I have given myself some time now to process from the awesome experience of a Journey trip with World Orphans to Ethiopia. It has been a week since I’ve been back and after a few days of jet lag and bed-ridden mega-flu that hit me on the home bound flights, I’m returning to daily life in Washington.
My trip began with a delayed first flight out of Portland which took me to Denver, where I met with two of my teammates, and then to Dulles where we met another six. After arriving in the Addis Ababa airport, we met our tenth member who had flown from his station in Japan.
We landed early on Saturday and after leaving the airport, we met Z (for privacy of in-country people, I’ll just be using initials), who would be our primary host during our time and whom we would come to realize has a wonderful heart for children and a genuine love for the work God has him doing, as well as T, our driver with whom we enjoyed many conversations over dinner.
We went straight to the amazing Holy Savior Guest Home, a great place for mission groups and adopting families to stay during their visits. This place was absolutely BEAUTIFUL and the staff were the best. N, the owner has an incredible smile and she has such a joyful personality.
We settled in, ate, slept, attempted to learn a few words of Amharic, and got ourselves together for the week ahead.
Sunday came around and we got ready for church, where we met B, who heads up the economic empowerment aspect of the ministry. She has a kind and humble spirit and I couldn’t help wanting to ask her to be my friend forever. We also met the third member of the World Orphans Ethiopia staff, M. Though he looks younger than his years, his quiet wisdom shows his age.
The two-hour Amharic service was pretty nifty despite hearing snippets of the message only as a piece was briefly translated to one member of our team and it trickled slowly to others of us.
The view outside from the church compound, the buildings to the right I believe were once used as classrooms, but I could be wrong on that. It was a great compound with multiple buildings, the big church (behind me so you sadly can’t see in this photo) and a swing set off to the left.
We then took some of the kids that the church ministers to through the World Orphans program to the zoo! It was a blend of a zoo and a walking safari and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. I spoke a lot with one of the older girls, E, who has so much potential and is so beautiful and sweet and I can only hope that she will grow to recognize that.
Monday was a very intense day. It was the day for home visits.
The two most awful, difficult books I have ever read are Gary Haugen’s “The Locust Effect” about the vicious cycle of poverty and violence and “Half the Sky” by Kristof and WuDunn about being a woman living in poverty. These two books are stark and disturbing eye openers to the reality of much of what goes on in our world today. And yet they did not prepare me for two of the stories we heard while meeting four heroic women face to face in their homes.
Each of the four women told us their stories as we sat with them and each story was difficult and very distant from me sitting at my laptop right now in an ergonomic swivel chair. But these ladies were so strong and these ladies LOVE their children. The third woman we spoke to had a pretty incredible story, and one that was once rather frequent in Ethiopian villages, wherein she had been kidnapped from an early age in an attempted forced marriage. She served us amazing, freshly roasted coffee and some of the best bread I have ever tasted. She told us of her dreams to be a hairdresser and the costs involved. She told us about her life as a single mother.
The last woman we spoke to has faced one of the most difficult series of events I can imagine in her seventy years. From her marriage at age ten to being the only survivor of 76 people in a bomb as a soldier at age twenty to losing everyone she cared about at age sixty when she chose to save her grandson from near infanticide, this was a woman of incredible character and ten-year-old M, will always know that he is deeply loved.
Tuesday we visited Mother Teresa’s hospital and that was pretty incredible to see. They are doing some amazing work but the sheer numbers of patients was rather startling. We got to spend some time walking around with the kids in the women and children’s ward which certainly brightened the emotional aspect of that experience.
We spent the afternoon with the World Orphans staff doing a bit of Q&A and learning more of what they do and how they do it. I loved hearing the hospitality behind every answer. There is a lovely servant heart built into the culture that was highly evident through these three amazing people.
Because it’s still a little bit draining still to write about all of this, I’m going to take a break and just post some pictures here of where I have thus far written up to:
On to Wednesday!
We went to one of the local schools run by a church partnered with World Orphans on Wednesday. We did a VBS style program with two members of our team deliver wonderful messages that they managed to tailor to each age group perfectly, a few songs with motions which were fun to have translated, a great puppet show, and plenty of laughter. The older kids were a little too cool for us, but they did grab two of us and decided we absolutely needed to have our hair braided into corn rows.
We were also able to meet the beautiful lady who had made the jewelry many of us bought as souvenirs and gifts. She is the star of the economic empowerment program and is extremely talented.
For dinner that night, we went to a traditional place that is tailor made for tourists with amazing Ethiopian food, plus music and dancing from each of the different regions and people groups. One lady did this crazy head spin that definitely had a Linda Blair feel and it was more than a little scary. That was a pretty awesome dinner. N, from the guest house came with us which made it all the better! Added to our party of M, Z, T, and ten Americans, it was pretty fantastic.
Thursday we visited another ministry, MYM, that does some phenomenal outreach to the street kids in Addis. There were two American sisters volunteering as well as another man and I honestly can’t remember where he was from but I think it was somewhere in west Africa. We hung out with the three boys who at that point were in MYM’s program and did a mini version of our VBS lesson and then went outside and played in the MYM courtyard. One kid was a beast at Foosball and they were pretty solid at ping pong as well. Then came the fun experience of me sitting on a tray much smaller than my rear and holding onto a rope while being pulled hard and fast. It was one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve ever done.
Thursday was also our day to grab some souvenirs and that was a little on the stressful side, but I was able to get some fun things to commemorate the journey.
We concluded with a trip up Entoto Mountain with a beautiful view and also getting to see the first orthodox church in Addis Ababa and the surrounding community.
Time for more photographs!
Friday led the way to meeting my Compassion International sponsored children! This was a crazy experience and honestly I don’t even know where to begin on writing about it. I will say that one of my young men is the most incredible child I’ve ever met and his grandfather shares his humility and servant heart. I was amazed by their character and he gave the best hugs in the world. He and his grandfather, who live about four hours from Addis, had never been to the city. His grandfather said it felt like being in Heaven. I couldn’t agree more.
One of my littles is only five and he just wanted to play and have fun. It was great seeing him enjoy himself. I am super excited to see who he will grow up to be and hope I get to meet him again when he is a little older. His mom seemed tired by his energy, but she did her best to keep going. And my young lady and her mom were evidence of why discipleship is necessary no matter where you are. They live in a rough area (so far that they actually had to fly in) with a strictly Orthodox population. (Ethiopian Orthodox is similar to the very strict orders of Catholicism that you don’t see often where instead of Latin, they speak a dead language called Ge’ez that the congregation can’t understand. There is very little grace involved). My letters to her in future will focus on the importance of sharing and loving others, because she is pretty territorial! Still, her smile and laugh are infectious and she is just too beautiful!
The next day we traveled to Wolliso (good luck finding the correct spelling on that because every sign we saw said something different!) where we settled in at the lodge. There were some fun things to do there so one of my teammates and I went horseback riding! You could only go in pairs, so another pair of teammates waited for us to finish and then took their turns. The best part was when Z and T gave it a try! Z had never ridden before but both of them were great and it was fun watching everyone enjoy themselves. I have always loved riding horses but it had been a VERY long time since I was last on a horse. I had actually ridden three camels since the last time I had ridden a horse, so it was great to be back in the saddle.
After that, we went swimming for a while until an amazing and epic thunderstorm began.
Sunday was one of my favorite days. We went to the church at Wolliso where the service was translated into Oromio from Amharic and it was amazing watching the two preachers in this dance that we couldn’t understand but could absolutely get the gist of.
During the whole service, the kids who live at the church and others who attend were crowding around us as we were sitting by the door of an extremely packed church. One girl, L, pretty much grabbed on to me and would not let go or allow any other child to touch me. I’d been claimed.
After church we saw where the kids live, it’s not an institution or orphanage and World Orphans has done a pretty great job of implementing their vision even there. While most of the work they do is keeping kids in a home with a parent or guardian, this was more like a group home, yet the ratio of adults to children is far better, and they still receive the holistic care necessary to lead a healthy and productive life.
The kids then came to the lodge where we were staying and we all went swimming. Again, I was only allowed to hold, hug, and play with L. So we swam and she had a great time. Now and then I would pick her up with one arm and another child with my other arm but eventually she would shoo them away.
It was sad to say goodbye to all the kids at the end of the day. That evening we had dinner and one of our team members posed us all in a Last Supper photo. We were one disciple short as T had already left us for the evening, and clearly none of us would have been fit to pose as Jesus, but it was a nice way to commemorate our final evening.
Monday was our final day. We drove back to Addis Ababa and made a last visit to N and all the ladies at the Holy Savior Guest Home for a birthday surprise for one of our team mates. It was an extremely bittersweet goodbye to everyone. We didn’t want to say farewell, but were so grateful to have had the experience and meet them.
I love the A.A. Milne Whinny the Pooh quote, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
I told a few people, when they asked if Ethiopia lived up to my expectations, that I had read and studied so much about it and looked at so many pictures that Ethiopia had become some sort of mythical Middle Earth in my mind. When I actually got there, it was more like just finally finding home. I’m so grateful for World Orphans and their Journey trips, and of whatever the long term effects may be.
And there you have it, that’s a very short overview, but maybe longer than most people want to read. To everyone who contributed to the trip through prayer or finances, thank you so much! It was truly incredible.