with us at a nice restaurant. After coming back from the bathroom to wash his hands, he claimed “I like water.”
The idea of being blessed to literally have a roof over your head along with a few walls for shelter.
The undeserved humbleness with which we are greeted by people we meet living with HIV/AIDS when we enter their tiny (and I mean TINY…smaller than anything you are probably imagining right now) mud houses and served injera and/or coffee simply because we are guests. They do not eat or drink regularly but they serve us what they have.
The lingering hugs and giant smiles from the little kids at Samuel’s Home upon our arrival (see below).
Now, for the past couple of days: On Monday morning, after five full days in the city of Addis, we tied the bags of shoes we brought from the states to the top of a rented van and piled inside (11 of us, plus two translators and our driver) for the nearly 3 hour trip to Ziway. While there, we visited two schools plus another school outside of Ziway. These schools were so clean and well kept compared to any area we have seen so far. The students begin learning English, along with Amharic and Oromifa (at one school), in nursery school. The students also have the opportunity for a porridge-like nutrition drink for breakfast and a healthy lunch. The children in these schools looked cleaner and healthier than any of the children we’ve seen so far. Our team was super excited to eat lunch at one of the schools on two occasions for one reason: SALAD! We had not been able to eat any uncooked vegetables up to that point. However, since they grow the greens there at the school and wash it with bottled water (or used some sort of vegetable cleaner) for us forenge (white people), we were able to eat it. Oh! We were so happy!
On Tuesday afternoon, we began the massive task of organizing the shoe sizes, student names, and measuring the feet of each student at the 2nd-6th grade school. While we began to distribute the shoes as orderly as possible (having the kids try them on and then exchanging if necessary), part of us went into each classroom to start a bracelet-making project with the kids. The kids picked up the bracelet-making process in no time! They also had the opportunity to use letter beads we had brought with us to spell out small words. After the shoes were distributed, the school day had ended so our team taught the teachers a couple of games that they could play with their students. One of the games was the one were you use a string to tie a balloon around your ankle. The purpose is to keep your balloon from popping while popping everyone else’s balloon. Finally, the team taught the teachers the all-American game of kickball.
Finally, to end our trip to Ziway, we had a chance to visit Samuel’s Home, a ministry and refuge for about 10 young orphan children. The children live in a compound with two “house parents” and are given regular meals, showers, clothes, and care by the house parents. The house parents are Ethiopian and they all live an Ethiopian lifestyle. As far as I understood, the plan will be for them to live there until they are 18. Peggy, along with her husband Gary, administer this ministry. Their hope is for the children to be able to attend college when they are older.
So, that’s what has happened over our time in Ziway. I haven’t really written about any of the emotional things I have personally gone through while visiting. Honestly, I’m still processing. I fight the numbness that I could so easily give in to on a daily basis. I don’t want to ignore what I’m seeing. I want it to deeply affect me in ways that I cannot even imagine. I think it is, but I’m still not sure how these “lessons” I’m learning from this beautiful, yet extremely impoverished, country are going to change me once I return home.
One of the hardest things about meeting with the poorest of the poor here in Ethiopia is figuring out what to say. There’s tremendous pressure (often self imposed) to say just the right thing to bring a bit of light and hope into the lives of those we meet. But how can we really succeed when the people have less than nothing, have seemingly unfair illnesses, and an endless list of challenges stacked one on the other? Words simply feel inadequate. While the people are inspiring with the depth of their faith in the face of insurmountable odds and speak frequently of how blessed they feel just to have us in their homes, for me our presence just doesn’t feel like enough. As a result, I’ve been thinking often of what to say, how to say it, and how to communicate the love and compassion we feel in the short period of time we have with each family.
Two of my greatest loves are bird watching and traveling. Both bring contentment to my soul and make me feel alive. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, learning about different cultures, seeing new things, and discovering a wider variety of birds than I ever thought imaginable. But every place I’ve been to date has one bird in common…the simple sparrow. I look for it everywhere I go and have yet to uncover a destination that doesn’t boast a variety of this understated and often-overlooked bird.
The other day when I spotted one here in Ethiopia it reminded me of a verse in the Bible quoting Jesus speaking:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29-31
It doesn’t seem like simple coincidence that the bird mentioned in this verse can be found the world over, and in fact seems to be the one bird the world has in common. While it may have a variety of names, people know what a sparrow is; how common, how simple, and how ignored. It gives universality, perspective, and power to this verse for every person in the world, and maybe provides me with the answer for what to say to those who feel overlooked, unimportant, forgotten, and afraid. For at its heart, the message we’re trying to convey to the people here is that they are loved, have tremendous worth, and that through Jesus there is no need to fear. Neither He, nor we as His hands and feet have forgotten them.
They may just be words, but they are words with tremendous value, depth, meaning, and importance. For if our Father loves the common and simple sparrow enough to know when each one falls, the depth of His love for all of us is unfathomable, immeasurable, and incomparable. And as much as I love the sparrow, my prayer for the remainder of our time here is that I can convey this very idea through words and deeds to these beautiful people who are worth so much more.
Yesterday was our third day in Ethiopia. Time is really strange on this trip. I would never have thought it possible that there could be such a combination of feeling like we’ve been here for weeks instead of days yet still feeling like the time is going by far too quickly. It feels like weeks because of all that we’ve experienced in such a short time span, but it’s too fast because we can all feel the end of our 2 weeks here approaching.
Anyway, elastic time aside, I want to tell you a story. It’s a bit long so you might want to get some water and/or hit the bathroom before you dig in. This story isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though there is joy in it. It’s about taking action and unforeseen consequences. It’s about serving people in the face of the enemy. It’s about disappointment and our response to it. And at the end of day, it’s really all about love and what that means when we put it into practice.
When yesterday began, it was much like the beginning of previous days, though I think there was a lot of hope in the house yesterday. After all we were waking up to Addis having fun outside with Jerainya and Misganao, and there was quite literally a miraculous difference in him in less than 24 hours. From writhing on the street due to malnutrition to being a healthy, thriving, and intelligent 14 year old boy. It was amazing.
So, we had our time of reading our Bibles, writing in our journals, and chatting in the morning. This isn’t a dictated thing. It’s just something that’s naturally happened somehow. I think it’s a family thing. And, yes, it really feels like everyone on the team is family. Certainly, as a guy amongst a team of all women (my wife being one of them) except for Noah, I’ve been party to several conversations that I would never expect in such a situation apart from family – and maybe not even then. We breakfasted together on some awesome crepe-like things, finished getting dressed and ready for the day, and then headed off to Shetai’s house.
On day one, Aki took a few of us to visit her. Shetai is a widow with a son named Alaza who is 10 years old. Both have HIV. Shetai’s husband died 10 years ago from HIV when Alaza was only 2 months old. They have been on their own since then. We asked Shetai what we could pray for with her. She told us about her physical needs, most of which were obvious due to the chilly, rainy day. You see Shetai lives in a plastic house. Plastic houses are structures that have been put together with scrap material that have been scrounged together. It basically consists of a few wooden support posts with a bunch of scrap pieces of plastic, tarps, and assorted other material wrapped around the outside. The roof is a few pieces of wood with a mish-mash of more plastic and a few junk pieces of tin. Her physical needs were obvious because on that day it was cold and damp inside her house, and the rain was pouring through places in the roof in the tiny section of her house that served as a bedroom. She also told us through tears that she felt hopeless because she knew that someday she would die, and she feared for her son and wanted him to have a future. Needless to say, that was a difficult experience.
When we told Kate about Shetai in the evening of day one, we began to hatch a plan to at least do something about her immediate physical needs, especially since the rainy season is on its way here. Kate started orchestrating a project to go and do something about Shetai’s house. This included having Shetai go and get approval from the government to actually do work on the house. She did indeed get approval with the stipulation that we couldn’t really change the house. We could only improve the roof.
That brings us back to day 3. We were off to Shetai’s house to get measurements and determine what kind of materials we would need in order to improve the roof. As we stood inside her home and looked at things, it became obvious that we would need to do some major work on the bedroom side of the house in order to make any kind of lasting improvement. We would have to re-enforce the roof on that side so that the plastic could be stretched over it without having the many sagging spots that were causing most of the existing leaks. We also needed to put more of a slope in that side so the water would run off better. We split into 2 teams, one to stay and clear out the house and prepare for the work and one to go and get materials. Those of us at the house started working with Shetai, her son, and some other people from the community to pull everything out of the house. That didn’t take very long. Then we began pulling off the existing plastic so we could re-cover everything in a more durable fashion. The other team arrived with the materials. It was obvious that we wouldn’t be able to re-enforce the roof without pulling the bedroom part of the house apart, so we did that. We cut new support posts and put them down into holes in the ground, started to frame up the roof, and put some braces in to support the vertical posts to prevent the house from eventually listing to one side or the other. Several people from the community were helping us with the construction as well.
As we were finishing up the roof framing and continuing to look at ways to brace the structure, a woman came up loudly telling everyone that the construction had to stop. Masti, one of our translators, was quite irritated that we were getting interrupted while just trying to help. He went up to the woman and asked for ID. She pulled out government identification, which pretty much meant that we had no choice. We had to stop. We waited for a few minutes while the government official talked to the local police and told them that we had to stop. The police then came and made us leave the site while Shetai, the government official, Aki, and Yosi went down to the government office for this part of Addis. The rest of us, very frustrated and sad at having been forced to stop, left to go get lunch. Personally, I was having a very hard time dealing with things and not being overwhelmed by anger.
About the time our food was coming out at the restaurant, Aki and Yosi showed up with bad news. The landowner adjacent to Shetai’s house had shown up at the government office as well to make the claim that he wanted to put in a gate to his property where Shetai’s house was. He had apparently been lobbying for this for some time already. Since Shetai’s house was basically an unapproved structure on land not “owned” by her (owned is in quotes because land ownership is a fuzzy thing here), the government said that she not only had to stop the improvement but she also had to move out of the place. We had gone from starting a project to help someone be warm and dry in the morning to that person being essentially homeless. For me, it was a pretty dark moment, most certainly the darkest moment of this trip so far.
As we finished lunch, we headed back to the Guest House. Between the restaurant and there, we decided to go back to get the building materials to hold at the Guest House until we could find a use for them. We were also trying to figure out some short-term solution to Shetai’s housing which was obviously not ideal, but it was our only option at that point. Some of us headed back to Shetai’s along with Aki and Yosi to get the materials and to give Aki and Yosi a chance to talk to Shetai about moving into a place where we’d pay for rent for some period of time, at least a month but probably more like a year. Also, around this time, Addis left to take care of some things that he needed to do. That will be important later.
As we arrived, Shetai invited us into the remnants of her house. She pointed out that she’d patched up what was formerly the little divider between her entryway/common space to make a quasi-wall. As we all sat down on pillows and blankets she had arranged for seating, Shetai said that there was good news. She began to share with Aki and Yosi (which they translated to us) that the community was behind her, including the local police force. In fact, the police force told her that she should stay.
So, sitting there in this house that was now half of the already small size that it was before, looking at bare sky through holes in the roof and the very large open spaces left between the existing walls and the roof, Shetai said that she wanted to stay where she was. She said she could tack up some of the plastic material that we bought a little bit along to cover the open spaces and hopefully protect from the rain. She wanted to stay until she was provided with a government house, which would have affordable rent. We asked a ton of questions trying to understand if she was going to be ok. Aki assured us that this was best, and I trust him. But we also agreed that we would kind of wait a couple of days and see what happens and send some food and blankets back to help get her through the night.
Then she proceeded to apologize to us that we had to go through this and then she blessed us. Seriously. She’s sitting in something that barely constitutes a house that is even worse after our involvement and she’s blessing us. The time at lunch, hearing that Shetai was probably out on the street was the darkest moment, but this was the most emotional by far for me. Aki asked me to pray, and I was struggling to even get words out. But I did my best to cry out to God to provide a way forward, whatever that might be.
We went back to the Guest House and gave the blankets and food to Alaza and some friends to take back. After that, apart from showering and giving Leslie the story of what happened, I just laid on the bed and zoned out for a bit. For dinner, some of the amazing staff here cooked a rice dish and Kate invited some of the local children in to eat with us. It being Alex’s birthday, the children also sang happy birthday to her and cake was had by all.
After dinner, it was time to finally process the day. We gathered together as a group and tried to make sense of everything that had happened. The project we’d started at the beginning of the day had backfired, to say the least. Addis had left and had still not returned which raised all kinds of questions of where he was and what was going on. Things just didn’t seem to be going right. We had some pretty fulfilling and deep discussion of things, and then we prayed. We prayed for all of the people we’ve encountered so far individually including praying again for a way forward for Shetai and praying for Addis’s safety and that he might return if this was the best place for him.
Then we started getting ready for bed. Shortly after that, Kate knocked on our door and told us that Addis had returned! I know that every single person on the team was praising God at the moment of finding that out. I certainly was. Not only because it meant that Addis was definitely not out on the street, but also because it gave us something good at the end of the day to hang onto.
I think somewhere far above I promised that this story was about something. That may be unclear so far just based on the facts. But now I want to tell you what this day meant to me and what I came away with. It would be easy in the midst of having things going wrong to question whether we should even be doing this. Was it really worth the risk to help Shetai? Should we have just revived Addis and handed him some food and water instead of investing in him the way that we did?
That’s where the lesson hit home for me. 2000 or so years ago, when Jesus was walking the earth in human form, would he have said no to helping when it might result in failure? Would he have said no if he thought there was a chance that things could get worse? I don’t think so. I think he would have jumped in. But after having jumped in, I know that he wouldn’t give up. The enemy is at work. We know that. But in our American culture, where we are blessed with a pretty neat and orderly life, it’s easy to begin to be blind to that. Just because we suffer obstacles and major disappointments at the hands of the enemy doesn’t mean we stop trying to help. Sure, we didn’t get a nice picture at the end of the day of a completed house and the warm fuzzy feeling that goes with it. But we won’t give up on Shetai. We will keep at it for as long as it takes. We will continue to pray for the best path forward for her, and we will seek God’s guidance for ways we can take action on her behalf.
And we will get up tomorrow and do it all over again because that’s what He did.
John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”