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)

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 1

I'm sure you've all been in that place of frustration where you've taken what you think are awesome pictures of breathtaking scenery. Then, to your dismay, you look at the pictures and realize they fall far short of truly capturing the enormity of what you saw. That's where I am right now, not only with pictures, but also with words. Was I touched by Africa? Absolutely! Can I adequately describe what I saw and felt using mere words? So far, I've tried some rough drafts and have fallen waaaay short. I guess the only thing to do is try my best. I will start with more general background information and then maybe I'll find words for the rest. Forgive me if these thoughts are random and lack a logical flow.

First and foremost, THANK YOU to everyone who prayed. Have you ever gone on a trip and it seemed like everything fit together such that you would describe it as "easy?" That's what I felt and saw. Suffice it to say that the prayer cover was obvious.

For me, there was no culture shock, other than trying to figure out whether any "rules of the road" exist. Numerous times drivers would miss each other and pedestrians by mere inches. We never hit anyone, although the other van had a small accident. Nobody has insurance there, so the process is for all witnesses to crowd around the scene and be judge and jury on who was to blame. The guilty party pays for the damages on the spot. The process took maybe 20-30 minutes, and finally the other driver was determined to be guilty. I found out that there is an honor system in Ethiopia. If someone is dishonest, they are shamed and disgraced. In addition, if someone tries to steal something, the owner shouts "Leba!" ("thief" in Amharic) and there will be a mad rush of bystanders to catch the person. In the U.S. it's the opposite. We pretend we didn't hear, or if we do help and the thief gets a skinned knee from being tackled, we'll be sued.

The people of Ethiopia are beautiful inside and out. They are very kind, generous, accommodating, polite, you name it. At one church where we played with children, one girl gave me the stickers that she received. Before we left, I told her they were hers and I wanted her to keep them, but she insisted she wanted me to keep them. I also received some drawings that I will always treasure.

The Ethiopian food was delicious. I think I personally had Ethiopian food 40% of the time (sometimes we ate at restaurants where it was our choice). I had various dishes of beef, chicken, lamb and goat, as well as the engera (flat, sponge-like Ethiopian bread that is used as an edible utensil).

The countryside of Ethiopia was downright beautiful. I'll try to post some pics, but as I mentioned earlier, they fall far short of doing justice to what we saw. One would think, by looking at all the agriculture, that Ethiopia would not be so poor. However, even though there is rain, often the rain does not come when it is most needed. Crops grow and turn green, but do not get rain when they are supposed to produce fruit, so it is like having a green corn stalk with no corn.

The city of Addis was busy with heavy traffic and vendors selling vegetables, goats, sheep, chickens, and cows. Ordering "take out" consists of stopping your vehicle by a herd of goats, paying the shepherd, and loading the goat inside the van or tying it on top. I never saw someone load a full sized cow. That would have been interesting, to say the least. There were also delivery donkeys carrying large loads of whatever merchandise. We even saw one camel, which apparently is rare. The one thing that did take some getting used to was the smoke. Trash is burned and there were times when the smoke was quite heavy and putrid.

I guess that does it for background info from my head. Next I'll do my best to describe things from my heart.

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