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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

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

Holy Language

Holy Language

It permeates the Ethiopian air. God’s presence that is like the visible smog that lays over Addis. Of course it would in a country where a biblical story is more than legend, but history. A country where King Solomon’s blood courses through the citizen’s veins. I learned this yesterday on the hour ride home from Ishy (our driver, history buff, and friend). As we passed guard huts of corrugated metal next to acres of hand farmed land intermixed with towers of unfinished cement block building frames. Yet, the reason I believe there is such a palpable spirituality is from the national language.

Amharic is nothing like I have ever heard; where English is a jumble of Latin, Germanic and hashtags. Amharic is beautiful. With the ebb and flow of back of the throat rolls, delightful inflections of tone and melodic tsks that a scolding mother in a musical would make; I find myself wanting to not just learn the language, but breath it in. However, don’t let me trick you to think this language is overtly simple. Because part of its angelic qualities are its complexities. I sought the best teacher I could to help me learn. A ten-year old girl named Bamlak.

During our lesson of animals where the kids thought of the English names for creatures like: dog, cat, mouse, giraffe and lion. They then had to come to the board and write the word in Amharic. Bamlak was too intrigued with thinking of more animals to list than writing her own ideas in her journal. So I cut her a deal. She had to write all the words in English and I would write them in Amharic. Though this strategy only half worked we did get to the word lion. Which in Amharic is ānibesa. Pronounced ah muh say. She would model what the first letter in Amharic looked like. I would fail to write it correctly. She would laugh. I would laugh. She would show me again. Then I would get close, and she would say it’s okay knowing full well it was definitely not okay. Yet in unpacking the four separate letters of ānibesa, I realized that here before me is a language that was heard by the people of the Bible. These sounds spoken all around us are holy from its history and godly from its usage in song and prayer. And even though God’s glory washes over me from the language of Amharic. My feelings can can only be expressed in English.

A line emerged from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (the only book I brought on this trip) “He lived in a world shining and fresh as unexpected as Eden on the sixth day.” Addis may never smell or look as Eden did, but it certainly feels that way.

– Carl

More than a drop in the ocean

More than a drop in the ocean

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

– Colossians 3:23

In the words of Chuck, “What we are doing is only a small drop in a large ocean” so why are we doing this? There is so much more that can be done here to help those in need, yet we are only doing one thing. But what gives me hope in this is that I know we may only be making a small impact, but by helping these children, they can grow up to be who they want to be. Enguday can grow up to be a doctor and help so many people around her, while Seble can help fight for people’s rights as she is a lawyer. These children’s dreams are no different than mine or any other young adults. Heck, they will have a more demanding and time consuming career than I will. I have hope in myself that I can become what I want to be, but for the wrong reasons. The Bring Love In kids know that they can grow up to be whatever they want because God is guiding them. They do not worry about the finances of college, rather, they put their hope in God and know that he will provide. They know that they can become doctors, lawyers, pilots or teachers because they have faith. A ten year old told me here that he is going to be a pilot because God has told him to be one, and I don’t think anything is going to stop him from doing that.

The dreams that these kids have and how we have impacted them was truly apparent when said our goodbyes on Friday. Seeing the younger kids again was so amazing. They hosted a ceremony for us, which was filled with cookies, coffee, thank you cards, pictures, and lots of hugs and kisses. In many cards I received they would say, “don’t forget me, ok.” I know that I will never forget the memories with them, and I hope that they will never forget those memories as well. Saying goodbye to the children was both hard and also a proud moment.
On Saturday, we visited a couple lakes as well as hike/walked around one of them. It took us around two hours and was like no other hike I’ve ever been on. Cactus filled the sides of the trails and we spent a bit of the time crouched over, walking through thick brush. A few of us tasted the cactus plant and it was quite sweet, surprisingly.

On Sunday we attended church, went to our new favorite place, “Cupcakes Delight”, then packed, relaxed, got one more macchiato (so we don’t forget how great Ethiopian coffee is), and headed to the airport. We are currently sitting in the Germany airport, reflecting on all the things we are thankful for:

  • Flushing toilet paper
  • Clean air
  • Time to decompress
  • Safe tap water
  • Internet
  • Food
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Fruit
  • Clean streets
  • Ice
  • Common language
  • Being closer to home

Even though there were some political demonstrations going on in Addis, we all felt safe with our host and drivers.

I am very ready to be home, but I know I will truly miss it here. The impact that the people, children, and our team has had on me will never be forgotten and has definitely changed my life.

See you back in the States!

– Josie

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.