Some of the most delightful stories come from the unexpected stops on our journey. Some ideas were penciled into the margin of the schedule but it was not really known how the thoughts would play out. Each and every day God was faithful. I will never forget meeting Hannah for the first time. I had heard plenty about her from my friend Kimberly Heye. Kimberly is a missionary in Addis Ababa with her family and is from the Oregon area where I live. The friendship that God has brought me through Kimberly is astounding and there will be more about her to come. Kimberly had told me about Children’s Heaven where the girls who are from families that have been torn apart by death, disease and poverty, come to find life.
Kimberly told me about one little girl named R*. Her mother had passed from Aids. Her father’s whereabouts was unknown and she currently lived with her grandmother. It really is a question of who is taking care of who. R*’s grandma had a stroke that nearly killed her except that R* ran for help and they were somehow able to stabilize grandma. Barely keep her alive. She is mostly paralyzed and has continual mini strokes. R* lives in fear of how long her grandma will last. See, R* is sick herself with a disease that will probably kill her. If grandma passes, where will she go? So in the process of hearing this story several months before my trip, Kimberly asked me if I would like to sponsor her and help her stay in Hannah’s program. God softened my heart toward R* and I wept. I Could Make A Difference. Me. Just one family changing the life of another. The work isn’t done. R* is still sick and grandma is still on the edge but we will take one day at a time and commit to walking this journey with her. Embrace compassion for her and not look away even when it is painful.
You can imagine the delight welling up inside on that beautiful Saturday morning as we approached the courtyard where the girls were waiting. Many of them with similar situations to R*. They were busy about their morning preparing the coffee for ceremony, practicing their singing, braiding each other’s hair and playing ball in the courtyard. Hannah’s face shone with the radiance of Jesus himself. She had chosen years ago to stay in Ethiopia when the US embassy had given her an ultimatum to choose one country. As a US citizen she left behind her own grown biological children in the US to live the life of servant and mother to the girls at risk in Addis Ababa. I was excited to meet my precious R* for the first time.
It was here that we were able to share with Hannah and the girls several gifts. We brought oranges and bananas and water provided by the Wilson family. We left beautiful colorful children’s bibles from the Drummonds and pocket bibles from the Callens. We left vitamins, small hygiene items for the girls, balloons, small toys and marbles and some other items to be used as rewards. (Hill family, Glen, Sheri Moore, Jessica Bridges) Remember, each day we would pack our tubs that would fit in the van and we continually prayed that God would show us who the treasures were for. Some of the donations we brought were predetermined by special requests or needs. But there were also some items that were sent with us and we knew God would show us once in country. On this particular day I asked Hannah, is there anything else you need? Would you happen to need blankets?
Around 2 weeks before I left on the trip, Beth Yancey at Horizon had asked me to share at the One Mother to Another group, about what God was doing with me as a mom and in my ministry life. There were several “ordinary moms” just like me who God had directed them in reaching out. This is where I met Tammy Fraser. God had been directing Tammy to put together blankets to send around the world for orphans. It started with just a few here and there and by the time I met Tammy she had given through her ministry around 800 blankets! She offered to send some with me on my trip in just two weeks. We made room .
Now, here I am asking Hannah, and she tells me that the social workers had just been out to all of the girl’s homes and they knew which ones did not have a blanket in their home. Oh my goodness. A blanket. Not a single blanket. I went out to the van, gathered all I had and brought them into Hannah’s tent covered office. Her office help began to count the girls from the list. I counted blankets. And as God would have it, the number of blankets that Hannah needed matched exactly with what I had. Exactly. Every child who needed one, got a blanket that day. All of them orphaned by at least one parent. God cared. God knew. God put the pieces together.
I left that day so full and thankful to God for loving me so much. For caring about each one of us from the US to Africa. I thanked Him for quickening other’s hearts like Beth and Kimberly, like Tammy and the Wilsons. Like Nancy and the Hills for listening to God and for partnering for a purpose bigger than what we could even had known or planned for.
Treasures. Gifts shared by American people, as God prompted their hearts, were then hand carried by Alex, Ellen and myself through the airports, customs and ultimately to Ethiopian soil. We carried 12 50lb bags and 6 carry-on’s. We must have been quite the sight! For me personally this is truly a trust issued. One of those “things” in my life where I am especially weak, yet God directed me through my own weakness to do what was extremely uncomfortable for me.
Please be gentle with me on this one. After all, I believe God helps me pack our bags. He sends people to me to help fill the bags with the items God has put on our heart. I will share more later about some of those connections and what we took, but at the moment, I am reveling in God using us in our weakness. Not only were we able to take the 2 bags each that are usually allotted, but Ellen was able to work with the airline and get 4 extra bags donated to Embrace Compassion for bringing aid. They are usually $200 each! Wendy Dilree and Karla White each sponsored a bag which allowed us to take everything we needed, wanted and God had put on our heart. Keep in mind, this trip we needed to take sleeping bags sprayed with Permethrin to keep away the malaria ridden mosquitoes and our own personal potty for sleeping in Alex’s mamma’s mud house in the village. We needed sturdy shoes for walking in the garbage dump. We took extra food in case we wouldn’t have access to safe clean food out in route to the village, 14 hours outside of the city.
Ellen used her medical knowledge to prepare us for possible African ailments and directions for helping others we came in contact with. No hair dryers, or extras. Just the personal basics. In fact, while we were very prepared for our African God adventure, I was not prepared for the 14 degree Amsterdam weather on our way home. Yikes! Flip flops, Capri jeans, 2 tank tops, three T-shirts, two open vested sweaters and my newly purchased African scarf just did not cut the cold! Anyway…back to my weakness.
I am not afraid of flying. I am afraid of the check-in counter. They ALWAYS hassle me. I remember the first time I was very frightened, trying to follow all of the rules and traveling home to see my parents for the first time as a new freshman in college and the lady at the counter was not happy to see me. That was when we had paper tickets and she went through my papers, which she was quite annoyed that I gave her everything instead of just the ticket, and she started chucking stuff. She looked up at me and said, nope, no ticket here. I was so nervous I passed out and literally fell into the baggage receptor. I eventually came to, the nice man behind me offered to buy me a new ticket (being the broke college student stuck in another state away from home on school break) and the lady behind the counter found the ticket. Another time I passed out on the plane and they had to bring it from the runway back to the airport all because of me. Now mind you, I am not a sick person and I do not regularly pass out. Something about following the rules of the big airport, getting everything from here to there, being on time and having little or no control about the decisions the people behind the counter are making on my behalf. I agree, not so rational when I am sharing the story, but my weakness that I am still over coming none the less.
So, can you see why it is so ironic that God would send me with so much luggage? So many treasures that he has in mind for specific circumstances and people? God loves them so much. He loves me so much to comfort me through my difficulty. He is strong in my weakness. We had to repack in Portland in the airport before we even left, we had to stand firm with our paperwork in Amsterdam and negotiate for what seemed like forever in Addis to get the luggage out of the airport. But, God was faithful. He didn’t make it easy. He walked me through what could be potentially very stressful for me, grew me in the process and helped us bring in what needed to be brought in. God comforted me in my weakness.
What’s your weakness?
It’s all about the people. Jesus loves the people. He cares who they are, how many hairs they have on their head, their name, the history and their needs. In Ethiopia there was never a chance meeting with his special children. Divine appointments, a schedule set by the Man himself. Months of preparations seemed like such a small offering when given to Him to complete our efforts. Who are some of these people?
In preparing for our trip, we agreed to take special treasures on behalf of two moms who have claimed the attention of some beautiful young men. We also had designated funds sent by the Wilson family for fruit for all of the boys and sound equipment sent by Anja Wood. The young men were orphans who have grown up and have exited the government orphanage in the city called Kolfe. Kolfe is where the boys end up around 13 and is a holding place until they are eventually pushed out on the street and expected to survive and have life figured out. This place is where the children who age out of the other orphanages come to finish their time. Not at any fault of their own except for aging. I can only imagine that as young children they had hopes of a family whisking them off and calling them son. I don’t know exactly when each child realizes that it was no longer likely to be brought into a family. After all, when the white people come to visit and sometimes bring gifts, each time they have the opportunity show their knowledge, their English skills and flash their big smile, in hopes of being noticed. All of their baggage, their hurts, needs and desires are stored up without a forever family to help them unpack. Over the last 5 years the conditions of this place has improved. It isn’t what it used to be. Moms like Tamara and Leslie have been willing to let her heart be broken over and over by “adopting” sons who stay in Ethiopia. Tamara has brought shoes and pillow cases and funds to provide special dinners for all 250 plus boys and most of all made close relationship with a few of the boys. They Skype and send emails and share as family.
The three young men we were supposed to catch up with and get them care packages from their American moms, were supposed to be so busy that it would be impossible to see them more than a few minutes. But God had an agenda. We had only been in Addis Ababa less than 24 hours. We were unpacking and resorting the donations when the call was made and surprisingly, because of an Ethiopian holiday which we had not predicted, the boys were available to not only see us but they “happened” to be walking in the neighborhood and were only a few blocks away. They had time to hang out with us the rest of the day and help us deliver fruit to the 250 plus boys still living in Kolfe and the sound equipment. AMAZING. That the boys were reachable by phone, they were in the neighborhood, they had time off to spend with us and that they were willing to help us make our first connection point with donations sent for this very purpose was nothing short of a miracle. A divine appointment.
Emnatu shown with such a big smile and delight. Ayal greeted us with hugs and kindness. They were eager to share their Ethiopian love and generosity with us. How could these young men, with so many strikes against them come to us with such a generous and giving spirit? Giving of their time and energy and kindness and willingness to help?
Over the past couple of years a few moms got together and became pen pals with some of the boys in Kolfe. Many of the moms like Tamara and Leslie pay attention to what is going on with them, pray for them and show them love through small packages, encouragement and commitment. I believe that Emnatu and Ayal both radiated with Jesus’ Love that has been nurtured by their mom. They have purpose. It might not be living in the United States. It might not be glamorous. But they know they are loved.
So on that Friday afternoon, the boys hopped in the van, helped us purchased hundreds of oranges and bananas and candy and off to Kolfe we went. We also were able to bring the speaker sent by Anja Wood for a new music program. The Kolfe boys were so delighted that they spontaneously gave us our own little mini concert. It’s hard to visit a place like Kolfe for me because I don’t feel like I make much of an impact. I even question if I am bringing harm by popping in and out of their life, unlike someone like Tamara who shows continual support throughout the year. She is consistent. Then I remember that I am only a piece of the puzzle. For that day, we brought delight, we connected Emnatu and Ayal to their mom. We helped them bless the boys in Kolfe by allowing them to purchase and bring fruit to the boys which is a big treat. I myself was moved again by Jesus adopting me. By his choosing of me and how lost I would be if he had not saved me from my worldly circumstances.
Three days later, in a completely different place in the city, we got word that the police had raided Kolfe for some unknown reason and many of the boys had been unnecessarily beaten and some had been taken to jail. We prayed. We could physically do nothing. Our only hope was to fight the spiritual battle of darkness and cruelty and pray that God would intervene as the heavenly father. My heart was grieved for the injustices of corruption, of inconsistencies, and lack of integrity from the very people who were supposed to be protecting these young men. God heard our prayers and the prayers of many “moms” I presume, and the boys were eventually released but I cannot imagine the emotional betrayal and pain the boys continue to endure.
As always, I left there asking God….”What are You doing here God? I know you love these children more than I can even comprehend. How can I join you?”
Sometimes I like to think back as to how I ended up in Africa. The likelihood of ME, a mom of two, a business woman and a wife to a wonderful Godly husband, how would I end up in traipsing across the world sharing Jesus?
There wasn’t a lightning bolt, or prophesy from someone great or a vivid vision that God sent me. I do believe that I have always had a desire to be used by God. I wanted him to show me what to do. We often gave generously, shared compassion with those around us and had an incredible desire to love the least of these but in the beginning it would have appeared almost by accident that I traveled. I went with my dear friend who was adopting, I was along to be a blessing to the family and be supportive. I had no idea how my heart would be crushed. I opened my eyes to see what God was doing.
After returning from my first trip to Ethiopia, I knew there was something about that place. I could hardly sleep. During the day my mind was consumed. My heart was on the brink at all times as I questioned my very existence. As a family we began to strip away our worldly distractions, the blessings and bondage of our stuff, our pride and our hopes. My actions, however, did not really become so purposeful until I said, “God, where you moving, where are you already stirring the hearts of the people, and how can I join YOU?” This resonated with me in a new way. We took a family trip 6 months later to see what God was already doing in Ethiopia and how we could participate. We were able to visit Alex’s village for the first time, meet some of the missionaries we had only connected with on Facebook and see firsthand what God was doing.
Now, 14 months later as I sit in my comfy spot on my sofa so many miles away, I cannot help but feel emotion swell inside for the place where God met me. He met us. While I sense God’s presence most everyday and thrive in walking in his footsteps, leaning on his understanding and hoping with all of my heart he will use me in this beautiful place where I live, there was just something very special that can only be explained with an awe of God. An awe for his timing, for his love for his people, and for the miraculous wonders that happened throughout our ordinary circumstances.
Once you ask God to show you what he is doing, he does just that. I couldn’t stay away. Being where he meets you, where he crushes and rebuilds you is a holy place. I returned again to Ethiopia just 2 months ago in January 2012. This time I traveled with my friend Ellen Johnson and my Ethiopian brother Alex Kaba, who has lived in the United States for 2 years now, and we met up with Yordanous. Yes, two white women, traveling like sisters into Ethiopia and out into the countryside where no other white people had traveled before our family. We followed God footsteps. Asked God to show us what he was doing and where he was moving and he showed up and showed out. Awe of God. Awe of his love.
The stories follow of each day….God moving, us watching and following, miracles in the details happening along the way and our hearts moved and blessed. I hope you will be inspired to see that God is working in our current time. He wants us to join him in his agenda. It doesn’t take someone extraordinary but only a heart willing to ask God to open your eyes to see what he is doing and a willingness to join in. Each of us is created for this very purpose.