Fear built up inside me while sitting in room 3 of the Guest House, my bedroom, when the lights suddenly went out. Just moments before, I was i the middle of a text message to my mother. I was about to press the send button when the WiFi bar usually placed at the top of my screen vanished. A lump developed in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I had lost connection to my loved ones back home.
This is how the morning of my first day in Addis Ababa began. In a house full of (at the time) strangers in a completely foreign country, I sat on my bed holding back tears feeling more alone than ever. I struggled to pray and regain comfort because all I could hear in my head was my own voice saying “I shouldn’t be here, I need to get out some how.” My morals kept me from leaving, but my instincts screamed at me to buy the first plane ticket home. At this point I had yet to actually let a tear drop from my eyes. I couldn’t let a team who barely knew me see how broken and weak I was without my family.
I continued to get ready for my first full day in Addis and stayed pretty quiet all morning. At 6:45 we separated into our two teaching groups for daily devotional. I quickly realized everyone was expected to share even a small bit during this time. More anxiety washed over my mind and heart. I wouldn’t be able to share even the slightest bit without crying. When I felt called to share, I didn’t just speak, I poured out every feeling I had balled up since our plane left the runway in Belgrade. Stephanie placed her hand on my leg and Beau’s hand rested on my shoulder as I began to weep. Without even trying, my first few connections were made.
Later that morning we piled in the vans to transport ourselves and the supplies to the school for the first time. Although I was beginning to feel better after opening up to my team for the first time, I still felt anxious about the remainder of my trip. That lasted a short lived 40 minutes in the van and was swept away immediately upon entering the school.
A bus full of kids poured into the halls. Some running, some walking, the kids approached us outside the classrooms. Keep in mind, this is my first time in Addis and unlike many others on my team, these kids do not know who I am.
Nevertheless, the first kid, a boy named Akele, grabs my hand and pulls me towards him for a hug.
Another boy repeats the same actions, his name being Fares, and asks me my name.
The next is a sweet girl with glasses and a purple shirt who grabs me and yells with a big smile on her face, “I am Bamlak!”
This pattern continued until I had met and hugged nearly 25 children in a matter of minutes. All so eager and excited to see me without even knowing my name or who I am. I was a stranger to them yet they immediately let me into their lives, let me make a connection with them.
Over the course of a week I have gained a new family consisting of every single one of my teammates. I have let two dozen children into my heart, all of which I will never forget. Meanwhile, the majority of the time there was no cell service, no social media, even no light at times. However, I know all of this was supposed to happen because He needed me to learn an important lesson:
The most important connections are made when there is no “connection.”