The first time I came to Ethiopia I fell madly in love - with my new baby girl and with this beautiful country and its people. The second time I came to Ethiopia, I was desperately heartbroken - by the tragedy of starving children, by the heartbreak of mothers who can't provide, by the vastness of the suffering. On this, my third trip to Ethiopia, I was confronted by reality. The beauty is still here, the dignity and joy are still present in the people, the passion and fire of their faith is pulsing, but the hunger, the loss, the pain, and the hopelessness slap you in the face.
This morning, our whole group arrived at CFI at 9:00. We conducted Bible school for the kids, and a few of us participated in a women's fellowship with the mothers/guardians of CFI's children. This women's fellowship was a new addition from last year, and boy, was it popular!! CFI cares for 70 children. We expected up to 25 women in our fellowship and were surprised when 32 showed up and a few more wandered in as the morning progressed. We had taken plain, white scarves and dye for the women to design and make their own beautiful scarves. How fun it was to see them catch on to the process so quickly, make it their own, take charge, and create their own patterns and colors regardless of what the "typical" process was! And all this despite a language barrier! When we first started, I found myself without a particular assignment in the process, so I went around the room and tried to learn everyone's name and asked about their children. We laughed alot, because after about 5 of them, I couldn't remember who was who or how to pronounce any of them except "Olive"!! It touched me deeply to hear their stories - a mother who "disappeared" leaving her child to be raised by her sister, a grandmother whose daughter died, leaving her to raise a grandchild. I was proudly shown beautiful twins, dressed identically, and was introduced to another Kidist, who immediately jumped into my arms and hugged me for at least 3 solid minutes. What a joy to serve these amazing women, women who lead desperately hard lives, but whose joy is real and whose children are every bit as precious and wonderful as our own.
This afternoon we went to Kechene, the poorest area of Addis. (And that's saying something.) An amazing man named Nicodemus, in his old age, began (with his wife) caring for recently orphaned children in his neighborhood in Kechene a few years ago. He now runs a drop-in center for impoverished and orphaned children in Kechene that serves 130 children 7 days a week. The children are fed, clothed, and educated as best they can be given the resources available - an absolute miracle. The main classroom is a cinderblock room with one window. There are 24 benches, eight to a row in three rows, and the children sit three to a bench. There is no electricity, and the only light comes from the one window or the one piece of vinyl that replaces a single sheet of tin in the roof. I visited this same center last year on this trip and thoroughly enjoyed watching the children and their energetic, totally funny teacher sing songs and do silly motions for us. They were amazing. The room was depressing. Walking back in that room today slayed me. It was all the same - the same dark, dank classroom; the same desperate, desperate need; the same pain in tiny little faces; the same worn, ragged clothes. It was almost more than I could bear. As soon as the kids finished singing and we left the classroom to go outside and play, a little girl grabbed my hand and was my buddy the whole day. All I had to offer today was a hand to hold, a smile, a game. Important and yet woefully inadequate. Her name was Delita, and she was an absolute delight. I imagine her life is far from delightful.
Our kids continue to be amazing. They played with the kids at CFI and at Kechene. They did not cling. They weren't afraid. In fact, I had to go looking for them to see what they were up to and have the enjoyment of watching them participate. They love the whole team, and how blessed we are to see the adults on this team engaging them in conversation, playing cards with them, making sure they have hand saniziter, including them. After many long days and short nights already, they had baths and went to bed early tonight. I pray they rest well.
We are so blessed. As Michelle, our leader, has said many times, it is a privilege to be here doing this work. It is amazing to be doing it together as a family. It is important to know that children and mothers live this way. And it is imperative that we follow the direction of our Lord and do something about it. As our family verse for this trip says: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27.
Please pray for us as we start a new day of service tomorrow.