I Finally Arrived

by Melissa

I have finally arrived in Africa.  The continent I’ve had a longing for.   I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t sure what God’s purpose was in choosing me to go on this trip.  I still don’t know my purpose but in one day, I have fallen in love with Ethiopia and it’s people and culture.

My first day was more of a dream.  It didn’t feel real and yet I know my heart and soul have been changed forever.  We started off the day worshipping with the Food for the Hungry (FH) staff.  These men and women have dedicated their lives to helping their people, which is why Hope in Ethiopia (our organization) has partnered with them.  They are a living day example of what James was talking about in James 1:27…”Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  This wasn’t a metaphor.  Orphans have no one to protect or guide them.  And widows lose all the benefits of their husbands.  In this culture, widows and orphans are outcasts.  When you add HIV to that equation, they become completely isolated.  One mother with 5 kids told us that she’s had to move 5 times in the last 2 years because one place would not let her family use the communal water pump.  Another place would not let her family use the communal bathroom.  There is always a reason to ostracize them.   Food for the Hungry and Hope in Ethiopia go against these cultural prejudices by loving each family despite their circumstances.  FH counsels all of these children and their mothers.  They help carry their burdens…burdens that we in the US would probably not be able to handle.  FH helps these families learn how to sustain themselves and build a future.  It is not a handout.  It IS ongoing unconditional love, financial support and guidance for the “least of these”.  It is what Jesus commanded us to do.  I look forward to the day I meet these FH workers in heaven where they can share all of their stories of triumph with me.

 

Gibril 2015Our first visit was with the K. family, which consists of 5 siblings.  These children have no parents and are the true definition of a child headed household.  Four of these siblings live together in a one room “house” they rent.  This room is the size of my bathroom.  There are two mattresses on the floor, neatly made.  And one small desk that holds their 6 plates, 4 cups, cooking utensils and food containers.  The floor is a dirt floor covered by what I would call cabinet liners and a rug.  They own nothing. The oldest brother is now 16 and the middle brother is 14.  When the boys were 7 and 5, their parents separated.  Their dad took the boys to another town and their mom kept the three girls in Zeway (the girls are currently 13, 10 and 5).  Their dad hired the boys out as cattle herders for $25/year which was extremely hard labor for them and they could not attend school.  One day while the boys were washing their clothes in the river, their mom came to them and they ran away with her back to Zeway.  Soon after, their mother became sick with diabetes.  She died in 2010 and the five kids were left on their own.  They had a grandmother but she was too poor to take them in.  However, she did take in the youngest child as she was still a baby (all kids three years old and under have to go to an orphanage) with the intention to send her to her siblings when she turned five.  She turned five this year, however, the grandmother is still taking care of her.  She gets to visit with her siblings often and is still part of their family.  The local church heard about their mother’s death and helped them out until FH entered the picture.   With the FH child headed household program, these kids are able to go to school because FH pays for their school supplies.  They are able to have shelter because FH pays their rent and utilities and water bills.  They are able to start the healing process of losing their mother by attending the weekly grief and counseling sessions where all the kids come together to share their stories and build a safe and understanding community.  Their FH social worker has also gone above and beyond all job requirements.  He and his wife have loved these kids as their own.  They moved the kids so they would be closer to his family.  His wife would get up at 4:30 am to teach the boys how to make bread.  The boys have now taught their sisters.   When I met these kids, they were full of joy.  They did not feel sorry for themselves or hopeless.  And all of this is because of Jesus.  They love Him with all their hearts and know that He is with them every second of every day.  They find their hope, the only true hope that lasts, in Him.  The oldest brother wants to be a petty trader, or salesman, and work for himself.  The middle brother wants to be a scientist and do research.  The two older girls love science.  This family is such an inspiration to me. They keep each other safe and hold each other accountable.  They all contribute to the family in their own special way by cooking, running errands, cleaning the house, washing clothes and dishes.  Surviving is a daily struggle for them yet they do it in such grace because of the grace that Jesus has bestowed amongst them.

Then we went to visit B.  She is 19 and lives alone.

b 2015When the Hope in Ethiopia team visited her two years ago, they said she cried the whole time and never smiled.  In two years, B is smiling.  She is so grateful for the FH program as she says that the grief and counseling sessions have helped her start healing by allowing her to connect with other children and hear their stories.  She knows now that she doesn’t have the worst life as she previously thought.  B’s mother died while working as a house maid when B was 8.  She was hanging clothes on a clothesline when an electric wire came in contact with her and she was electrocuted.  B went to live with her aunt.  At this point, B was a part of the FH child sponsorship program, however, the aunt was keeping B’s ration

s to herself, refused her to go to school and treated B badly.  At one point, B contemplated suicide.  She eventually ran away from her aunt and a very poor woman with her own children to take care of took her in.  This woman was a Christian and insisted B go to church with her.  B was an Orthodox Christian and didn’t want to have anything to do with a relationship with Jesus but she went.  For a while, she fought back spiritually.  B met a social worker from FH who convinced her to join the child headed household program (which would mean she would have to leave this woman’s home as you can’t be a part of this program if you live with an adult who can help support you).  This social worker and B became like family and he counseled her as if she were his daughter.  After a while, B thought about all the good people in her life (her social worker, the poor woman) and realized they were all Christians and loved her in a way no one else had.  So she gave her life to Jesus and now wants to give back to others all that she has been given.  B used to wonder why she didn’t die with her mother, however, now she sees hope and a purpose for her life that she has never seen before.   Her smile says it all.

This is just a glimpse of these amazing survivors…we are so lucky to have met these wonderful, generous people and to have shared their lives with them.

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