Friday, May 28, 2010

I Saw Jesus Today - Part 2

Sometimes you meet someone and you just know there's nothing there in terms of potential friendship material. Even when you meet someone who has a need and you help feel that need, sometimes you know it's a one-time encounter. Meeting Cathy was not one of those cases. During our initial conversation we had in my car, I felt like telling her she "had me" at "give to others." I like to surround myself with people that have that kind of heart to help, so in my view, I made a new friend. In fact, just before she got out of the car, she again mentioned she was going to try to pay me back. My response was, "All I want is your friendship."

I told my wife all about Cathy and we both wanted to do something more. Our initial plan was to get some sisters in the Lord together and take Cathy out for a "just because you are you" celebration, but nobody in our area responded. We do have support from a handful of non-local friends, and for that we are truly grateful. As far as the in-person contact though, Cindy and I are apparently on our own.

I called Cathy Tuesday and found out she was in the hospital for surgery(ies) on her leg. I talked to her for about half an hour. She told me they were removing several bone chips from under her kneecap and also sawing down the bones that were breaking through her skin. I am not clear whether she had already had one surgery at that point or not, but she told me that since I had prayed for her leg, it has felt better than it ever has since the accident. She also told me that all the hate, animosity and anger she had toward the family members (and others) who had abused her lifted off of her when I prayed, and I hadn't even specifically prayed for that. She said she didn't believe in my God and I told her she didn't have to to be my friend. I reiterated to her that I'm her friend because we have a common heart for helping others, and that's it. If she never goes to church, I'm still her friend. Then my wife talked to her for 45 minutes. Wow, my wife was amazing - loving yet bold. I was watching the boys while she talked in the basement, but I caught bits and pieces. Later Cindy told me that Cathy said she was an atheist, to which Cindy replied, "No, I know you're not, I believe you're tender toward God even if you don't want to admit it." Cathy replied that she had not been for years, but all that had changed when I prayed for her. She FELT God's presence and was touched that I was not afraid to put my hand directly on her skin graft (FYI, it was the lower leg, so neither her nor I considered that inappropriate). I had felt absolutely nothing when I prayed, but I know enough not to go by feelings. God is so far beyond what we feel or don't feel, and He is certainly not limited by the fact that we are imperfect vessels (trust me, if He uses me, He can use anyone). He is an awesome God!

Cindy and I tried to visit Cathy in the hospital on Wednesday but we had to turn back due to construction traffic (even without traffic it is an hour's drive one way). I called her yesterday because we wanted to try again, but she had already been released and was staying with a friend. This time when I spoke to her I could tell she was in a great deal of pain. Cindy and I are going to try to visit her Saturday afternoon and take her some food.

To those of you who DID contact me, you have no idea what it means to me. Yes, this woman has a past, but don't we all? And yes, she has some things going on in her present as well, but we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. There's something God wants to do. This was not a chance encounter. Thank you for reading this and for caring. I appreciate your time and your prayer support. More soon!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Saw Jesus Today

Especially in a world of with Facebook and Twitter, it seems that Matthew 6:1-4 has been all but completely thrown to the wind. You know, it's the verse that says we shouldn't do good deeds to be seen by others, and that we should actually try to "not let the left hand know what the right is doing." There are things my wife and I have done (and regularly do) that nobody knows about except the recipient(s), and we like it that way. However, there are times when it is right to say something, and this is one of those exceptions. You'll see why soon.

Further in Matthew, chapter 25, we read that Jesus says, "In as much as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me." I met 'Jesus' today and he was in bad shape. My heart is very heavy because I don't know what the next move could/should be.

At 12:30 this afternoon I was heading home on Hwy 70 after playing golf for five hours. Someone paid my way to take part in a scramble and I joined for the fellowship. It was only the second time in my life that I've played golf. The first time was in high school PE so, given the fact that all of us were beginners, I wasn't that bad in comparison. Today I played with people who were definitely not beginners, and I stunk. After five hours I was hot, hungry, and a bit aggravated because I wished I could have done better and saved myself some embarrassment. I was looking forward to having lunch with my wife while her parents watched our kiddos.

As I was replaying the worst golf strokes in my mind I drove past a woman hitchhiking. It's not often you see a hitchhiker anymore, much less a woman. I immediately started praying protection over her so that wrong person would not pick her up. Then I heard the Holy Spirit say, "You pick her up." I used to do that all the time when I was single, but being married and a father, I want to use wisdom. I checked to make sure my spirit bore witness and yes, it was 100%. I turned around, headed back the other way, and then retraced my path to hopefully find her.

When I pulled up behind the woman I could see something was wrong with her legs. She wasn't just bowlegged, she was hobbling. I checked traffic, pulled out and then moved to where I was in front of her. She excitedly hobbled up as I reached over and opened the passenger door. She got in, tears in her eyes, and kept repeating, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." We finally got to introductions and I learned her name was Cathy. She immediately started telling me about how she gives to others without expecting anything in return. She apparently opens her little apartment to neighborhood kids and feeds them to the point that she has virtually nothing left for herself. She also takes in animals that shelters are going to put to sleep and feeds them at her own expense. She kept saying, "You're it! You're the way it's coming back to me." I told her I am happy to do it, glad I could help, and that I expect nothing in return. I then asked her about her legs and ended up finding out much more. Here's a quick summary:

1) Starting at 12 years old, she was raped on a regular basis by her real dad.
2) Her mom remarried and her step-dad was an alcoholic who beat her for years.
3) She is 54 and has two sons, 30 and 20. The 30 yr old is in jail.
4) Her husband committed suicide by hanging himself.
5) She ran an escort service in the 80's.
6) In her early 20's she was hit by a drunk driver. Both her legs were crushed and her pelvis shattered.
7) She is very poor and, although she didn't come right out and say this, I think she turns tricks to pay for her apartment and food.

She told me that she has several pins in her legs, but due to repeated falling, they have worked their way out and some have even pierced the skin. She showed me her lower leg and knee. Trust me, she's not lying. Her leg looks like it has been piecemealed together. She said she had walked four miles before I picked her up and had fallen twice. That was hard enough to hear. She then said, "I don't have a car so I have to get rides. 99.9 percent of the guys that pick me up give me $30 in exchange for a bl*wj*b." I was taken back by how blunt she was but counteracted quickly, "Well first of all, as a male, I'm embarrassed and saddened that there are people out there who treat you like that." She began to weep and exclaimed how degrading it was. I then told her that not only am I going to give her (amount) dollars, I don't want anything, nothing whatsoever, in return. Several times during the trip she broke down and sobbed. I spoke to her of God's compassion, unconditional love, and how much value she has in His eyes and mine. She gave me her number and insisted that I call her and let her pay me back after she gets her disability check in a couple weeks, but I told her I meant what I said about not wanting anything in return. I offered to drive her all the way to her door, but she wanted to be dropped off at QT. She apparently was going to call someone to take her grocery shopping. I offered to take her, but she was adamant that it would take too long. She let me pray for her, hugged me, and then hobbled over to the pay phone. I left and went home, but she has not left my thoughts.

I know I've posted the Keith Green song "Asleep in the Light" on this blog before, but I have to post a couple lines from it again.

'Cause He brings people to you door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
"God bless you, be at peace"
And all heaven just weeps
'Cause Jesus came to you door
You've left him out on the streets

I can't help but think...Yes, I picked 'Jesus' up, but then I dropped him off at QT (I know that might sound funny, but I'm being completely serious). Could I have done more? Should I have done more? So, I have a thought. I'm looking for several people who would like to celebrate this woman's worth with me and my wife. I would like to arrange to pick her up (probably at QT), and I think it would be awesome if a small group took her out to eat as a way of telling her she's valuable. That would actually serve two purposes: First, she would know that people care about her and want to help. Secondly, those of you who went would see the kind of heart she has, as well as her leg situation. You'll see that nothing at all was embellished. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how to best help, but this would be a start. As a group we could pray and brainstorm about what to do further.

If you have read this far, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. I'm hoping I have some friends who will take me up on this. Please email me via Facebook or the email address in my blog profile if you want to be a part of it. Thank you!

Monday, July 20, 2009

"From Eternity to Here" Blog Tour

This is completely new to me, but I volunteered to participate in a blog tour for a new book by Frank Viola called "From Eternity to Here." Those who follow this blog know that I was touched and challenged by "Crazy Love" (Francis Chan) earlier this year. I guess it was someone from the publisher that sent an email out about the blog tour, and I decided to sign up. We had our choice of presenting two questions to the author OR writing a review of the book. I decided to go the two-question route. Below is a list of the bloggers who participated and my questions with the author's answers...

Bloggers who participated:

Jay Becker -

Mark D -

Igniting Hearts - Kimber Britner -

Karyn -

Barefoot Preacher -

Every Day Angels -

FaithEngineer -

Kristen Schiffman -

CrossPointe: The Church at Bevo -

Crazy Love for God -

Amazima Ministries -

Down to Write Honest -

A Beautiful Mess -

The Blakes on a Mission -

Words by Jud Kossum -

Eric Jaffe -

Reconnect with God –

2nd Cup of Coffee -

Nolan Bobbitt Website -

Klappyanne -

Daveingland -

Randi Jo Rooks -

Ephesians Five –

Michael Bayne -

Encounter Church Helena Blog -

Thoughts B4 Conviction N2 Action -

Edevotion -

Seeking After -

Eric Powell -

Borrowed Light -

Question One:
>>In the book you describe the Bride of Christ as being flawless (p. 49). There are Scriptures (i.e. 1 Peter 4:17) that speak of God judging/purging the church. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." I have always heard it preached that the "without spot or wrinkle" description is something we should strive for, therefore implying that we are not there yet. Would you say that the "status" of the church is similar to our status as believers....that she ALREADY IS blameless (just as we are already righteous as a result of being saved) yet there are still human natures that cause her to corporately need God's correction (just as we as believers still struggle with sin)? That would seem to make sense to me...just wondered if you could expand.>>

As I point out in the book, there's no such thing as "positional truth" and I give illustrations demonstrating this. In the eyes of God, the church IS without blame, pure, and holy because she's IN Christ. That's a reality; not a "positional" thing. At the same time, God is transforming individual believers in space/time to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He's transforming clay to precious stone to make up His habitation, His resting place. The latter, however, doesn't happen very well if we do not stand on the ground of the former ... which means to take God's view rather than our own. To put it another way, the Christian life is becoming what you already are.

Question Two:
>>The concept of acting "in Him, through Him, and with Him" has been presented much more often as something for us as individuals rather than the corporate Church / Bride of Christ. Do those "in Him, through Him, and with Him" Scriptures pertain to the Bride, to us as individuals, or both? >>

Certainly both, however, the strong emphasis is on the body of Christ first. For instance: Every letter that Paul wrote with the exception of 4, were written to local communities whose members had a shared life and who Paul called "the body of Christ." Thus all the "you's" in those letters were plural. (If you are from the south, they should be translated "you'all." This corporate, collective dimension of our faith has been largely lost, since most Westerners read their Bibles with individualistic glasses. But God's intention is for a corporate expression of His Son.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 8

Well obviously this post was a long time coming. Part of the delay was due to having much on my plate (helping a friend in need, attending to work-related issues, and helping my mom who was recently hospitalized), but I also think a big part of it was that I wanted to HAVE to revisit my experience. I guess the fear was that if I "finish" writing about my Ethiopia trip, it will drift farther and farther from my mind. Maybe the trip in general will, but finding a way to minister to people in need will not, regardless of where or who those people are.

Friday morning, as usual, I awoke at 5am and got up to spend time alone with God. The first thing I noticed was that my neck was much better and I was so happy and thankful. However, there was a sadness in my heart because I knew that it was the last time, at least for this trip, that I would sit at the dining room table with a cup of coffee and my Bible, feasting on God's Word as the daylight began to pour into the room. Often I would look outside the sliding glass door as the grass and flowers vibrantly glowed in the early morning light, and just dwell on God's goodness, faithfulness, love and grace. I just listen. We live such busy lifestyles in the U.S. that often just "being" in God's presence, crawling up onto His lap and laying our heads on His shoulder, is something that rarely happens. Too often we race through the One-Year-Bible assigned reading, offer up a few petition prayers, then rush off to the day's tasks. I want more. I need more. Early mornings are the first fruits of the day, and for me at least, it is a very special time.

One by one, people stirred, music played, dogs barked, more coffee brewed, and the room filled with the awesome individuals that together made our team. I missed them already. We all finished breakfast, loaded up the vans, and took off for the first location, Kechene School. It is a school supported by outside sponsors so that the students can attend free (it is in one of the poorest areas). As with previous sponsored places, the difference was very clear. The children had uniforms, well-stocked and nicely-decorated classrooms, and they proudly sang songs for us with a robust enthusiasm that is rarely seen in the U.S. We hugged them all, said goodbye, and headed to the next orphanage, Kebetabshay. They had a larger campus than previous places, but for good reason as there are 150 children who live there. We went around and visited with the children and, once again, there was one child in particular that stood out. He didn't know any English, but he understood my smile and recognized love, and that speaks volumes. Our last stop was Moses School, but no kids were present. This is a true orphanage in that the children live there, but "School" in their name is not quite accurate because they attend school elsewhere (which is why the kids were gone). We just took a short tour of the facility and then that was it. It was hard to believe we were finished. It was rather anticlimactic due to the kids being gone, and it just left me with that "This is it?" kind of emptiness. After lunch we went to a couple market areas and everyone did souvenir shopping. I really didn't have much to buy so I used the opportunity to read more. We went back home to the Cherokee House, had dinner, showered, packed, then had a "debriefing" meeting. After that, we headed to the airport. Our flight left at 1:30am. After a total of 54 sleepless hours, I was back in my own bed.

I have heard it said that you can leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you. Having now been there, I understand this statement, and I completely agree.

To those of you who supported me financially and/or in prayer, THANK YOU! You helped inject these kids and orphanage directors with hope, and you kindled within me a desire to do more. We serve a faithful God, and I know He will richly bless you for caring enough to help others. Again, on behalf of myself and all those who were touched, THANK YOU!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 7

Thursday morning we shopped for mattresses and blankets for the Shallom Street Ministry that we had visited on Tuesday. The kids were not there because they were out doing work organized by the director. Therefore, the actual drop-off was fast, but the process of buying the supplies took the whole morning. I awoke VERY sore in my back and shoulders from tossing and spinning so many children the previous day, so the break gave me a chance to try to stretch out the kinks.

We had lunch at a carepoint called CFI, and the kids were as nice as could be. The carepoint is in a nicer neighborhood and the house was two-story. I went to walk up the stairs and banged my head HARD against the ceiling (the ceiling/stair design was such that the ceiling height did not change to leave headroom as people begin to climb the stairs). If it had been drywall, I would have busted a hole in it, but it was cement. I was stunned for a moment and actually thought I might have broken my neck. It was tingling and in tremendous pain. The rest of the afternoon and evening I had a very hard time turning my head to the right.

Our next stop was Brother’s Church where we met some of the people in the same community. By that time, I had a migraine-level headache, on top of the intense pain in my neck and my sore shoulders and back. Every balloon I blew up made my neck feel like it was being stabbed. But, I kept going. After everyone had balloons I sat on a chair and thought I'd catch a minute or two to relax. A girl came up to me and, with a big smile, proudly showed me the stickers she had received. She asked my name, how old I was, if I had any kids, and so forth. She was probably around 7 or 8 years old and knew English pretty well. I asked her the colors of various balloons and she told me the English color as well as the Amharic. What I thought might be a 5-minute conversation turned into 30 minutes. After the first several minutes I think she could tell I was not 100% and asked how I was. I just told her I was tired (I still conversed with her as I would have if I was 100%, it was just harder to do). She smiled, took the stickers off her shirt, and gave them to me. I was floored. I could tell by the way she showed them off when we met that they were important to her. And yet, she was willing to give them away simply to brighten my day. The amazing thing is, her generosity is typical of the Ethiopian people. Most Americans would not give up a couple cups of coffee a month to FEED an orphan for a month, and this girl gave away something very special to someone with a headache. That just breaks me. As we were going to the vans, I tried my best to tell them the stickers were hers, but she insisted that I keep them. She stood there and waved at me and the rest of the team until we disappeared from view. Someone asked me recently what the number one thing I took away from the trip was. Tough question, but this girl's gesture was probably it, because she was so willing to sacrifice for others despite facing much deeper needs herself. She "took us to school."

Our final stop for the day was Kolfe, and all-boys orphanage. The term "boys" is used loosely because many are men (up to age 25). They are not turned away just because they turn 18. They know they can stay until they are able to adjust and afford to live on their own. I had good conversations with two boys. I sat on one boy's bunk as he showed me his entire photo album and spoke of each picture. I could tell it was special that someone showed an interest in him personally instead of just looking around and leaving. I spoke with another "boy" who I would guess to be around 20 yrs old. We had a great conversation about many things, then the subject turned to his lame legs, which had been that way since birth. He said he had been taught that since he was born that way, God must want him that way. I respectfully disagreed and told him that God is a perfect, loving Father. I described that even myself, as an imperfect father, would never, ever want something like that for my sons. I could tell it gave him something to consider.

We went out to eat for dinner and it took a LONG time to get two hours or so. Going to bed that night was bittersweet; sweet because I needed it, but bitter because it would be our last night sleeping in Ethiopia. It seemed to go by so quickly.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 6

My first couple of years as a teacher was spent at a school that was not in the best part of town. Substitute teachers were hard to find because few wanted to go there. I never had any problems. For me, respect, encouragement, clear expectations, consistent discipline, good lesson plans, and a bit of humor thrown in was all that it took. Kids whom were seen by others as problem students, I saw as possibility students. More often than not, I was able to "break through" and become the one that spurs them forward. Part of what made the previous day difficult is that these were the same kind of boys - rough around the edges, but one look into their eyes and you know there is gold inside. However, given the short amount of time, I don't think any of us "broke through." Therefore, we left with the feeling we still had more to do...there was work left unfinished.

The first place we visited on Wednesday was definitely a change of pace. It was a place called Kind Hearts and the children ranged in age from 4-10. I went all out with swinging the kids around, throwing them up in the air (they never left my hands) and hanging them upside down by their ankles. I played frisbee with the older ones and "hide-the-balloon-under-my-shirt" with the younger ones. I plum wore myself out, but it was awesome. As usual, the gifts and supplies were big hits with the kids.

In the afternoon we toured a place called Hannah's Orphanage. This was the best we had seen and served as a model for other orphanages. In fact, they even had a library and a computer room. Most of the children stay in rented houses, with the older (16-18 yr old) ones acting as head-of-households. Most are in school and shared with us their career dreams. Because of the support they are receiving, those dreams are certainly within reach.

Toward the end of the visit, I was told that the parents of a 7 yr old girl playing near us had both died of AIDS. She is HIV Positive. I watched her bounce a soccer ball back and forth with one our team members and thought about how so many take life for granted. As we were getting ready to leave, I gave her a hug. I can't explain it, but I could tell by the way she hugged me that she knows the score. And, she knows that I know, and that I know that she knows, if you follow. That hug was very special. Again, words fail me here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 5

The past couple of nights I have slept all the way through, but I have also dreamed of the needs I saw in Ethiopia, so I have awakened with a heavy heart. Today especially has been tough as my thoughts have been on this post, which will likely be the most difficult.

Our first stop was a center run by Emmanuel Church. It appeared to be a day-care type place where mothers could bring their kids for social interaction, meals and other care. Inside one of the rooms I enjoyed complimenting the children on their coloring, which was obviously something they rarely got to do. Outside, I played with several kids and helped tie up balloons to hand out. The mothers and children alike were so beautiful inside and out. This was another occasion where there were no specific kids that stuck out to me, but rather it was a chance to love on as many as possible. It was the first time that I had knowingly held a child with full-blown AIDS, and it was right as we were leaving. I simply cannot describe how that felt. I wish I could.

After lunch we visited a place called Shallom. It is a rescue center for street kids, run by a woman who, like the director I mentioned in my previous post, is famous in Heaven. In fact, she has been doing this, on her own, for 14 years. From what I understand, she has funded it herself as well. She told us that she takes the kids out and has them "work" by going out and witnessing to other street kids. Some also shine shoes. She does this to try to instill a work ethic in them as well as self-confidence. The main room, which had a dirty, splintery wood floor, is where the kids sleep. That's right - on a hardwood floor. Most of them cannot afford to go to school either.

Imagine, if you will, that you are scaling a tall cliff with no ropes. You reach a point to where you are exhausted, and your feet give way. You are holding on with only your hands, and you feel the strength leaving as your and arms begin to shake. Then, in the nick of time and out of nowhere, someone grabs your wrist and pulls you up to a ledge. You are given water, food and get some much needed strength to move on. This time, however, you are accompanied by partners who are encouraging you and sustaining you. As we talked with the director, she hinted around and said everything just short of "I'm done. I can't do this anymore." Our team left her with encouragement, hope, blankets and mattresses for the kids (which we bought and delivered on Thursday), financial assistance, and the very likely possibility of a stateside sponsor. She wept.

Here is some additional information on why her job was/is so difficult. None of the boys were physically affectionate like so many other places we have visited, and no wonder. They have lived on the streets and have had to fend for themselves, which probably consists of a pecking order, with the higher members getting first dibs on the trash heap. My guess is that they are between 9 and 12 yrs old. Most of these kids are HIV positive and many have been preyed upon by men who wait for them outside the shelter and rape them. One boy in particular had been raped multiple times by multiple people. Another boy had been beaten up and a cup was placed over his eye and then pulled off in an attempt to pull his eyeball out with the suction. His eyeball remained, but the fluid came out and his eye became useless. If you use your imagination, the implications of why someone would want his eyeball out are sickening. This is where I have a hard time remaining spiritual. If I see a parent slap a child in the grocery store, at the very least I'll give him or her an angry look, and sometimes I say something. I don't care what the child did, you don't slap a child in the face. When I imagine following one of those boys outside the property and witnessing a man attacking him, the kind of things that enter my mind are violent and scary. Forget justice, it would all be about retribution at that point...I have to stop there.

The director mentioned to us that she is trying to get out of that building and out of the area. The assistance that was given her will help her do that. I was privileged to be a witness to the virtual IV that pumped hope back into her. I hope the move happens soon.

***I'm sorry, but I failed miserably on this one. My words fall far short.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 4

Lunch on Monday was a treat for me. I just happened to get to sit by someone famous. Probably not many in Addis know his name, and maybe only a handful of people in the States, but trust me, Heaven knows his name. He is the director of Hope for the Hopeless street ministry and orphanage. For several minutes our conversation centered on how we might be able to get Jay's leg treated. Yes, sometimes God heals instantaneously, but sometimes His healing power promotes recovery (which implies a process). The recovery might be through a doctor's hand one time and without a doctor's hand another. My knee doctor referred to my ACL reconstruction as his "best work" and I know the Reason why. I believe, regardless of how or through whose hands, Jay will fully recover. Bottom line, I wanted to see how I could get him into the care of God-directed hands. After that discussion, I complimented him on his care of the kids. There are ditches on both sides of the caregiver road. One side is overly permissive where the kids have no boundaries. The other is a dictatorship. Judging by the kids' good behavior and their willingness to reach out and show love, the director has found the perfect balance between the two sides. It can't be easy when those kids likely come under his care with baggage. Not only does he care for them and love them, but he has sacrificed for them. When the economic downturn happened in the States, he lost half of his support. He had to move his family out of his home and live with his in-laws in order to keep providing for the kids. Construction projects at the orphanage came to a grinding halt. Whoever ends up sponsoring the shelter and/or orphanage can rest assured that the kids could not have a better director. As I mentioned before, there is no doubt this guy is famous in Heaven, and I count it an honor to have had some time with him.

After lunch we went back to the Hope for the Hopeless orphanage where we had briefly visited Saturday night. This time we had several hours to visit. We handed out many gifts and supplies, such as hats, soccer balls, candy, coloring books, shoes...the list goes on. I spent some more time with the 17 yr old boy I had met previously until he participated in a soccer game with other boys and some of our group. I then walked around and loved on as many of the children as I could. Toward the end of the day, we were provided a snack of popcorn and coffee, then the children sang for us, and us for them. Then, just as before, we were showered with hugs, kisses, and I love you's as we headed to the vans and left. The van I was in was completely silent on the way home because it was merely our bodies present. Our minds and our hearts were still with those precious, beautiful children.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 3

Sunday was rather uneventful. Apparently on Sunday the orphanages are closed. So, we went to church in the morning, but that ended up being a tour of the church building rather than a church service. In the afternoon we visited a couple museums and a zoo. In the evening we went to a restaurant and watched a musical group perform. Day 2 was in the books.

Monday morning we all were excited to find out that we were going back to the "Hope for the Hopeless" orphanage that we briefly visited on Saturday. That would be in the afternoon. In the morning, we visited Hope for the Hopeless street ministry. It is a small compound where homeless kids or kids in distress can find refuge.

As we entered the compound and began greeting the children, I was immediately drawn to a boy who was hobbling around with a walking stick. One leg was clearly nonfunctional. The majority of my time was spent with this boy and another, who just happened to be his roommate. I'll call the lame boy Jay and the other one Jerry (as a side note, I know the boys' names, but I'm not sure I have permission to make them public). Other members of the team and I played soccer with Jerry, who was playing goalie and using the gate to the compound as a goal. He was a tough kid - diving for balls on the rough cement. How many times do we take grass for granted, or get annoyed when we have to mow? A few minutes later I noticed he was not happy anymore and had gone over to stand by one of the workers. Thinking he was physically hurt, I approached them and asked, through the worker, if he had hurt himself. The worker asked him and then gave me the explanation, "He (Jerry) said that when people care for him like this, it makes him think of his mother, who died." I didn't have any words at that point; I just gave him a big, long, tight bear hug, then kissed his head. He hugged me back tightly. I decided to take a couple pics to let him see himself on the digital screen. Below is one of those pics. You can see the pain in his eyes. He smiled and then left for a while. He had gone into the living quarters and, since our team was mainly in the courtyard, I wasn't sure whether I could follow him or not. I turned my attention to Jay.

Despite being limited to the use of one leg, Jay was quite nimble. He was able to climb trees and was also very coordinated with the walking stick. I felt led to ask him if I could pray for him. He walked over to a place he could sit down, and pulled up his pant leg. I didn't expect to see what I saw. I'm not a doctor, but it seemed to me that his leg was badly broken (I'm talking both bones, at an angle of 50-60 degrees). As I prayed, I felt the tangible power of God go into his leg. I can count on one hand the times I've actually FELT the healing power of God, and I believe Jay felt it too. After I prayed, I tracked down the director and asked for more detail. Jay's leg was indeed broken, and it had happened two years ago. TWO YEARS!! In addition, the director said that if he falls or hits it wrong, he gets "wounds" (meaning the bone(s) break through the skin). I was floored. Something that could/can be fixed so easily in the states had stolen two uninhibited play years from this precious boy. I just wasn't sure how to react. Part of me was very angry, part of me just wanted to bawl, but before I could decide how to react, there was Jerry again, tapping my arm. He gave me a drawing that he had made, and on the top was "I love you Mark." I smiled, told him I loved him too and then gave him another hug. Between Jay and Jerry, I received 6 drawings. Look me up 50 years from now, and I will still have them. They are priceless.

By this time, people had gone back to the living quarters, so I followed Jay and Jerry back there. It was at this time that I first found out they were roommates. They had a small, dark room with a bunk bed and a bathroom. It reminded me of a prison cell, but it was much smaller and less clean. They were both proud to show me their beds and wanted pictures taken. They pointed out various belongings and I smiled and complimented them (they knew a little bit of English - "very nice" was understood). Despite what little these boys had, they were the sweetest boys you could imagine. I wanted to give them something, so I found a couple sheets of paper and wrote them both the same note. It was something like, "I am very happy to meet you and spend time with you. You are valuable and God has a great plan for your life. I love you." When I gave them the notes, they made a beeline to one of the workers so he could translate it. As he read, their faces lit up like they had received a million bucks. We hugged again and then all the children sang for us. After the singing, Jay and Jerry, still beaming, came up and asked, "Tomorrow?" I had to tell them no, we weren't coming back tomorrow because we had other places to visit. Their smiles faded a bit. Everyone said goodbye and we left. On my Facebook page I described the kids as being "Easy to love, hard to leave." This was one of the prime examples.

*** As a side note, I did not feel it would be appropriate for me to ask Jay if I could take a picture of his leg. However, I did ask the director to see if he could take one and email it to me. Once I have it, I plan to hook up with another team member and start a fund raising campaign to get Jay's leg fixed. Thus far, the director hasn't sent me anything. I will keep you all posted.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 2

It was Saturday, April 18th, and time to "get to it." The first orphanage we visited was Abenezer's. I was about 3-4 hours away. When we got there, the kids were seated in the middle of a large field. There were huge smiles on their faces and it was easy to see that they were bursting with curiosity. Taking pictures and showing them the digital screen was very fascinating to them. I'm sure the vast majority rarely got such a treat. It was a little awkward at first for two reasons. First, it seemed we were just killing time until the presentation(s) started, which was anyone's guess. So, we didn't know whether we had 2 minutes to play with them or 20. Secondly, as a former schoolteacher, my physical interaction with students was limited to handshakes, high-fives, and shoulder-pats. Hugging children or picking them up is a good way to start a scandal in U.S. public schools. It took a couple hours for me to realize it was okay here. I performed a couple "magic" tricks (like the one where you pretend to take off the end of your finger) and then had fun showing them how to do it. I also juggled three rocks for them, which was a big hit. I taught some how to juggle with two rocks and they soaked up the praise and clapping from their peers and me. The activities started with a presentation from Steve and Debbie, pastors from Georgia whose church sponsors the entire orphanage. One building was almost completed and a second had been started. It was a blessing to see how they were touched by meeting the kids face to face and seeing firsthand the work that was being done. Next, the kids were divided by age group and, one group at a time, were fed an Easter feast inside the finished building. We continued to play with the kids in the groups that were waiting. When everyone was done eating, we started handing out gifts. Each child received a backpack along with six notebooks and a pen and pencil. Without these supplies, the kids can't attend school, but now they will get to go. In addition to the school supplies, they also received blankets and kazoos. They were overjoyed and very grateful. We left around 2:30 or 3:00 and headed to lunch.

Lunch was provided in the home of the mother of one of the translators who accompanied us. It was the first time I had Ethiopian food and it was awesome. After the meal they provided the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. They roasted the beans over glowing charcoal, then took the crackling beans around for everyone to inhale the smoke. The whole process took over an hour. I think me waiting an hour for coffee would be like my wife watching someone at a candy store make fudge from scratch. Despite the enormous need for patience, the end result was delicious.

After lunch we headed back toward Addis. There was another orphanage we were to visit and time was limited. We got there shortly before dark and only spent 20 minutes or so. I lost it at this place. It was called "Hope for the Hopeless." I mentioned earlier that I was a little hesitant to be as physical as I wanted at the first orphanage. The kids at this place didn't give me any choice. They crowded around me and hugged my legs tightly. They grabbed my hands and arms and just clung to me, squeezing my fingers and smiling ear to ear. Most of these kids had no family, and one might expect that their hearts would be hesitant to open up and show love for fear that their love would not be reciprocated. On the contrary, to them, it seemed worth the risk. Rest assured, there were no "polite" hugs like so many in the U.S. give. These were unbridled, whole-body/whole-being hugs full of reckless abandon, as if it were the last time they would hug someone. We took a very short tour of the place and one of the older boys proudly showed me his bunk. I told him it was very nice and he smiled. For the rest of the tour, he held my hand. I had learned on the way over the it is common for men to hold the hand of their best friends. It's nothing sexual at all, simply an act of friendship. I learned he was seventeen and was the oldest one there. I thought, "Wow, if I held the hand of a 17 yr old boy as a teacher in the states, I'd be fired in an instant and would have to register with the state." By the time the tour was finished, it was completely dark, and I was glad. Glad because I could not control the tears streaming down my face as the kids once again showered me/us with squeezes, hugs, kisses and "I love you's." First day, and I was already messed up.

(Pictured below is the 17 yr old, whom I got to spend more time with on a subsequent visit)

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