Pure – Just the Way I Like It…

by Jacodien

Pure—that is the way I like my chocolate. So much better than milk or white. All that added milk or even leaving out all the cocoa takes away the best of it. This week, here in Ethiopia, I have gotten a taste of purity. Not the diluted 55% kind you find in our stores. But the real stuff. Fully pure.

It started right away on day one. The drive from Addis Ababa to Zeway.

No big buildings (the few that did exist were under construction with big wooden scaffolding meters and meters high). No chain stores with advertisements screaming at you on every street corner.

Just purity. Earthiness.jacodien photo

With colors that talk, but don’t scream.

People, the way they are. Full of passion? They sing it out. Not softly, somewhere where nobody sees them, but full and uninhibited. Pure.

Desperate and without hope? They won’t conceal it in a dark corner, but display it, on the middle of the street.

Pure. Real.

No distractions. No interruptions. No hiding. No dilution.

Even the coffee is pure. Kind of like espresso, the Ethiopian way. Flavored, the same way they decorate the houses and streets, with colors that talk, but don’t scream.

There is no need to scream.
Because there are no distractions which need to be overcome. No cars which take up the road. No lights which pollute the dark. No shame which is disguised.

Oh yes, there is brokenness. Sorrow. Pain. Grief. Lives with deep sadness and despair.

Just like there is laughter. And good jokes. Hugs. Love. Joy and Thankfulness.

Ethiopia, as I have gotten to know it this week, is pure. Just the way I like it.
There is no need to seek, to scream, to jump out of the way. Pure and raw.

That is precisely the only reason I can think of why the work of the strongest enemy, the greatest created being, Satan, is so pure and visible here.

Because here there is nothing that distracts men. Nothing men hide behind. Satan has to work here. Pure and real. To reach his goal.

Yes, it is difficult. To see the fight. But here, just because of the lack of distractions, because the people don’t get overwhelmed by TV programs, by blinking billboards, too long schooldays and speeding cars. Because of that it is tangible to discern God’s voice. To hear His word. To feel His touch.

Life is earthy. Pure.
Not perfect. There is still spiritual war going on. Real, tangible, pure, raw and hard.
All the more it speaks of the confidence that we have as children of Father God, siblings of Jesus. We do not fight for victory. But fight from victory. In Christ’s power we are invincible.

So with our breastplate on and belt around our middle, our sandals on our feet and helmet on our head (which in our Ethiopian attire looks like this) we go on our way.

Enjoying the purity of all our precious new friends—their coffee and their tears and their hugs.

Pure. Just the way I like it…

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.

The Team Arrived in Zeway!

We made it! The sights, the sounds, the smells all fill my senses and I can’t help but smile. Ethiopia has

2015 trip team photo

implanted itself in my heart, and I have returned. God has been drawing me back since I left two years ago, bringing me back to simply love on others. What better reason but to love? Tomorrow I will be reunited with the social workers who are part of my family in Christ and reunited with a group of orphans that transformed me and my whole family. I get to hug them , sit with them, and tell them how valued and precious they are in God’s eye and my own. God has brought together a great team and we look forward to watching them experience all the amazing work God has been doing in this little community in Zeway.    – Kim

Forever Family

Grace Covenant’s involvement in Hope in Ethiopia can be hard to describe.  If you have spoken to someone who has visited the orphans and widows in Zeway, you may find yourself in an hour long description of the sights, sounds and feelings of the trip goer.  Often our words do not have the capacity to describe how it feels to be involved in the lives of the poor – whether we have visited them or just know them  by name because we pray for them.

But I have heard the Ethiopian people describe our involvement in Zeway very well.  And when I heard the descriptions, I was floored that I could be blessed by such involvement in the lives of people on the other side of the world.

Here is what one orphaned child said to us on a house visit when she spoke of the orphan ministry at Grace Covenant Church, “Bridges of Grace is my father.  You  are my mother.  You care for us when no one else does”

FH Web Site PhotoWe do not fully value the  importance of our relationships and monetary gifts with the people in Zeway.  A similar statement was from a widow who was dying from AIDS “Because of Bridges of Grace, I can die in peace now. My children will be cared for”  (Because of the help from Grace,  two years later and this woman is still alive!)

When our  donations are used to employ social workers who share Christ, feed children and provide medical care to AIDS widows, and provide social stability to the least of these, relationships are developed that are eternal .  The social workers who visit and care for the children and widows in Zeway do not take our place, but they are extensions of us, and the orphans and widows know it.  They are grateful more than we understand.

Until we hear statements like the ones above.

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We have become part of their families.  We point them toward a future and a hope, and we cause them to see their preciousness in Christ.  If you have sent a photo of yourself or family with a trip team, chances are it is displayed proudly on a mud hut wall.   We are part of their families,  and if they have not become part of yours, you are missing out on an eternal relationship!

Spring 2014 Trip to Zeway: Transformation Here and There

A team is forming now to return to Zeway in the Spring of 2014!DSC_0948

Hope in Ethiopia is in its 4th year and it is always amazing to see the progress of the partnership.  A team goes to Zeway at least once a year, and we are excited that this team is forming now.

The trips are usually about 10 days long.  About 4 of those days are spent on an airplane and an additional day is spent driving to Zeway and back.  So that leaves a team about 5 days to visit orphans and widows and build relationships with the local church and Food for the Hungry as they serve the children directly.

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Five days is not enough time to transform a community especially considering that language and culture is a barrier to communication.   But it is enough time to transform individuals and that is often what happens to trip team members.  Trip team members see poverty in a whole new way– and not just physical poverty. Certainly, the small huts, little food, and the meager belongings bring a person to great conviction of their own riches and a deep sense of gratefulness.  But people who go to Zeway also see their own spiritual poverty and that brings transformation to the individuals.

You see, in Zeway the widows and orphans share their lives with visitors.  They grieve, and they rejoice with visitors. They are open about their needs and their spiritual lives. For instance, Amaloek, a dying widow with three children, shared with a team, “The word of God is my food.  It is what sustains me to the next day.” The people who heard those words knew that Amaloek had ONLY the word of God. She really was sustained by the Bible alone.  How often do we see the Bible as truly our way of survival? A necessity like food, water and air.  Amaloek knew God’s word as her source of life and the people who witnessed this and even the people who hear this story are often moved by Amaloek’s great faith and need for God’s word.

Teams that go to Ethiopia are so important to the work that goes on in Zeway. They bring encouragement and a perspective of our sovereign God to the people there. They return with good news, and feedback on how we can work together better. But equally important, teams that go to Zeway return with stories of spiritual and physical poverty and hope that can continue to transform lives for a lot longer than their 10 day adventure to Ethiopia.

Meeting God on the Other Side of the World

I’ve been out of the country many times in my life with adoptions or traveling because of Matt’s work or leading short-term trips.  I love to go places because I see God’s character in a whole new way when I am traveling.  Even when other people travel, like the trip team in Ethiopia now, I get giddy (and a bit jealous) of the adventures they will encounter and the closeness to God they will feel.

The orphans and widows of Zeway: You can be a part of the story of how God opens the skies for them.

After a short term trip, people will often long to return to the country they traveled.  They long to return because of the person they are in the foreign country – perhaps more compassionate or kind. Perhaps more aware of how their experiences shape them.  They long to return because they believe God moves more in other countries, and they get to see His work first-hand.

I have had to consider this: Does God move more in other countries than this one?  Is He more alive and working in other places?  Why do I see God’s character more when I go somewhere?

I believe this to be true:  God is the same here and there and everywhere. He does not change.  It is me who changes in a different place.  It is me who is stripped of my comforts and my schedule and my control and  suddenly, all those veils are lifted from my eyes and I do see the character of God in truer color.  He does not change.  I just see him in high definition.

But I do not believe that seeing God in high definition is limited to traveling to another country.  God makes it much simpler than that. It is not the location that causes me to feel God’s presence and character.  It is getting involved in the lives of the least of these that can cause me to know God.

There is the song by Tenth Avenue North and the chorus is “And He breaks open the skies to save those who cry out His name”.  Everyone should be involved in the life of someone whom the Lord has broken open the skies to save.

That doesn’t mean traveling in order to be involved. Getting involved in the life of someone who needs rescue can be done here in Austin through prayer.  You don’t need to fly to Ethiopia to be a part of opening the skies for someone, and you don’t need to fly to Ethiopia to see the full character of God.

Through this unique community-to-community partnership, you can choose an orphan, widow or family to pray for. Through consistent prayer for the least of these, you can see God working in their lives and your own. You can feel God’s compassion and kindness. You can be overwhelmed with His desire for justice and understand why He asks us to “visit” orphans and widows. You can understand his sovereignty over all things more, and you can find joy and hope in Him.  And you never have to pack a suitcase.

If you would like a prayer card and updates on the orphans and widows, please contact us, and we’ll send you more information and a picture of a child or family to pray for.

You don’t have to go anywhere to meet God He is right where you are.

Why We Go To Ethiopia

Over the next week, 8 brave souls from Austin will be meeting dozens of the “least of the least of these” in Ethiopia – orphans in a community called Zeway who are part of our Hope In Ethiopia partnership. This trip is the 7th mission trip we’ve taken there in partnership with Food for the Hungry International (FH), Grace Covenant church in Austin, and several local churches in Zeway, Ethiopia who are working to bring about community transformation through caring for orphans in this community. In preparing for these trips, we tend to get a lot of the same questions, so I thought I’d take a second to answer a few!

Why are You Going?

First and foremost, we are going out of obedience to God’s call in scripture to care for the fatherless, specifically James 1:27 which calls us to “visit orphans” in their distress. Ethiopia has one of the highest numbers of orphans in the world, mostly due to HIV/AIDS and poverty, and we have each felt God calling us to care for them, both by raising funds that support their physical, educational, emotional, and spiritual needs, and by actually going to see them and in so doing to share the love and hope of Christ with them. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be 8 years old and to be totally alone in the world with no one to care for you, but this is what our partnership is helping to fix.

But What Will You Actually DO There?

Most people think that mission trips have to be about building some structure, teaching some new skill, bringing new knowledge, etc.  But our view of missions is a little different – we simply want to show up, to show that we care about these kids, to know their names and faces, to pray with them, to listen to them, to play with them, and to bring their stories back home with us to share with others. So we will mainly be visiting these orphans, organizing a play day for them, meeting with local church leaders to encourage them (including continuing to promote local adoption as a part of the solution to the orphan crisis), and encouraging the staff of Food for the Hungry who are on the ground every day providing direct care for the children.

So You are Visiting Orphanages?

No, there are very few orphanages in Ethiopia (mainly because it is the 5th poorest country in the world, and there are millions of orphans). These orphans live in the “homes” (rudimentary mud huts, usually about 10’x10’, with a handful of items for bare subsistence) where their parents died, and as such they are called “child-headed households”. If these kids were in orphanages, they would likely be separated from their community, shelved away somewhere unseen by those who can most help them. Instead, they are living right there in plain sight, but because many of them have HIV (or just because their parents did), they are often shunned by the community. Our being there for them, providing through FH for their basic needs, and partnering with several local churches to do so is serving as a catalyst for change in the community.

Is the Partnership Working?

Emphatically yes! These kids are going to school (rather than having to work to earn pennies for survival), are getting healthy food, are being healed through group grief and loss counseling, are having their medical needs taken care of, and are learning trade skills such as hairdressing and small engine repair. They are also showing more signs of hope, with many of them attending a local church and reading the Bible. They have formed a type of “family” among themselves, often eating meals together and going on vacation together with FH supervision. And, the local churches are responding with more and more of their pastors and members choosing to adopt children into their own homes. We are witnessing a little slice of “Thy kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven” happening in Zeway!

Please pray for our team (Adam and Amber-Rose Zimel, Matt and Kim Sanchez, Connie Bennett, Nathan Wingate, Dawn Patterson, and Matt Kouri) that we would have safe travels, that God would prepare the hearts of these kids to receive us and hear the good news we bring them, and that God would continue His amazing work transforming the Zeway community.

And please stay tuned for more updates from the field!

– Matt Kouri, on behalf of the March trip team

It’s Right There

written by Sandy Burton

While working on a Bible study, I was directed to Isaiah 58.  From previous studies, I’d circled all of Is. 58:6-12.  I smiled as I recognized the essence of the circled passages – “share food with the hungry, provide shelter for the poor, clothe the naked,” and I felt a zing in my heart remembering our trip to Zeway this summer.  I kept on reading to the end of the chapter and laughed out loud when I saw verse 14: “then (which was circled) you will find your joy in the Lord…”

My overall take-away from the trip was – I had gone to bring hope and I came home with joy.  First, seeing and feeling the pure gratefulness and joy on the faces of widows who were understanding the God of Joy caring for them through Hope in Ethiopia.  Then, THAT joy spilling over me becoming mine.  All because you have responded in generosity out of God’s love for you – which is His joy!

It’s right there…”then you will find your joy in the Lord”.  Isaiah spoke of it. Jesus spoke of it in John 15 – “I have told you this (obey My commands, remain in My love) so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  Paul said it in Philippians 2 – “make  my joy complete by being like-minded having the same love…”

This is why we’re here and this is why we’re there!  Hope in Ethiopia -Joy in the Lord.  God, make our joy complete!

 

 

5 Under 12

5 under 12.That’s how many children (and their ages) who are living in a one-room mud home in Zeway, Ethiopia, one of several we visited as a family two weeks ago. 12-year-old Gibril, his 10-year old brother Deta, their two elementary-aged sisters, and their 2-year old sister lost their mother shortly after the youngest was born, and their father has been gone since before then. The huge smile that is ever-present on Gibril’s face belies the grief he and his siblings must be feeling and the burden he now carries as the head of household for what is left of his family. We’ve visited dozens of orphan-headed households in Zeway over the last 4 years, and this one is definitely the largest single family of orphans we have met, with the youngest sibling at only 2 years old, and yet somehow a sense of peace seemed to fill their home.

Jibril, Deta and sisters

The blessings of our Hope in Ethiopia partnership have been bestowed on these kids, both in formal ways (food support, grief counseling, school materials and clothes, etc.) and in informal ways. You see, the individual who first prayed many years ago for God to intervene on behalf of the orphans in Zeway, a man named Tilahun, has been adopting and caring for orphans both on the job and off. He and his wife, who have formally and informally adopted several children in Zeway, live near Gibril and his siblings. She visits them daily to help them prepare food and to check on them, and Tilahun has become something of a God-father to them. I’ve known Tilahun for many years now, and I’m beginning to believe that he is a 5’1’’ angel of the Lord working quietly in disguise in Zeway.

Written by Matt Kouri

 

Working All Things Together

Matt and I were very blessed to be able to travel with our sons to Zeway this past week after the completion of the adoption proceedings for our 17 month old daughter.  What a trip it was for our 7 and 6 year old boys to see life on the other side of the world!

While in Zeway, we were able to make connections with another organization that works with the poor. LifeSong for Orphans is a U.S. organization that supports adoptive families financially and also has many projects to support orphans and widows around the world. In Zeway, LifeSong supports three schools serving over 700 children and a group home under the direction of Gary and Peggy Ifft who established  Misgana Ministries.

These schools provide a quality education for children up to grade 8. Under the direction of Gary and Peggy, the schools provide a holistic program including a nutrition program and soon-to-be computer lab.  Click here to learn more about LifeSong and Gary and Peggy’s work in Zeway.

Kasim and his wife serve as "mom and dad" at the group home.

 

While none of the Hope in Ethiopia orphans attend the LifeSong  schools or the group home,  there are two interesting ties to Hope in Ethiopia. The first is that the house parent for the group home is a Food for the Hungry (FH) social worker and his wife.   Kasim serves orphans and vulnerable children for FH, the organization that we partner with in Zeway. After mentoring, caring for and serving the poor, Kasim comes home to 10 children who see him as daddy along with his biological daughter who is a year old. He and his wife give unconditionally to these children as their own.

Amoloek

 

Another very encouraging link is that LifeSong schools hired a widow from our partnership to work in the school. Two years ago, Amoloek was very ill and was preparing to leave her 3 children as orphans. After support from FH, Amoloek was able to get proper healthcare for herself and her children. Amoloek is now able to care for her children and support her family through her job at LifeSong schools.

What an encouragement it is to see how God works all things, people and even organizations together for good. We are thankful for the work that He allows all of us to be part of to care for orphans, widows and the poor.