Ihave been aware of Hope in Ethiopia for several years since most of the people involved go to my local church. I'll admit that I casually listened to the reports from the team but never took action to get involved myself. As I mentioned in my previous post it wasn't until we opened the door to fostering that I felt led to take a closer look. Hope in Ethiopia was born when the orphan and adoption ministry of my local church, Grace Covenant Church, became aware of a community of orphan-led households in Zeway, Ethiopia and surrounding towns. This was brought to their attention through a relationship they had with Food for the Hungry who were already present in Ethiopia, working to end poverty. These orphans were thrown into caring for each other after the death of their parents. To survive they would find whatever ways they could to make money to buy food, which in turn robbed them of the chance to go to school and gain an education. Many of these children had no other people in their lives to rely on for support. Without intervention these kids essentially have little hope for a future.
In 2009 the first team visited these kids in their homes, heard their stories, met with leaders in the community and began the work of assembling a supportive program. Money was raised to help fund the relief efforts which include food and water, school supplies, clothing, health care, shelter, vocational training, and emotional and spiritual support through the mentorship of local social workers and church members. What this enables is peace of mind to children who bear adult-sized responsibilities so that they are free to have a childhood and hope for a better future.
The organization is running 5 years strong through the support of donors who give regularly towards these support efforts. Stories of transformation and redemption continue to emerge with updates from Zeway. There is on-going communication between those of us in Austin and the team on the ground in Zeway throughout the year, but one of the best ways of gaining an update is to physically be there in Zeway, talking with the FH team and the kids. This is why I was sent.
I've been to Africa a couple times before on safari in Kenya so I knew already that Africa is like no other place in the world. I had some understanding of the environment I would be in, the sights and smells, but this would be my first time to Ethiopia and my first time up close and personal with the people rather than from the perspective of a tourist. We arrived in Addis Ababa and began our 3 hour drive to Zeway, which is located in the Rift Valley. The population of Zeway is around 50,000. When we pulled into the town I saw people and animals walking everywhere. The area is very dusty, but it is located on a large lake, Lake Zeway, so there is some relief from the dust and the dirt. The majority of the buildings are of humble stature but occasionally you would see a home or building similar to what we're accustom to in the U.S. I was curious about the livestock which again were everywhere, either put to work or slowly meandering through the streets. I asked one of the locals if the animals continue roaming the streets at night and he said no, when the sun is setting they know it's time to return back to their homes. I had a good laugh at this. This was a going to be a different place.
Despite a long journey of flights and car rides we all settled in fairly well our first day, which was Sunday. Monday would be our first full day of home visits. The schedule for most of the week looked roughly like this:
- 7:30am — Breakfast at our hotel, a wonderful place called the Bethlehem Hotel
- 8:00am — Meet up with the FH team for a time of worship, devotional, and prayer before we went out on our visits
- 9:00am — Break up into two teams and visit 2-3 households
- Noon — Lunch
- 2:00pm — Visit another 2-3 households
- 6:00pm — Dinner
Time in Zeway moves at a pace different from what we're used to in the States. We knew generally when we needed to be at a place but rarely did we hold hard and fast to the schedule. It was a wonderful break from the neck-break speed at which we like to run our days. I enjoyed not always looking at the clock, letting moments move and flow as they wished, and allowing the day to carry me through rather than trying to bend it to my will.
House visits are worthy of their own post, which I plan to focus on with my next one. But I'll share with you a general summary of what they were like. We typically spent an hour with each family, sitting in their one room house and talking to them (with the help of a translator) about a variety of topics. We were aware that it could be intimidating for a group of white people to show up and start asking questions, so we handled these times with great care. These kids are already familiar with who we are and they obviously know the local social workers who were with us. Some kids had met a couple of the people on our team when they visited Zeway for the first time two years ago. These reunions were priceless: hugs, smiles, joy. We asked them about their schooling, health, hopes & dreams, if they'd be willing to share their story of how they became involved in the FH program, etc. Again I'll go into more detail in the next post, but to say these visits were impactful would be an understatement. It was truly an honor for me to be there with them in their homes. Life-changing.
So have you wondered yet why there's a photo of an origami bird at the top of this post? Let me talk about that. We brought with us a bag full of these origami birds, made by the 5th grade class of one of the sons of our team leaders. As we visited with the kids we handed each of them a bird and we shared a biblical truth with them which comes from the book of Matthew Chapter 6:25-26 which states:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)
How often do you worry? I worry daily, about big things and little things. And I'm 37 living in Austin, TX with a house, two cars, a steady job, retirement accounts, stocked refrigerator, etc. My worries are not limited to material possessions, though I know I care too much about them, but I worry about my family, my friends, my safety. Now imagine a 12 yr old boy who just lost his mother to illness, his father shortly after from abandonment, and now he's responsible for himself and his four younger siblings. Can you imagine the weight of that? Can you fathom what that boy must've thought. Oh, and he's living in one of the poorest countries in the world. I've never lived in shoes like his a day of my life. My first home visit was with this family where I got to meet him in person. When it came time for us to hand out the birds this truth, that God does not want us to worry because He loves and cares for us more than any other creature He created, slammed into me like a ton of bricks. How does a kid with little to no possessions or support system bear that burden? Does he possess the strength and ability to shoulder that on his own? Survive he might, through the shear effort of his young body which has been thrown into an unimaginable reality. But the human spirit is not capable of thriving under such circumstances. In fact we heard stories from and even witnessed an attempt of suicide by a child while we were there. It's not hard to connect the dots to that kind of decision when someone lives in a reality that is seemingly hopeless. So it's with the power of this truth from Matthew 6 and our reliance on the gospel that we shared the hope and joy we have in Jesus with these kids. The paper bird is a reminder that they are not alone nor forgotten. They are loved deeply by people on this earth and by God in heaven. He knows their needs and will meet them. And we have the privilege of being used by God to help accomplish that.
I saw hope in Ethiopia. This program is working. That 12 yr old boy is now 16. He and his brothers and sisters still have very little, but they wear smiles which reveal the hope they have inside. They shared their story, dreams and needs with us. We were their guests and now we are their ambassadors. In a way we are family now. Their story is but one of many incredible stories we heard on our home visits. My next post will dive deeper into those moments. Stay tuned!