We have returned from Ethiopia. The whole time we were there, we had terrible connection issues. In addition, my computer crashed the third day we were in country. I had written this post, and thought I actually got it posted, but apparently did not. Here it is. One entry from a two week trip, posted after the fact, but I hope it blesses.
This is hard
Sunday, February 16, 2014
I wish I had some profound and beautiful words today, but I’m tired. And this is hard. I confess that with every trip we take to this amazing country, I go through a period of not wanting to – not wanting to coordinate everything, not wanting to pack, not wanting to make that long, long trip. Sometimes that feeling doesn’t even pass until we are on our way to the airport. True to form, I went through the “I don’t want to” phase this trip. That phase ended at about 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning, when it came time to wake the kids and get them ready to go to the airport. I was finally excited about going on our next Ethiopian adventure.
The background on that 3:00 a.m. moment of transition is that I hadn’t been to bed at all on Thursday evening. I spent Thursday running like a crazy woman, trying to buy the last things we needed, making sure I had some gift for each of the Ethiopians we now consider good friends, making sure I had packed everything a family of four might need on an African trip, etc. I “finished” at about 2:15, just in time to pretend that I was just waking up and get myself dressed and ready to go.
Our flight left at 5:45, so after waking the kids at 3:00, we left the house at about 3:30 and arrived at the airport just after 4:00. We flew from D.C. direct to Addis Ababa – a wonderfully short 13 hours direct to our destination. Usually we fly through Amsterdam. Layovers can be 3 hours or more. Sometimes we have a fuel stop in Rome or the Sudan. Those stops can add an hour or two to the trip. Generally, the trip takes far in excess of 20 hours. Everyone was excited that we would board in D.C. and get off at our destination just 13 hours later. However, we weren’t really thinking that on those trips with those stops and layovers, we are never really on a plane much more than 10 hours at a time. How is it that 13 hours can seem like an absolute eternity in comparison?
On the flight to D.C., I just could not keep my eyes open. I was running over 24 hours without sleep, and I dozed for the hour of flight time. We boarded the plane for Addis at 10:15 a.m., and finally, hours later, we were able to sleep. Now, I can’t even remotely tell you how many hours or about what time local or Ethiopian we began to sleep. When you get mid-air between continents, you are in some netherworld where neither continent’s time really applies to you. Every time you look at your watch you are calculating the time in the other time zone, to the extent that you are never sure what time it really is in either place. This time warp also affects your ability to judge the passing of time, so it could have been three hours or 15 minutes after we got airborne that they shut off the lights, but it was probably a couple or three hours. I think we slept for about three hours, and then the plane lights came up so we could be served a snack. After the snack, the lights went off again, and we made the foolish, foolish decision to watch a movie rather than sleep again. As a result, those precious three hours of sleep were the only hours of sleep we got on the flight. Also as a result, the remaining 6 hours of the flight stretched out F-O-R-E-V-E-R. By the time we landed at 7:30 a.m. Ethiopian time, I was running on three hours sleep in just under 48 hours, and my kids ended up with 3 hours sleep in 24. By the time we completed the arrival rodeo (wait with all the other passengers in the Visa line, go through the entry checkpoint, gather up all the baggage, go through customs with all the baggage, push all the baggage loaded onto tiny luggage carts out into the parking lot, and then, finally, blissfully watch someone else load it all onto the roofs of the vans we will ride in), we arrived at the guest house at some time mid-morning Ethiopia time. (I still couldn’t get a read on the time.)
We unpacked, had lunch, and then unloaded and sorted all our donations. At that point, I mostly became comatose and went to bed. I think in total I had 3 hours sleep in about 50 or 52 hours. The kids didn’t even make it to lunch. With 3 hours sleep in about 24 hours, they crashed by 12:30 and slept a good part of the afternoon. We were all awake for dinner, and you’d think by 8:00 p.m. we would have been sound asleep in our beds. We did get to sleep at a pretty good time, but Carlos was up from 1:00 to 3:00 a.m., and I’m not sure Kiki slept at all after 1:00. It was not an enjoyable night.
I should also add that none of us ate much of anything on the plane, and I could not get the kids to drink enough at all.
This morning was a fresh start I hoped. Once I got going, I felt better. Kiki was like the Energizer bunny, of course. Carlos was dragging. His stomach was also funny, and he was seriously worried about getting sick again, like he did last time he was here. We had a great breakfast, and Carlos started to feel better. Then we were off to Beza International Church, which is a tremendous blessing every time we come here. It was really, really good. Then, we had a great lunch. (Yeshi is the best cook in Ethiopia!) I think we are recovering, but wow, what a rough entry!
I want to clarify one thing: I am not complaining. Rough time adjustments are part of international travel. The last 3 days were really hard, but it’s all part of it.
However, that’s not all that’s been hard. This place slays me. The first time I came to Ethiopia I fell in love. She was exotic, beautiful, dignified, and tragic. I was smitten. The second time I came to Ethiopia, she broke my heart. I couldn’t stop weeping. The third time I came to Ethiopia, she slapped me in the face – a “snap out of it” kind of blow. “Everyone can weep, girl, but what are you gonna do about it?!” was her cry. After that we became friends. I still love her, and she seems to have made a place for me, but our relationship is sometimes rocky.
Every time I come here, I am rocked by the questions. And on this trip, our team has already been in deep discussion over them. For example, we don’t come here with any desire to make Ethiopia or her people like us. In fact, I really hate some of the effects of modernization on countries and people groups. God help us all if everyone becomes Americanized. Living on McDonalds and addicted to texting is not the future I dream for this world. However, isn’t modernization what everyone desires? I feel offended by Ethiopia’s program to systematically raze the city of Addis sector by sector to eliminate all the tin, tarp, and cardboard shacks and replace them with high rise apartments. However, isn’t it better for the people in those shacks to live in apartments rather than lean-to’s with dirt floors? Isn’t it more comfortable, more sanitary, safer? But are the shack dwellers really going to be allowed a spot in the apartment complex? If allowed, could they ever afford it? What about the countryside villages? My Ethiopian friends are horrified at the southern tribes that still run around naked just so tourists will pay to have their pictures taken with them. Don’t we want them to maintain their heritage? Dare we judge their motives? But isn’t clothing part of the price, so to speak, for entering the modern world? What about China’s role in Africa? China is building factory after factory in this country. They are importing their workers to take the jobs. They are puking pollutants into the air, the water, and the ground. In return, they built the new African Union building as a gift. Can anyone do something about that? Does anyone want to?
On top of all that, the poverty is overwhelming. How are problems this big, decades in the making, involving multiple government regimes, solved? Now? Sometimes people ask returning team members why the Ethiopians in our pictures look so happy if it’s really so hard here. How does real, deep joy exist hand-in-hand with terrible suffering? Or is it the case that the deepest and truest joy is only felt when you have actually experienced terrible suffering? Are we, as first world people, devoid of true joy because our lives are too full, too cluttered, too excessive?
What about adoption? International adoption especially has had its ups and downs. Multiple countries’ programs have been opened, and then closed, opened and then delayed or slowed, opened in name but not supported by the government. I think everyone agrees that adoption will never solve the orphan problem. However, doesn’t it make a difference? Especially for those little lives that are directly touched? How do you eliminate the corruption, the risk of trafficking, the prohibitive cost, and make it efficient and effective?
Most of all, where is God in all of this? Intimately present and yet high and holy? Apparently absent, but ever present? Seemingly uncaring and yet deeply grieved?
I DON’T KNOW! I don’t know any of it. Does anyone know?!! And these aren’t even all the hard questions. It’s impossible to be here and not dwell on the hard questions as hard reality confronts you at every turn. It’s hard not to be grieved and frustrated and angry and feel helpless.
And then there was church this morning. Anyone who knows me has heard me say that our American worship is pitiful compared to Ethiopian worship. I couldn’t wait to get to Beza this morning. We walked in after the music had started. We found some seats. Immediately, you could feel the Spirit in that place. The first song we heard was “Oh, how You love me”. With the morning’s philosophical discussion still running about in my head, with the sights of the drive to church still piercing my heart, with my mind searching for God in the midst of it all, with my soul longing for answers, for solutions, I heard so clearly, “You love me. Oh, how You love me”. I heard voices all around me praying as people continued to sing those lines. “Abba . . .” I heard over and over. “Abba . . .” and then petitions in Amharic I could not understand. “Abba . . . “ and then praises being raised. “Abba . . .”
And I landed there. “You love me.” I landed in that soft place, the only soft place among all the hard places this world offers. Our Abba loves us – every single one of us. From the cell-phone addicted American to the starving Ethiopian child, He loves every one of us. He’s knows the number of hairs on each and every head, the dreams and desires of every heart, the potential he’s planted in each life, the value of every single soul. He loves us even when we don’t love Him.
There may not be quick solutions to all these problems, and there definitely aren’t answers to all our questions, but God has a plan for each one. God loves every one. God is not the thief, the destroyer. As the pastor pointed out this morning, God’s plan for us is not death or defeat. We are His children, and just as we love our kids and want the best for them, He loves us and wants our very best. In fact, He loves far beyond anything we can imagine, to the point of giving His very own life. And we, as His people, can touch the lives of His other children one at a time. He gave us instructions on doing that and beautiful examples of how to do it. We are to bring His kingdom right here on this earth, and we can.
That’s our theme for this trip: With every act of love, we bring the kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. ( Jason Gray’s “The Kingdom Come” and Matthew 6:10) In all the hard places, with all the hard questions, there is a soft place to land. We can help others find the soft place as well.