Hope In Ethiopia

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!

Here I Am Lord, Send Me

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.

Part 2: "Hope In Ethiopia"

Battle of the Blog

Ihave a love/hate relationship with blogging. I've shared about this before on previous blogs, but I used to be a more disciplined writer and thoroughly enjoyed blogging when I was in a publishing rhythm. I had an RSS reader churning through hundreds of feeds which was for all intents and purposes my daily newspaper. Fast-forward a few social network launches and the death of Google Reader and today I get most of my news from Twitter and a handful of sites I visit manually on a regular basis. Plus I've lost the discipline of blogging myself, mostly because in 2009 Twitter became my broadcasting medium.

Since then I've flirted with the idea of getting back into a blogging habit. I've made declarations of being "back in the game" before only to have things fizzle out. I'm fully aware that might happen again, but the only way I know how to aim for progress is to put one step forward and try to repeat that again and again. So here we are, another blog birthed and another initial post full of hope.

I've made a few key adjustments this time which I hope will aid in my discipline to blog regularly:

  1. I'm using a blog-centric platform called Ghost. In the past I've tried other solutions which were decent, but weren't as familiar to me as the days when I was running a Wordpress blog. I didn't want to go the WP route this time because I wanted something simpler to set up and manage. My friend Matt Smith reminded me of Ghost, so here I am. I still have my portfolio site online as well. Over time I may port the posts on that site over to this one.
  2. I'm trusting in the combination of RSS and Social Networks to help grow a readership. Since RSS isn't as highly used as it used to be and many people get their site updates via social networks and friends, I've been skeptical whether anyone would find and/or read anything I published. I asked on Twitter recently how people follow popular blogs and the answers showed a mix of social networks, RSS, and friends. It's clear that a combination of these things is key to promotion.
  3. I need and want to share more about the things I'm passionate about that are not design related. Years ago I wrote mostly about creativity, design, and inspiration and in turn I believe I grew in my discipline and understanding of this field. It's not rocket science. The more you consider, reflect, and write the sharper you become about the subjects you cover. Or at the very least you help challenge yourself on what you believe and care about. Either way, you see growth. I want to get back in that habit and I challenge myself on a variety of issues. If I stick with this, then I expect my writing to be more candid and honest. This is good for me, as I often struggle with the belief that I can't share something unless I have it all figured out. I want to break this. I want to be okay with being vulnerable in my writing. Hopefully that will cause me to grow as a person and in turn you'll see more of who I am.

So there you have it, another first post in the books. I have more already planned, some written, so there's at least hope of a blog with at least two pages of posts. :) Onward.