What in the world am I doing?

Zeway June 2012 108By Ellen Tuthill

Soon I’ll travel to Ethiopia for the 3rd time to visit orphans, widows, and a few widowers, in Zeway.  Every trip has felt so different.  But every time, I find that my fears about my health and safety, and that of our children while we’re gone, prompt me to ask the same question:  What in the world am I doing?  Am I crazy to give up a week of my life, risk illness (I got quite sick last time) and my safety, to travel to a developing country and visit strangers — many of whom are suffering with HIV?

UNICEF says that double orphans in Ethiopia now number 4,500,000.  In a country of 85-90 million, that means that minors with both parents dead comprise more than 5% of the population.   For comparison’s sake, the U.S. government reports that there are 115,000 children waiting and available for adoption here at home (though the total number of kids in foster care in the U.S. is over 400,000).  So orphans and non-orphaned kids in foster care in the U.S. make up about .001% of our population.

Obviously, every orphan is in crisis and deserves care, no matter where they live.  In our country, the government has a contract with society to facilitate care for orphans and other children in unsafe families. This is not the case in Ethiopia.  But even if it were, could an impoverished nation afford to provide appropriate care and oversight of 4.5 million children, many of whom have serious medical conditions due to HIV?  Could any government actually address the deep psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of a child who has lost everything — much less millions of them?

There isn’t anything I can doMarch 2014 Blog post - pic with thumbs to solve the crisis in Ethiopia.  There is not a silver bullet to stop the spread of HIV or immediately find permanent, loving homes for 4.5 million kids.  But this is where we have to employ the “starfish” principle.  Years ago, my friend Heather shared with me a story about a man walking along the shore, picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the ocean to save them.  Another man sees this, and says, “What a waste of time!  Your efforts are insignificant given how many starfish are sitting on this beach, and all the beaches of the world.  What you’re doing can’t possibly matter!”  The first man ponders the starfish in his hand, then throws it back into the water.  “It matters to this one,” he replies, and goes on with his work.

Isn’t that how all of the big problems in the world must be approached?  One life at a time?  Not everyone wants to, or even can, miss work and household duties, raise money, get all their shots, and go to a really foreign place to put their arms around orphans and widows for a week.  But I can, and God and I take pleasure in it, so I do.  It could be that my presence in Zeway seems insignificant or foolish to everyone else, but I know that it matters to this one, and this one, and this one.  I have cried with them, prayed with them, and heard their stories of hope after tremendous loss.  In turn, they have changed my view of poverty, the oppressed, and the dying, and allowed me into their lives.  They aren’t statistics; they are real kids.  They have names, attached to stories, attached to memories, and we’d love to share those with you.  We hope you’ll explore this site for stories of transformation, both here and there.

To find out how you can make a difference to over 130 orphans in Zeway, visit here: http://hopeinethiopia.org/get-involved/


  1. Heather Lewis Powell says:

    Thrilled to see your heart Ellen and I believe He is doing immeasurably more than all you could ask or imagine as you Trust Him with the precious ones Zeway!

  2. Sandy Burton says:

    Amen! And I agree totally with Heather – immeasurably more, indeed! And although this isn’t exactly a usual “church” expression, my insides just get jiggly thinking of the PERSON to PERSON foundation of this ministry. Ha, “ministry” doesn’t even express it! This is life, this is what Jesus came to free us for, the joy of what we GET to do. To come alongside others, serve them, lead them, encourage them, for by serving them we love Him and our joy is complete! God, expand Ellen’s heart so much so that there is just no room for anxiety!!! Be in the details right now, and be in the hope – the assurance – that You will meet them there. Be amazing, God! And thank you for exclamation points!!

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