Friday and Saturday, July 24 & 25
Three ladies and two men. Four middle-aged and a twenty-something. Two were from families of ten children. Three grew up on farms. One was married. Two had never been married. What a mix! This group of five was bound for Ethiopia.
The purpose of our trip was to visit, investigate, and evaluate the efforts of Life In Abundance (LIA) projects that needed ongoing funding. We wanted to see what needs were present and how well those needs are being met. Personally, I was eager to discover how LIA conducted their program. How do they recruit churches, train locals, practice accountability, and enable locals to be self-sustaining?
We departed on Friday afternoon 24 July from Dayton, Ohio. Our connections through Detroit and Amsterdam were tight. I told to the team to pray for our transfers because our alternative wasn’t good. Flights to Ethiopia only occurred every other day. Missing a flight would make us forty-eight hours late and add the expense of two nights’ lodging. I love prayer. We made all our connections!
I met some people of special interest on the plane. Bill and Missy worked for Campus Crusade for Christ, and were good friends with one of my former students, Chris Sarver. I also met Matt. He and his wife had started an orphanage in Ethiopia that was operated by locals. They visited the facility around four times a year. On this trip, however, they had a special interest. They were picking up two boys to adopt as their own sons.
Sunday 26 July
Our jet lag was minimal after a pretty good night’s sleep at the LIA guest house in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. I was awakened by the Muslim early-morning call to prayer. Which I wouldn’t mind so much if they would just let it go after a call or two, but it seems that a broadcast of the entire prayer service over the public address system is deemed necessary. We attended a protestant service at Covenant Life, a church of over 500. I was amazed by the devotion of the people to God, the great interaction between the pastor and his people, and how quickly the two and a half hours went by. After a great lunch at the guest house, we had a riding tour of the town. The National Cathedral was nice, but also disappointing. The atmosphere seemed religious but not necessarily spiritual. In fact, buried there was Haile Selassie, who is revered by the Rastafarians as a messiah. Africa’s largest open-air market is in Ghana. I was interested in walking through the market, but wasn’t allowed. I was told that it was too dangerous. I didn’t push the issue. At one point we paused during the tour for a traditional coffee ceremony. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I participated. The coffee was strong and bitter; actually I only drank a couple swallows. At the ceremony a young man, Daveet, told how, as a young man, he had stolen a box of New Testaments to sell. He kept one, and years later that New Testament was how he learned about Jesus and being his disciple. The last place we stopped was a modern shopping area. It was much like a USA shopping center except it was more compact and was almost entirely constructed of stone. From there we walked back to the guest house, about a forty-five minute walk. It was fun to have small children run up to us and want to shake our hands. However, they seemed to ignore one member of our group. She finally figured out why. She is African-American! Us white people were the peculiar ones.
We had the country director join us for dinner, after which he gave his spiritual story and gave an account of his journey with LIA.
Monday 27 July
We joined the LIA staff this morning. They fast and pray every Monday morning from 9am to 1pm. We stayed for about thirty minutes and then left for Debrebrhan. It was a three-hour drive through the country. It was beautiful. The landscape was green and rolling. Scattered on the hill sides were men plowing with teams of oxen, shepherds with their flocks, and fields of crops. The road was good and bad, and we had to share it with cattle, sheep, donkeys, and goats. Our final destination was a very undeveloped town. But our hotel was nice – hot running water, sometimes electric, a TV (that didn’t work), and rubber slippers. Pretty much the entire country of Ethiopia is on an electric sharing plan. Half of an area has electricity for about a day while the other segment has no electricity. The next day they switch. People just take it as normal. Kind of like we accept the fact that gas prices fly around multiple times a day. The hotel’s restaurant was the only place we ate. The first meal I ordered was hamburgers – I was curious how they treated American food. The burgers were nearly burned, but at least I knew they were cooked through!
We visited a church that has several holistic programs and dreams of new programs. for example, girls’ soccer has no teams even though there is interest by some girls in the town. So the church plans to start a league. The church was started by a dozen people under the age of thirty-five. Attendance has greatly grown, yet still eighty percent of the people are under age thirty-five. Less than three percent of the people in the town are Protestant believers. Most are Orthodox, and most Orthodox members are old – like me. I had a fun ride in a horse-drawn cart, and I stopped at a group of boys to watch them play marbles. They invited me to join, and they promptly beat me.
Tuesday 28 July
The leadership from yesterday’s church, Full Gospel Church (FGC), took us visit the homes of people who are receiving assistance from the church. They included:
- a mother who was loaned some money to prepare food for people to “take out” at lunch.
- a mother with two children who needed some child support. She asked Jesus to accept her as his disciple while we were there.
- a mother of five children who asked us not to publically pray for her because her landlord was from the Ethiopian Orthodox church. She was afraid he would hear about the Protestant Christians praying for her and throw her out of the house.
- a mother who took in her adult daughter who had a child. This house was the only one we visited with a cement floor. I believe all other houses had a dirt floor. Some homes and churches laid pieces of linoleum on the dirt to lessen the dust.
- a blind boy who was being raised by his mentally ill mother. The mother locked the boy in the house while she was gone all day. He was severely delayed in both his intellectual and physical abilities. I stepped away from the group and asked God, “I am overwhelmed, Lord. And I am only seeing a few of the needy people in this country, let alone this world. What do you want from me? How do we fix this?” And I sensed a quick, personal reply, “One person at a time.”
- a lame girl who is staying with a kind neighbor. The girl is twenty-five years old and will be entering grade three. She was unable to attend school until recently because her lack of mobility kept her from reaching the building. Oh how I wanted to have the faith to let God heal her. But I’m afraid my ego would become too inflated if God used in me in such a way.
We traveled back to the hotel for lunch, passing a construction crew literally building a road by hand. Using sledges, wedges, and human strength they were breaking and removing solid rock that was about ten feet deep.
After lunch, we then visited five HIV-positive shut-ins:
- a twenty-something girl whose husband left her, her baby died, and she is partially paralyzed. She was the most hopeless and resentful of all we visited.
- a lady who was a member of FGC. She was bedfast because she was too weak to move.
- a single mother of one who lived in a building of which one room was used to house sheep. Actually the mother had other children, but she knew she could not take care of them so she gave them away. Such giving away of children is common in Ethiopia.
- and two other ladies who are regularly cared for by this church.
After today I was overwhelmed with the idea of needing to do something.
Wednesday 29 July
We started the day’s activities by traveling to a market area. The leadership of FGC wanted to purchase some supplies. I got out of the van to stretch and was approached by a lady who asked me to marry her. I declined. FGC purchased sheets, blankets, and flooring for some of the people we visited yesterday. The flooring is very thin linoleum that is unrolled onto the dirt floor. While walking between houses, we met a young blind boy who sang us a song. His strong and melodious voice seemed out of place in the midst of the poverty. Out of place but uplifting. Today was the first day that I noticed how Ethiopians said their version of “Yeah”. They would take an audible, brief, strong inhale. It forms no word or utterance, but it carries the same meaning throughout the country – “Yeah”, “Yes”, or “I understand”.
We briefly painted some of a church building. It was cut short because FGC wanted us to visit a church that is active in relationships with Compassion International’s child sponsorship program as well as CHE’s holistic service. As I reflect, it seems as if the painting project was manufactured for us. We worked while the FGC people watched, the time slot wasn’t nearly long enough to complete the project, and the actual project seemed unnecessary. I wonder if this was an example of locals trying to give the foreigners what they think we want – a sense of accomplishment.
In the evening we went to someone’s home for a traditional coffee ceremony. Their daughter sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with great flair and pride. She was wonderfully funny and lady-like. We wanted to teach her a song, but her English was limited. I thought of a song from my childhood days in Sunday School. It only had a few words that we just would repeat. Plus it was designed to sing in rounds while using motions. We stood and sat and sang and laughed and clapped. Everybody was a good sport, and we had a good time. However, this was the first day that I sensed some group tension. Some of our politeness wasn’t coming as easily. Nothing serious, we were just getting tired, some were sick, and all the adjustments of living conditions combined to make us a little irritable.
Thursday 30 July
We were on the road by eight in the morning. Our group was joined by five other people on our journey back to Addis Ababa. The five were composed of our driver, two LIA representatives, and two pastors from FGC in Debrebrhan. It was crowded! We had to lash our luggage to the top of the vehicle, but the driver wrapped everything in a tarp and it stayed dry. I had wanted to get some pictures of men plowing by oxen in the countryside. However, it was a nationally-recognized day-of-rest from physical labor so no one was in the field. We arrived back at the guest house for a wonderful meal that included vegetables and salad. It was interesting to me that the restaurant in Debrebrhan had no fresh vegetables, or fruit, on the menu. The team missed their fruits and veggies! We used the afternoon for rest, walks, reading and even some table games. Someone in the group said that the slower pace allowed them to think and gave them time to breathe. I liked that imagery. My neighbors in Ohio are from Ethiopia, so before I left on this trip I asked them if they wanted to send anything to, or receive anything from, family in Ethiopia. They did. They sent some pictures and notes and were to receive some spices. Well, this was the day that my neighbor’s family came to the guest house to exchange items. We offered them some coffee and cake, and we had a nice visit. I must say that the spices were different than I expected. I was given almost twenty pounds of spices! I thought US customs might have a problem with it, but they didn’t. That evening the LIA staff for Ethiopia stopped by to thank us for coming. They presented gifts then took us to dinner at a restaurant where traditional dances and songs were performed as authentic Ethiopian meals were served. The dances were incredible! The dances were the hardest cardio workout ever. It bothered me that they paid for these things; they have so little money. It was just another example of over-the-top hospitality to keep the USA people happy.
Friday 31 July
The city of Addis Ababa is home to six million people. Fifty thousand of those people are homeless children. We visited an organization that is trying to make a dent in this tragedy. The office of the organization, Mercado, was well off the main street. I would not have even considered walking there by myself. People who have nothing, have nothing to lose. The Mercado project is approved by the government. It doesn’t receive any government money, but the government approval helps trim some red tape. They work with around fifty young men age sixteen and older who were living on the street. The boys earn increasing privileges by showing responsibility and maturity. The goal is for them to have a place to live and a job to earn enough money to pay for rent, food, clothing, and maybe a little extra. We talked with several young men and then went to see a couple of their homes. Their home is called a peer house. Four boys live in a ten-by-ten room. The boys were proud of their little room with a dirt floor and no window. It wasn’t much, but it was theirs. Again I saw that the world is changed one person at a time.
After a couple hours of relaxation, we visited a little church called Antioch Church. They started with just a vision of a pre-school for children three to six years of age who could not afford to attend public school. They now have two small metal buildings with dirt floors and no windows. Volunteers usually teach the children, but on the day of our visit the children were teaching each other. The church built two outside shower stalls for the children, but they learned that renting the stalls for the public to bath generates a little income.
Next we went to ALERT, a hospital that specializes in helping those with leprosy. It offers long-term care for those in advanced stages of the disease. Those with leprosy spin their own thread, loom their own cloth, and do hand-stitched embroidery. We went to the gift shop. Their work was incredible, beautiful, and inexpensive. We all said that we wanted to return the next day for a final shopping fling.
Saturday 1 August
I started the morning with a wonderfully hot shower. The electric was on so the water could heat. We returned to ALERT for some final shopping. We also visited some tourist areas looking for bargains. Near the tourist area is a place sponsored by HOPE International that is dedicated to providing meals for those who need such help. HOPE serves around one thousand meals per day, six days a week. I really enjoyed seeing the joy on the faces of the people who were serving. We continued to stroll the tourist traps. In one area a lady “patrolled” around us. She carried long tube which she used to hit the children who would come up begging.
Back at the guest house I rested, walked through some of the town, read, packed, and took another hot shower. It was wonderful. We made it through the airport pretty well and boarded the plane on time – 11:00pm.
Sunday 2 August
The team was in good spirits. I think we were all ready to be home. All of us agreed that it was a great experience, but so is returning home. Our departure from Ethiopia’s airport was delayed because the one lady was too ill to travel. That gave us one hour between landing in Amsterdam and taking off for Detroit. It was very close, but we walked up to the door of the ramp with a couple minutes to spare. God made that happen. Again we had a delayed departure due to a sick passenger. I never really thought about that until typing this right now. What are the chances of that? The sky cleared as we flew over Greenland. It was incredibly beautiful! It was mountain peak after mountain peak of shining white snow. I sat beside Paula. She was a medical missionary in Tanzania for years. She was going to see one of her grandchildren for the first time. She talked pretty much nonstop. I finally pulled out my headphones. We had about one hour from the time we landed to the time we were to be at the gate of our next flight. We had to find our baggage, get through customs, and find our gate. Impossible. Once again, it happened. We were all safe and sound in Dayton Ohio. One of our bags didn’t arrive, but that was a minor issue. We were all safe and sound, and all the richer for the experience.