Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013



Today I saw the dead brought back to life.
I also became a dishwasher.
This morning was our last morning at CFI.  The last day is always bittersweet.  This morning the parents (all mothers plus two fathers) of the younger children came for Family Day.  This group is great fun, because we get to spend more time with their children and with them, and thus we feel we know them a little better. 
We visited a bit this morning, and Michelle gave a short talk to say farewell.  Mark presented the gospel, and then someone asked if the women had anything they’d like to say.  Last year, I don’t recall any of the mothers really speaking unless it was to say a short “Thank you”.  This year, four separate women stood to speak.  They spoke at length and with passion.  Eyob, the mother of Abraham (my favorite little guy at CFI), spoke through flowing tears.  Peter interpreted her words.  Translated, she said, “Even when our children are dirty and their noses run, you don’t care.  You pick them up and wipe their noses and hold them and play with them and love them.  You spend time with us and talk with us.  No one does this for us.  No one in our own community does this for us.  Thank you.  Because of what you do, we know you come from God.”  Humbling.  So, so humbling.
CFI then had a small ceremony for us.  Each of us received a flat, round woven mat, that could be used for a hot pad, or as Elizabeth demonstrated for us, could be hung on the wall and used as a photo display.  We each got a picture of her and Peter and Joshua to begin our collection.  J  We also each received thank you cards created by the children.  One of the ones I received said, “Thank you for letting my great-aunt make a necklace.”  Humbling.  So very humbling.
We shared lunch together, and then said goodbye to the children and mothers. 
The afternoon was to be spent organizing CFI’s storage room.  While Nathan and Tim spearheaded that effort, the team members who had done manicures for the mothers gave manicures to the 6 staff.  The two teachers, Mulu and Tigist were first, as the cooks were still cleaning up from lunch.  As Tigist, the cook, came in to have her nails done, I asked if she was finished with kitchen work.  She said no.  I told her she couldn’t have her nails done until the dishes were all washed because the manicure would be ruined.  She said she’d wear gloves.  I told her that her manicure would still be ruined, so I’d finish washing her dishes.  She looked at me as if I had three heads.  She cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow and stood there a minute, trying to decipher what I’d just said.  She asked me what I’d just said.  I told her again.  She said, “No.”  I said, “Yes”.  I invited her to come sit, and Elizabeth (from our team – we have two Elizabeths and two Tigists this trip) took over my station and started Tigist’s manicure.
I spent a good part of the afternoon washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen.  Somewhere between 50 and 70 kids eat at CFI each day, plus all the staff and today our 11 team members.  That’s a lot of dishes!  And the pans they cook in are huge!  It was great fun, because I’m fairly certain they didn’t think I could do it.  They kept coming in to check on me.  I’m not sure if they thought I’d drop from exhaustion or do a horrible job, but in the end they told me that I was a hard worker and had done a good job and that they were surprised!  It was a humble privilege to serve them in this way. 
After the storage room was placed in beautiful organized order and all the nails were painted and all the dishes were washed, it was time to say goodbye to the staff.   We sat and talked for a minute, waiting on Ephrim to come pick us up.  I saw someone walk by the front windows, and quietly, a young boy walked into the room.  Everyone paused, silent, and then gasps went round the room.  Everyone jumped to their feet and moved toward the child.  It was Anatolee.
The child presumed dead, or worse, had just walked into the room.  He was back at CFI – “my school!” – for the first time.  The staff gently approached him, hugged him, stroked his face softly, and wept and wept.  One by one, they took him in their arms and whispered quietly to him.  Tigist, the cook, could not stop crying as she held him on her lap and spoke to him.  His mother, barefoot, sat on the floor watching them.  She beamed.  She simply could not stop smiling the entire time she was there.  At some point, the two teachers huddled together with him, talking softly.  Then there were cheers.  Apparently, they had been asking him if he remembered their names, and he had remembered Mulu’s.  What joy!  We left them together, mother, son, and school staff, and slipped quietly out to Ephrim’s van.
Honestly, at the orphanage, Peter had struggled to be absolutely sure that the boy in front of him was Anatolee.  When we had returned to the guest house and looked at his picture from his file, it was hard to be sure.  Even his mother, when she first saw the picture of him on Michelle’s phone had paused a moment.  But in the school, in his own clothes, with his mother, he looked completely like Anatolee, the handsome boy in the photographs we had studied.  Resurrected from the dead, he was himself again.  It amazed me how circumstances so dramatically changed his physical appearance.  He truly did not look like the same boy we’d seen two days earlier.  And I can’t describe his mother to you.  She radiated.  She was more beautiful than words can describe, what pure, complete joy looks like.  What a humbling moment, an incredible privilege to watch the lost come home, the dead be brought back to life.  Once again, had we left CFI at the planned departure time, we would have missed them. 
Thank You, God, for Your perfect timing.  Thank You for the miracles You still perform.  Thank You for the incredible privilege of watching You be God.  Thank You for allowing us to participate in the amazing things You do.  Thank you, God, that even today, You really do bring the dead back to life.  Thank You for resurrection!  Thank You!

Sunday, April 7, 2013



Oh, I’m tired!  I think we all are.  It’s been a busy, exhilarating, heart-breaking, exhausting week.

We were at CFI this morning for Family Day.  The mothers of the elementary kids came for a meal, some fellowship, and to see their children receive their new CFI t-shirts and a small gift from Hope for His Children.  I had to leave for a short while to go to the airport, but was told later that the women enjoyed a good time of fellowship together while they waited for the activities to start.

The donation bag I brought with me never arrived in Addis.  Ephrim has been faithfully pursuing that bag all week.  He was finally told that I needed to come to the airport and go through the tagless bags.  This would be my adventure for the day. 

Whenever you arrive in Addis, there is an area at the end of baggage claim that is a large glass cage divided into two separate sections.  You can easily see through the glass that the room is nothing but shelves from floor to ceiling filled to bursting with bags that have never been claimed.  The rooms are jammed full, and bags even sit on the floor outside the locked doors.  Having seen that area every time I’ve arrived in Addis, it has always intrigued me in a fascinating, disturbing kind of way.  This area was my destination.

I arrived at the airport to be told that the airport representative had checked each of the stations I had flown through to track my bag.  The report I got was surprising:  Frankfurt reported that they had never received my bag from Chicago.  Either my bag never left Chicago for some reason, or my bag was sitting in some glass enclosure somewhere in the Frankfurt airport with its identifying tag blowing around the grounds of O’Hare. 

Ephrim drove me to the airport, and I was invited into the two glass rooms.  Remember, I was carrying a large black duffel bag.  Guess how many black pieces of luggage were in those rooms?  All except 5.  Guess how many were large black duffel bags?  At least a third.  A very nice young Ethiopian woman who worked for the airport did her best to help me.  She showed me that each tagless bag had been given a tag by the Bole’ airport showing its date of arrival in Ethiopia.  As I pointed out the bags I thought might be mine, she would look at the tag and tell me the date.  None of them were close to the date I had arrived.  In one room, a large ladder rested against the shelves and reached all the way to the top of the glass enclosure.  Neither of us opted to climb that ladder and check the bags at the top.  I finally found one bag that I thought might really be it.  It happened to be on a shelf at eye level.  It had zippered end pockets, just like the bag I’d carried, so I just zipped open one end to see if the contents were familiar.  As I did, a thick yellow gooey substance with small black oval shaped objects in it began to ooze out.  Before I could react, the end of one fingertip was covered, and two or three flying bugs of some sort escaped the pocket.  I dropped the end of the bag I was holding, and my young Ethiopian friend ran out of the room as fast as she could.  I then began trying to open my backpack one-handed without letting it touch anything, including the floor, so I could retrieve the disinfecting hand wipes I always keep handy here.  It was a struggle.  Before I succeeded, my friend came back in the room and offered me a Kleenex.  That felt something like being offered a toddler’s float toy in the middle of a hurricane on the ocean, but I gratefully accepted it and rid myself of yellow stuff, and then dug out both disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer and spent the next 15 minutes trying to remove all the skin from the end of that finger.  The young woman from the airport dragged the bag off the shelf and dropped it to the floor, which prompted a whole swarm of insects to fly up into the air.  She and I both were darting for cover that time.  We had our own odd bond of fellowship this morning. 

Anyway, I never found my bag.  I’m guessing the tag fell off in Chicago, and it lives in some scary unclaimed baggage room in Frankfurt, where some poor soul will open it one day to find the milk cartons I packed turned into some green form of yuck and will be horrified when they stick their finger in it. 

My conversation with Ephrim on the way back to CFI was good.  God has given us amazing people to work with in Ethiopia, and we have truly grown to love them.  These friends really, really love Jesus.  They inspire us, take care of us, and amaze us with their sacrifice, wisdom, and faithfulness.  It is a blessing to know them and to spend time with them.

The rest of the morning at CFI was good, although lunch was hard.  In Ethiopia, you eat with your hands, and I was still certain my hand belonged in a hazmat facility, so I really didn’t eat much. 

After lunch, we went to a ministry called fashionABLE.  fashionABLE is a ministry that helps women rescued from prostitution learn weaving so that they can earn a living wage and support their families.  An American man named Ian runs that ministry with his wife.  Ian gave us a great rundown of their work.  They are another family who has given everything to love the oppressed, the poor, and the suffering.  (Just since we’d seen him in October, Ian and his wife had adopted another Ethiopian child, giving them 4 children, two biological and two adopted from Ethiopia.)  I’d been to fashionABLE in the fall, but was particularly blessed this time to see how Ian interacted with the women.  They talked and laughed and gave each other a hard time, and it was a blessing to see their fellowship with him – a healthy, loving relationship between former prostitutes and a man who loves the Lord.  It was good also to talk and visit with Ian, to hear his vision and his mission and his struggles.  Although we are short term workers, and he is full-time on the field, there was a shared fellowship of love for Jesus and for those He has called us all to serve.

Our day ended with a trip to Island Breeze for dinner.  This spot is a favorite on HfHC’s mission trips.  It offers real wood-fired pizzas, and a number of menu items that look like they come from any restaurant in your town.  For digestive systems that have all at some point been rumbling or squeamish or shut down or overactive and for American palates that have been challenged by different, exotic food, Island Breeze is a welcome respite.  (Note, however, that everything Yeshi makes for us at the guest house is incredibly good and wonderfully healthy.  Although some of us aren’t used to that either!)  The power was out, so our menu options were limited – no French fries!  As the sun set, we ate by candlelight.  It was somehow comforting to see other firenjis (the Ethiopian word for “foreigner”) pouring into the restaurant and also interesting to think about where they might have come from and what they might be doing in this country.  Sitting around pizzas and sodas with our team and our Ethiopian friends, there was good conversation and a lot of laughter.

Today was a day of blessed fellowship all the way around.  Fellowship between women who share the struggles of motherhood and womanhood and poverty and rejection.  Fellowship with women I love, but can’t really speak to and that I see only once a year.  Fellowship with a young Ethiopian woman sharing an adventure both of us would have preferred not to have.  Fellowship between the rescuer and the rescued.  Fellowship between workers for the kingdom.  Fellowship between team members.  And fellowship with Ethiopian friends that have come to feel like family.

Thank You, God, for friends, for kindred spirits, for those who share our passions and our hearts.  Thank you for those who share our adventures and who share our life experiences even when those experiences look so very different. Fellowship is so sweet, such a blessing, a wonderful gift.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thoughts & Questions


We spent the morning at CFI again today.  Another good day with the women.  We made necklaces.  They are so creative, and they loved making them and wearing them home.  The kids had a great time.
We went to the drop-in center at Kechene this afternoon and heard the really disturbing news that their American supporter has pulled funding.  Their rent is paid through mid-May.  After that, there is no money.  (At least, not right now.)  The kids have no uniforms, and they are no longer being fed.  After the KG kids (equivalent to our pre-school/kindergarten ages) left, we sat in their empty cinderblock classroom.  KG kids stay at the drop-in center all day, while the elementary kids go to the local government school and come to the center for lunch.  Nicodemus told us that when the elementary school children had come to the center yesterday for lunch, they’d had to tell them that there was no food.  As Peter translated Nicodemus’ words and told us that the kids (150 total, including KG and elementary) were no longer eating at the center, his voice broke.  He stopped speaking and sat quietly for a moment.  Then he began to sob, second day in a row, this time out of grief, not joy.  The room fell completely silent except for the sound of Peter’s weeping as we sat with the knowledge that 150 desperately hungry children were no longer receiving what was likely their only meal of the day.  Soon the room was filled with the sound of quiet weeping.  Many minutes passed.  It takes time to grapple with that kind of news.  Children you recognize, children you just spent time singing and playing with, children who have no hope or resources outside the gates you sit within, just left hungry.  And will again and again and maybe permanently if God doesn’t work another amazing miracle.
 As part of our group toured the compound, it began to rain.  I’ve now been in Ethiopia 5 times, and I’ve never seen it rain.  I stood on the porch of a classroom and looked out over the valley in front of me.  On the opposite hill stood the American embassy.  It’s made of clean white concrete.  In the valley between the dirty, worn down compound I stood in and the beautiful embassy on the opposite hill was only tin roof after tin roof covering hundreds of tin shacks.  And a cemetery with what seemed like hundreds of identical, simple crosses.  The sight was striking. 
It began to hail.  The hail stones pounded and bounced crazily on the tin roof of building to my right.  As we waited out the storm in a dark classroom, the sun broke through the clouds.  A partial, faint rainbow appeared over that valley.  After another good hard rain, the sun shone through again, and I went back to the porch to see if the rainbow had reappeared.  It had, and as I followed it to see if it traced a full arc, I gasped.  I swear that rainbow ended right in the valley in front of me.  I could literally see the colors shimmering in the air between me and the trees below.  The rain finally slacked, and we said our goodbyes and walked toward the gate.  Yet another (yes, the third) rainbow appeared.  Although covering only half the sky, this one was incredibly vibrant.  You could see every single color of the spectrum.  It lasted a long time.  As we drove back to our guest house and the clouds began to break apart, the sunset was magnificent.  God has certainly been spectacular this trip in painting His creation.
These last days have left me with deep questions and thoughts to ponder:
·         Can 30 seconds of stroking a baby’s cheek possibly make a difference in a lifetime?
·         What about 15 minutes of holding a child in your arms?
·         Every child really does need a momma.
·         Do donors half a world away have any concept at all of the impact their giving or not giving really has?
·         Just as we must responsibly give, we must responsibly withdraw giving.
·         God still works miracles.
·         God is totally sovereign.
·         God is faithful.
·         God’s speaks to us through His creation in beautiful, breathtaking ways. 
·         God’s promises are true.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013



There are absolutely no words to tell you how amazing God was today, and yet I will probably type pages telling you the story.  A little background is in order first.

The last Hope for His Children big group trip was in January of 2012.  That trip was my second trip, and Dave and the kids joined me, so they all had their first HfHC mission trip.  We worked at CFI every morning, just as we are this week.  Working with the kids for half a day, five days in a row, gives you a real sense of their personalities and helps you remember their names and faces.  You learn something of their stories.  You take their pictures.  You pray for them.  You think about them when you’re home. 

I returned to Ethiopia with Hope for His Children this past October.  The fall trip was a small group trip – only 4 people.  As I prepared for that trip, I got a text from Michelle.  It was a photo of a precious Ethiopian face that I remembered – a young boy with his mother.  The message on that September 22nd was devastating:  “Please pray for Anatolee and his mother!!!!  Anatolee is 5 and has been missing for several days . . . his mother (Dirribe) has tried everything and is devastated.”  My response:  “I can’t breathe, let alone form a thought.”

When you work with these kids, you come to know that all of them are one small event away from devastation, enormous loss, or even death.  Anatolee’s mother had gone to work and come home to find her son missing.  No trace.  No evidence.  No indication whatsoever as to what might have happened.  There were guesses, speculation.  It was rainy season.  Perhaps he fell in the river near their home.  Maybe someone stole him.  Unspoken, between the two, we hoped for the river.  Apparently, (we learned just this week) the local government accused her of sending him off to the countryside, something that sometimes happens when parents can no longer support their children in the city.  They threatened to arrest her.  Can you imagine?

We travelled to Addis in October and found no developments, no new information.  Hope was fading.  It’s a helpless feeling to know that there is nothing you can do.  We prayed.  We prayed upon receiving the news.  We prayed in our nightly family time.  We prayed individually.  We asked everyone we knew to pray.  Days had passed into weeks, and weeks passed into months.  As we approached this current trip, we had sadness:  Anatolee wouldn’t be there.  We’ve talked about him this week.  There’s an empty space knowing he’s missing.  Someone even pulled out Anatolee’s bio sheet from the HfHC files this morning and read his story. 

Back to today.  The morning was spent at CFI.  More manicures, more Bible stories, more crafts.  More laughter.  Time spent at the soccer field in recreation.  Lunch back at the guest house.  Then we went to the government orphanage. 

Last year’s visit to the government orphanage is recorded in an earlier entry.  I confess, I did not want to go.  I was filled with a sense of dread.  I say again - visiting that place is a shattering experience.  As we pulled into the gates of the compound, my insides were strung taut.  We walked in the front door, and I wanted to run.   A couple of men were sitting on a bench outside the director’s office.  A woman was sitting on a bench beside the door.  A worker came down and spoke to her.  While we waited for the director, that worker came back carrying a small child which she handed to the woman sitting by the door.  We spoke with the director for a short while, and then began a tour of the facility.  As we exited the director’s office, I saw the woman by the door holding that small boy, stroking his face, kissing him, and talking to him.  He was talking back to her.  I couldn’t help but wonder.  Was she relinquishing her son?  Were we witnessing a farewell? 

As we walked up the stairs to the baby rooms, I resolved that I was not going to be a hot mess this time.  I decided to smile in each tiny face, stroke each soft cheek, coo and talk and love on them like crazy.  And I did.  I won’t deny my heart broke, and I definitely shed tears, but I loved on babies and small children, smiled, and touched them tenderly. We moved from empty bunk rooms, to the baby rooms, to the special needs rooms.  We walked by one room where one nurse sat on a small stool feeding one toddler.  A tray of bowls sat in front of her.  On the floor behind the eating child was a semicircle of quietly waiting toddlers.  There was something heartbreaking about that little circle.  Some of our group stopped to help feed the waiting ones.  Finally, we proceeded to an open area between two buildings where elementary aged kids were playing. 

Every member of our group was soon engaged with the kids.  They had some kind of animal cards, and several of us were involved in sharing the English word for each animal and trying to learn the Amharic name.  Some played counting games.  I heard Nathan saying to a small group of kids, “Show me your foot.”  He waited to see if they understood the English and could find the right body part.  A couple looked around, unsure, until Nathan said to Elizabeth, “Show me your foot,” and she demonstrated.  After that, they did well, until “stomach”!  A young girl I guessed to be about 7 came up and held my hand.  I asked her name, told her mine, and stood still as she wrapped her arms around me.  For at least 15 minutes we stood together without saying anything.  I wrapped my arms around her, stroked her cheeks, her hair, her ears.  I squeezed her tight.  We swayed slowly for a while.  Every once in a while, she’d look up at me and smile.  Tears fell silently as I thought with profound conviction, “Every child needs a momma.”  I wondered if she’d ever have one. 

As I stood with this precious child of God, I heard Michelle calling my name.  I looked up to find a shocked look on her face and tears streaming down her face.  She said something I couldn’t understand.  It looked at if something was terribly wrong, and I began to move toward her, pulling my sweet girl along with me.  As I approached her, Michelle said, “This is Anatolee!!”  “What?!!”  I couldn’t make sense of what she was saying.  “This is ANATOLEE!”  Electricity ran through my whole body, and everything moved slowly.  “What?!”  She looked at me with utter shock, eyes wide, tears pouring.  She pointed.  I saw Peter kneeling and weeping, ever so briefly, in front of a small boy.  He stood up, then bent over, looking into the boy’s face, quietly asking him questions.  I looked back at Michelle.  Again, “It’s Anatolee!”  Once more regarding this boy, I couldn’t form a thought.  How on earth could that be?  How?  He’d been missing for months.  How’d he get here?!  All I could think to say was “Are you sure?”  Michelle asked Peter, “Are you sure?”  “Yes” came Peter’s reply. 

Somehow, a 6 year old boy had wandered away from home on a September afternoon, been taken to a police station, and then transferred to the government orphanage.  On a March afternoon, as Peter stood in the yard of that orphanage, that boy saw Peter wearing a CFI t-shirt.  He walked up to Peter, grabbed the t-shirt where the logo was on the chest, and said, “That’s my school!”  Michelle said Peter looked down at the boy and then said, “An . . . , Ana . . . .”  He couldn’t even get the name out.  Finally, “Anatolee . . .?!”  A nodded reply affirmed he had gotten it right.  Several questions later, while shouts went out to various team members of “It’s Anatolee!  It’s Anatolee!”, it was clear Anatolee had been found.  We sobbed with joy.  We looked at each other dumbfounded.  We kept shaking our heads.  Nothing terrible had happened.  Something unbelievably wonderful had happened! I said to more than one person, “This is impossible!”  Michelle, Peter, and Anatolee were off to the director’s office.  The director herself couldn’t believe it.  Nothing like this had ever happened there before. 

After conversation with the director, the pulling of Anatolee’s file, more questions and conversation with Anatolee, we had to go.  I have no idea how long we’d been there.  The hardest part of all was leaving Anatolee at the orphanage.  He had to be claimed by his mother.  Initially, when Peter told him what was going on and that he had to stay and Peter said goodbye, Anatolee turned and walked back into the orphanage.  I was the last one of our group out of the building, and I watched him go.  I saw another boy reach out to him, and Anatolee turned and scowled heavily at him and kept walking.  However, after we loaded into our vans, we noticed him standing on the front porch of the orphanage, watching us go.  He smiled. 

Can you imagine?

We talked a whole lot on the way back to the guest house about God’s sovereignty and His goodness.  A million details had to be coordinated for us to be in that place, in that very yard, at that precise time, when Anatolee was walking through, with Peter in that CFI t-shirt.  God orchestrated each one perfectly.  Initially, we weren’t even sure which day we were going to the orphanage.  God chose Tuesday.  We were supposed to leave the orphanage by 5.  By God’s sovereignty, we were still there at 5:10, because our driver was running an errand for us.  Our driver was actually out buying children’s Bibles for us, because in God’s utter wisdom, one of our bags had been lost on the flight or stolen from baggage claim, and the gifts we had brought for the 70 CFI kids were gone.  By the grace of God, even though he was running late to meet us for the orphanage trip, Peter had stopped on his way out to change his t-shirt.  In fact, he’d gotten all the way outside his house and then went back in to put on a clean one, a CFI one.  God’s hand was on every detail, weaving perfectly, so that a lost little boy could be found.

I don’t know what else happened.  I just know that God is amazing, all-powerful, sovereign, faithful and merciful.  He loves tenderly and passionately, and His hand is truly on the smallest sparrows.  He worked an absolute miracle today, and we got to see it.  Can you imagine?

When Gabriel told a young girl named Mary that she was going to have a baby even though she was a virgin, she said, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”  (Luke 1:38)  Amen and Amen.  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 18:26)  Indeed.  Today we saw the impossible.  It was utterly, completely glorious. 

By the way, as we left the orphanage, the woman was still cradling that little boy on the bench.  I’m praying for more of the impossible.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013



I started a new vocation today.  I became a manicurist. 

We started our week at Compassion Family International, a drop-in center for impoverished children, run by Peter and Elizabeth Abera.  CFI, as we call them, is the main organization that Hope for His Children supports.  Each morning this week, as we have on past trips, we will spend the morning at CFI.  Some of the team will conduct Bible school activities with the kids.  They’ll do Bible story, craft, snack, and recreation.  The kids will all also get a new pair of shoes with new socks. Some of us work with the mothers of the children.   We try to teach them a craft, something perhaps they might be able to do to make money for their families.  We talk and laugh and share time together.

This morning was our first day of Bible school at CFI.  CFI is in a new facility, which is smaller than their last.  So rather than having all the mothers come every day, with a new activity every morning, half the mothers came this morning and half will come tomorrow.  One lucky half will get to come again on Wednesday, and then Family Day will be split between Thursday and Friday.  The new building can’t accommodate all the kids with all their parents/guardians, so half will come on Thursday and half on Friday.

Before we went to CFI, Michelle read to us the story of the leper healed by Jesus.  A leper no one would touch was touched by the Son of God.  He told Jesus, “If you are willing, you can heal me.”  Jesus said, “I am willing,” and He touched the man and healed him.  An appropriate way to start a week where many dirty and diseased children will be begging for our touch.

As the kids arrived at CFI this morning, I picked out familiar, sweet faces, hugging and picking up children, smiling and calling out names.  Four trips in, I’m now able recognize them and call them by name.  As mothers arrived, I recognized some of their faces as well.  Last year was our first year to do activities with the women, so I don’t know them as well as the kids, and I’m horrible with names, so I couldn’t call any of them by name, sadly.  However, some of them recognized me, too, and we were able to kiss cheeks, left, right, left, right, shake hands, and bump shoulders in the traditional Ethiopian greeting that I love. 

Last January, we took one day to do manicures for the women.  There were over 30 of them attending by the end of the week, and we had only three team members working with women, so doing manicures for 30 women took some time.  Because we were working on another project that day as well, we got only a few of them done.  There were many disappointed, although gracious, mothers at the end of last year’s women’s ministry.

We started with manicures this year.  Our first day, with a much smaller team and only two of us working with the women, we started doing nails right away.  While we worked with finger nails, the ladies made beaded bracelets.  For the manicures we start with a simple bowl of cold water and wash the women’s hands.  We then use lotion and give them a quick hand massage.  Finally, we finish with painting their fingernails.  We don’t do cuticles, base coats or top coats, or filing.  In a country where most folks don’t receive basic medical care, common issues like nail fungus and infected cuts are common and untreated, and more serious issues like AIDS/HIV and hepatitis present much greater risks. 

It is utterly humbling and a privilege to be able to minister to these women in this way.  Hands that are calloused and dirty, that care for children and other family members, that work so very hard and are rarely if ever held or caressed or stroked were placed in our bowls of water.  Immediately, every woman began washing her own hands.  Gently, we shake a finger to indicate “no”, and point to ourselves, and say, “Please let me.”  They don’t understand English, but they get the message.  They are utterly dumbfounded by the experience.  Some laugh nervously.  Some sit silently without moving.  Some refuse to meet your eyes.  But none of them refuse the touch.  We gently but firmly rub the lotion into their skin, covering each finger, massaging their palms with our thumbs, and gently stroking the backs of their hands.  Then we point to the row of polish, 6 small bottles of various shades of pink, and indicate that they should choose their color.  With the completely wonderful but strangely uncomfortable experience of handwashing over, they laugh, look at you shyly, and pick. 

I cannot begin to explain to you how blessed I am to be able to serve these women in this way.  We gave everyone name tags today, so I was able to call each woman by name, inquire through an interpreter about her child/children, pray for her silently when the interpreter was called away, and ask them at the end if they liked their new look.  Many of them were posing for each other afterward, laughing and spreading their hands across their scarves or in front of their faces to show off their beautiful new nails. 

Before we had started this morning, I told them the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.  What an honor to be able to say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells us to serve one another.  Jesus was the Son of God.  He came to earth, and while He was here, He washed His disciples’ feet.  He told us to serve each other, like He served.  We are here to serve you today.  You are mothers, daughters, sisters, and daughters of God.  We would like to honor you by washing your hands and painting your fingernails.”  They nodded and smiled. 

How appropriate that story seemed the day after Easter.  How perfectly fitting that activity was following our morning devotion. These women of hard life, dirty hands, and frequent disease were longing, just as the leper who approached Jesus, for a gentle touch.  Like Jesus, we were willing to give it.  Following His example, we laid out a towel, dipped our hands in the bowl, and washed the hands of another, a sister, a precious daughter of God.  

Jesus was right.  The least is the greatest, the servant is the blessed, the privilege truly is in the washing, not in being washed.  

“If you are willing . . .    We are willing, Lord.  We will wash more hands, touch more hearts tomorrow.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Sunday
It’s midnight, and I am sitting on a rooftop terrace under a cloudy Ethiopian sky, looking out over the lights of the city and listening to the barking dogs of Addis Ababa.  Today was Easter in the U.S.  It was not Easter in Ethiopia.  However, Beza International Church, the protestant church we attend while we are here, had a full Easter service this morning.  I LOVE Beza church.  They know how to worship, and they preach a good message.  However, today either I was off or they were.  I’m sure it was me.  The worship was wonderful, but I struggled during the sermon.  It was good, and I actually learned a lot from the message, but I found it hard to listen and frankly, had to fight hard to stay awake.  Very unlike me. 

We left Beza and returned to our guest house for lunch.  Yeshi is the wife of Ephrim, who runs the guest house, drives us everywhere we go, and generally takes complete care of us while we are here.  Yeshi is the best cook in Ethiopia.  We had a lovely lunch, and then took a walk in the neighborhood around the guest house.  Some of the guys, one of them being Tyler, an eighth grader, wanted to find a pick-up game of soccer with local kids.  We walked to a vacant field where some cattle were grazing (yes, we are in the city), and immediately a soccer game ensued.  The guys and kids soon had an audience, as the locals watched the firenjis play soccer with the local kids.  The hot Ethiopian sun was shining, but the cool Ethiopian breeze was blowing.  The sky was blue, with a few rain-filled clouds, and I suddenly realized how beautiful the day was.  It occurred to me again, “Today is Easter.”  Throughout this trip, I have been constantly reminded of God’s goodness, His beauty, His tenderness, and His love.  This was one of those moments. 

We returned to the guest house to sort out all those bags of donations we had brought with us.  The work was fun. Seeing all the wonderful gifts we get to bestow on those who need them and on those who will put them to good, kingdom work was a blessing.  Soon it was dinnertime, and Yeshi really outdid herself.  On top of a salad, which you just can’t ever eat here except when Yeshi makes it, we had two main dishes, bread, and my very favorite – sambosas.  Sambosas look like empanadas and are every bit as tasty.  Yeshi made both meat and vegetarian sambosas, and they disappeared quickly.  To top it all off, she made us a chocolate cake, “because it’s Easter”.  We never eat dessert in Ethiopia, so chocolate cake was a special treat.

Nega (from Onesimus, a ministry for street kids) and his wife Emebet and their 4 month old miracle baby joined us, along with Jonathan and Jess Bridges and their 4 year old son and 3 month old baby girl.  Jonathan and Jess are Americans who have given up everything to move to Ethiopia and support the Onesimus ministry.  Peter and Elizabeth and Joshua were with us, too.  We enjoyed fabulous food, great conversation, and then heard Jonathan and Nega talk about how both their ministries were started.  Hearing of their work with street kids (orphaned, abandoned, forced out of their homes, runaways escaping homes of alcohol, abuse, poverty, or worse), rescuing the vulnerable and serving the ones hardest to love and yet in the most need reminded us all why we were here.  With tears we prayed for them and then said our good nights. 

It was a strange Easter.  No Easter baskets or fancy clothes.  No candy or traditional Easter feast.  No standard Easter church service.  Nothing at all American style Easter.  Physical weariness was combined with great joy, beautiful moments were followed by stories of great sorrow.  No family members were present, and yet we had sweet fellowship with wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.  And a story that reminds me of what Easter really means:

The first child Nega served at Onesimus was a boy named Desi.  Nega invited Desi to the Onesimus drop-in center and ministered to him, even allowing Desi to live with him and Emebet for a while.  Nega loved Desi, but Desi wasn’t really ready to be loved.  Desi returned to the streets.  Again, Nega sought out Desi, asking him to return to the drop-in center.  Desi did, only to leave again.  Again Nega pursued Desi.  Again Desi ran away.  Seventeen times Nega followed Desi, and 17 times Desi rejected Nega, returning to his destructive life on the streets.  Finally, Nega found Desi again.  Desi returned to Onesimus.  Finally, Desi stayed.  He entered and stayed in school and began to straighten out his crooked path.  Began to really live.  He met Jesus and found the Saviour he’d always looked for.  Jonathan, who told us this story of Nega and Desi, concluded by saying,  “Desi’s story is all our stories.”  He explained: We run from God again and again, turning our backs on Him, rejecting Him, choosing our own destructive ways.  And God is just like Nega.  He pursues us again and again, always imploring us to return to Him – to grace and forgiveness, to love, true love.  Nega and Desi are the perfect picture of God with us. 
And Easter appeared to me so clearly:  Jesus came all the way from glory to the cross, the tomb, and the throne because He really and truly loved me.  Me.  And you, too.  And every single one of those street kids that are still out there. 

I hope your Easter was as blessed as mine.