This is the first of a collection of posts regarding my involvement with a little community of kids in Zeway and a partnership called Hope in Ethiopia. Subsequent posts will explain in better detail who the kids are, what the partnership is about, and my experiences serving alongside them. But I want to start first by sharing how I got involved.
I am a creature of comfort. I'm at my happiest when everything around me is calm and if it's not, then I often find myself fighting to create the calm. When I have calm moments, I hold on tight and try to soak in as much as possible. Don't rock the boat. That's me.
I also cherish memories; recalling and reliving past experiences: "Remember that time when...", "Didn't we have so much fun when..." There's nothing inherently wrong with doing this. The past can be something we treasure.
But too often these things become my idols. When I fight for calm it's often at the expense of my relationship with my kids, my family. The irony is I tend to resort to a hard-handed means of creating calm, which is so backwards. When I reminisce it's often because I don't want to look into the future. I fear the unknown and I'm also trying to protect and maintain my safe little hamlet. Basically I'm a hobbit.
This is destructive behavior. I am not called to a life of ease. Pursuing a trouble-free, "safe" life is a fruitless endeavor. Happiness is a fleeting emotion and nothing compared to true joy. I'm not against happiness. I'd just rather pursue a life of joy, because joy can sustain you through the ups and downs, something happiness cannot do. And living in the past stunts your future. Continually looking back brings regret and regret beats me up and down. When the present is uncomfortable, the past shows easier times and provides a false means of escape. This is no way to live.
It's in light of these ugly truths about myself that I am forever thankful for one of God's greatest gifts to me, my wife Cynthia. Ever since I've known her she's dreamt big dreams for me, for us, and for our family. She lovingly nudges me along towards a life lived on mission by faith. I naturally struggle with selfishness and without her I shudder to think how self-absorbed I'd be. She won't take the credit for where we are because it's ultimately God who is steering our path, but I am thankful for her sensitivity to the Spirit and inherit desire to never sit still and grow stale.
Because God never gives up on me and neither does my loving wife, I am taking steps to live a life beyond selfishness, one that focuses on the here, now and into the future, and a life open to unknowns. One such step we took together last year was to foster children who need a safe and loving home and since October we've had the honor of caring for a sweet little girl with a smile of gold. Fully opening my heart to a child who is not my own and living in the reality that she could leave our home at any moment has taught me enough things to warrant it's own blog post. But taking this step showed me a new facet of God's heart and the love He has for His children and I found myself wanting to open my life up more to children in need. Through a serious of seemingly random thoughts and decisions, not long after we began fostering, I found myself applying to be part of a team bound for Zeway, Ethiopia, the next step in my living beyond myself.
I say "seemingly random" because as I look back on that time now it's clear to me that nothing was random or by chance, though in those moments I didn't have answers for all of the "whys". God grants us free will and desires for us to choose Him even if we don't have all of the answers (which we don't). If you're a parent then it's the same thing with the relationship you have with your children. You don't want to control and coerce them into obedience. You want them to choose to obey, follow your guidance and remain in relationship with you because they love you and you love them. You want to see your son or daughter process the decision in front of them and, even though they may not understand the situation it in it's entirety, place their faith in you and trust that you love them and want what's best for them.
I saw the announcement for the annual trip to Zeway and immediately felt stirred to consider it. I've seen these announcements before, but hadn't had this kind of reaction until now. I didn't know why I was going and I didn't know what I would be doing there. All I knew is I felt called to go (Cynthia sensed the same thing on her own before I even mentioned it to her) and I was again opening my life up to the unknown. I couldn't imagine what set of skills I had to offer to the people in Zeway and the team chosen to go. We weren't there to build a building or accomplish a project. All I had was my time and open hands to offer, to be used to help these kids and the organizations involved in whichever ways they were needed. Here I am Lord, send me.
Our culture loves a project, a set of goals, a to-do list. Sometimes life calls for XYZ to be checked off, but to prescribe that plan of attack to every endeavor we take can sometimes cause more harm than good ("plan of attack" is probably not the right choice of words when talking orphan care, but we also love our war and sports analogies). This trip would be different. Indeed the purpose of Hope in Ethiopia is to transform communities in Zeway (and here in Austin, TX) through caring for and meeting the needs of orphans. That manifests itself in many different ways, but one of the primary ones is through building and maintaining relationships with the orphans in the program. We visit them in their homes, we learn about their lives, hopes, dreams, struggles, and needs. Yes we support them directly through financial support which empowers them to attend school, maintain a roof over their heads, and food in their stomach. But given the heartache and degree of trauma many of these children have suffered, one of the greatest ways we can help them is relationally through encouragement, opening up our lives to them, putting our arms around them as we bear their burdens and celebrate their victories. This, I learned, was what I had to offer. My open hands and surrendered heart.
With inoculations coursing through my veins, bags packed, and kisses and hugs to my family, I joined up with my team (a total of 9 of us) in Austin's airport and began the long trek to Ethiopia. I was pumped! I was on my way to Africa.