What’s a Vintage Christmas Party?
Old fashion fun, delicious treats and sharing in friendship with some of our favorite people! A chocolate fountain, home baked goodies, Christmas carols sung to the sound of an accordion, cute and tacky Christmas fashion, and the debut of our 2013 Embrace Compassion Promo video!
Need I say, it is going to be a grand time?
Such a generous Christmas spirit has started with our business sponsors…we couldn’t do it without them!
Immix Law Group
Bridges Financial & Realty Group
Landmark Professional Mortgage Company
US Tax Services
Clackamas River Plumbing
What I am speaking of, Overwhelming Passion, is one that never leaves your soul. It is a love that is birthed deep inside and oozes out through all you do. When it truly takes hold, when love overwhelms your very being, it can’t be shaken or broken of left outside.
It shows up as tenderness in tough situations, it looks like patience and kindness with inconveniences and sometimes it can be perceived as generosity when there is lack. I know I want more of it and I want it more often. I believe it is what drives me to ask, “What can I do to make a difference?” It propels me to take action toward compassion. It saturates me with a desire to make a difference. An Overwhelming Passion for the people is what gives me the desire to rally my friends around me. I know I can’t do it alone, yet I can’t walk away.
Passion consumes me for clean water, it consumes me for classrooms and teachers, and consumes me with a hope for the people that surpasses all understanding.
A classroom in our village and water jugs.
What’s the big deal about cooking? Why not just the old fashion way with firewood? Don’t they have electric stoves? Can’t you just take food with you?
I know it shouldn’t seem like it would be that complicated, but it is one of the details that has consumed my mind searching for a solution. There are a number of reasons why I have been concerned regarding cooking for this extended trip, but also for the possibility of leaving an alternative cooking source for Alex’s mom who is elderly. Wood and trees are scarce in the village. Children and women have to carry wood often stacked high on their back for very long distances. Some people become designated “wood carriers” as a profession. Often these “people” are very young girls. As a result, their bodies don’t develop well and it causes a multitude of complications including but not limited to difficulty having babies themselves and can cause them to die or tear inside. Gathering wood also takes a tremendous amount of time and keeps them out of school sometimes.
When I travel, I don’t want to be a burden to the families. I already know that I will probably bring hardship in some way. I hope I will bring more good than bad, and thinking through as many possible scenarios or difficulties ahead of time has been a very important goal of mine. So, needless to say, cooking has been one of them.
I have been searching for an alternate food cooking source for mama after I leave. Her eyes are quite terrible, and Alex believes the constant smoke continues to damage them. What if we could provide her with a tiny compact stove that would eliminate her or the grandkids having to carry wood and eliminate the awful smoke. I believe it is worth a try. If we pilot such a program, maybe we could pass on the knowledge and the hope to other mud huts in the village. We could start something that would stop the trees being taken down prematurely and damaging the ecosystem because the trees are not replanted, it could potentially break the acceptable torture of young girls carry loads so much heavier than their tiny frames can handle and it could minimize damage done by constant smoke in the eyes and especially for the elderly. Just maybe…I would like to try.
As far as electricity, this village, some 14 hours outside of the capitol city does not yet have electricity for everyone, especially those in the surrounding valley. And for me, I want to live with the people, not run off to my suitcase for every meal searching for an energy bar. Besides, 40 days of energy bars is just a little too much for the best of such and I certainly would rather pack my suitcase with treasures that will help the people, not sustain my inability to connect over a simple meal.
So tonight, I am very excited about my little treasured stove that I found that will burn kerosene that can be purchased where be buy automobile gas. I think it is less than 1 pound. Glorious! We shall see!
Fall is in the air and the holidays are just around the corner. Life moves so quickly. I am in awe that it is that time again to prepare for what has become an annual adventure. I am filled and nearly bursting at the seams with anticipation. This visit will be unique to the others. It lends itself to be complicated. Messy. Extreme. Delicate.
Thinking of the trip can bring some doubt, fear and even misunderstandings. I am rattled to the core with what I believe God is leading me to do. 40 days. I can hardly even say the words. Yes, leaving my family, traveling across the world and staying in the remote village where God took us as a family just over two years ago. No power, no bathrooms, only the running water of a hand dug well that we assisted the people in digging a little over a year ago. I will not count the privilege of being in that place until my feet hit the soil, but if God allows, I will be staying with mamma in her beautiful mud hut.
So many questions are swirling. Only God can take my inadequacies, my doubt, my insecurities and bring peace, joy, contentment, clarity and hope. We have to be careful who we share with because we don’t want to bring disappointment to those who are watching. What if it won’t all come together as planned? Will we bring more harm or hurt than good? I am choosing to leave my feelings and emotions aside and take one faith step in front of the other. I am preparing to go. I am preparing to love. I am preparing to be blessed by the people I am visiting. Only God. Only Me. One step at a time.
I have many Loves in Ethiopia, with whom will continue to partner with, however there does seem to be one special place that God keeps drawing my heart back to. Arjo, Wellega is around 14 hours from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia via van. Plenty of bumping up and down and one lane dirt roads along cliffs makes the journey to the destination a bit treacherous and gripping the seats kind of entertaining. This gorgeous place is beyond rural. The children call my name when I am sleeping. Their faces smile back at me when I blink my eyes. The memories I have are as vivid when I left.
I want to learn their names, their dreams, their passions and their hopes. I want to know their fears, concerns and what brings them pain. I wonder if they know that God knows their name, that he loves them and cherishes them no matter what. No matter.
Our connection to the village is divine. God brought Alex into our lives almost 2 years ago, just after my first trip to Ethiopia. We have become family. Alex needed a family and we needed Alex. It is not by chance that we were brought together in Portland Oregon. Little did we know that the village where he was from and the children living there would continue to tug at my heart and soul even after two visits. We could say our work was complete, after all, we put in a well, we got to meet all of Alex’s family and it is a really far way to go! But God. He won’t let my heart go.
My desire was never to recreate the wheel. My hope remains to encourage those who are serving like super servants and work in places where no one seems to be. I think deep down most people want to help with a good cause. They don’t want to be indifferent to the troubles of this world. People want to make a difference. We just want to know…
- Does what I am doing really make a difference?
- How do I know that my money is going to do what they say it is going to do?
- Will I ever hear the results?
I had these same questions. I felt so passionately about getting answers to my questions, I felt compelled to go and see the problems and the people making a difference for myself.
Jerry and Christy Shannon are absolutely ROCK STARS! Ellen and I were privileged to stay with them in their home in Korah, the garbage dump area of the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They work in partnership with the moms and empower them. They give immediate hope, sustaining teaching and training and ultimately tools to be independent and strong.
The Shannon’s are saving the lives of extremely vulnerable babies and their moms. We got to see firsthand the daycare in action: the loving nannies, the many cribs, the beautiful babies receiving wonderful care, moms being trained and HOPE given freely. The Shannon’s approach is completely comprehensive in sharing Love, bringing health, giving a future through job training, and so much more. I was extremely impressed by the integrity of the Shannon’s. They are a wonderful example of Love in Action.
Check out their Facebook page and their website. www.embracinghopeethiopia.org . We have sponsored a child and mom through their program for one year. We are ready to renew our sponsorship and if you want to help Embrace Compassion continue to partner with the Shannon’s, 100% of your designated donation will go toward one precious little boy and his mom. If you prefer to sponsor directly, we encourage that as well.
We Love Embracing Hope.
It is astounding to me, how God continues to move on my heart, however it is so hard to find words to describe the stories when I am home. I stare at the blank page wishing the words would prompt themselves. I think mostly it is because the emotion comes so much faster than the words. It only takes a few minutes as I sit in my chair, to remember and where my words leave off, my senses quickly remind me. The sound of the monkeys overhead as they were dropping treasures from their high perch in the three-sided metal cover. I can still see in vivid color the small laundry wash basins, women sitting together visiting, and small toddlers clinging to their mothers. Of course the smells were not familiar to me. I remember thinking how surreal it was. I can still feel the presence of God overwhelm me with awe. I knew before we traveled, from a simple FB posting that God used to prompt my heart that we were going to be visiting the prison. At the time, I didn’t know how or where or what the purpose would be but that God would direct us when we got there.
Only a few months have passed since I was sitting with Lensa, Kimberly and Ellen under the 3 sided lean-to in the women’s prison, hearing Lensa pour out her heart. She had every reason to be angry and bitter but out of her mouth, words like honey came forth. She melted me with the sweetness only the presence of God himself could give her in such a circumstance. She told me how she was thankful to be there (in prison) because she was being allowed to share the love of Jesus with the women. She said she was not afraid but when the time was right, the truth would come and she would be allowed to go. She was so concerned about who would take her place when she left but she had been praying fervently and sharing with the women who were there and hoped God would rise up one of them to lead. Keep in mind, while Lensa had been unjustly jailed (which one confirmed only a week after we left and she was miraculously released) the other women who were her cell mates had done very terrible crimes. She was not concerned about the unsanitary conditions, her safety, the lack of food and water, about her own family that she had left behind, but for the hearts of the women. She knew what peace and deliverance and wholeness could come if they would trust in Jesus.
At the prison we were able to take in food, water, and clothing for the infants, bibles and lessons for Lensa to teach to the women that God had sent with Ellen. All of the items we brought as God prepared us but without any idea of where they were to go until the moment arrived. The normal daily rations are 1/2 can water for drinking, washing and bathing, food that was unfit to eat brought from the men’s prison and the 40 women all stayed together with their babies in a one room mud box for cooking, using the bucket potty etc.
I think now of a how God is again preparing me for this next trip(January/February 2013). At the moment the ideas feel like dreams but I know now well enough that God will bring forth what he so desires. God has laid it on our heart and we are preparing for a vacation bible school in Arjo. Just a couple of days ago, I stopped in briefly to visit with a dear friend and spontaneously her father from out of town offered to help with one of our next projects. Each time, God confirms that he is with me, that he is guiding me. When I think of Lensa and her strength, I hope I will have courage like her even though my simple circumstances are in no comparison. I want to trust God in every circumstance, in every surrounding and in every moment of everyday.
Shortly after our return, Kimberly Heye posted this message for us. Lensa had been released!
“Thank you so much for what you did when you were here with us at the prison. I was able to tell Gonar and Shewaye that you had been praying for them and then Lensa gave them money in honor of your love for them. They are doing well and staying close to God. There is a new lady that converted while in prison before Lensa left and her name is Mariama and she needs our prayers as she is now leading the ladies there. Her family will disown her for her conversion and her hair was still covered, but I got to hug her and let her know we would be praying for her provision and strength– Thank you Ellen Johnson and Jennifer Bridges!!!!!You two are inspiring! “
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?”