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.


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.


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.



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.

Beauty From Ashes

written by Heather Bauer

In 2009 we entered into a partnership with Food for the Hungry (FH) and the local churches in Zeway to support “child headed households” (CHH), focusing solely on orphaned children.  However, two years ago we added about 30 widows and their children to the CHH program.  We called them “de facto CHH” because the widows were mostly all HIV+, their health was rapidly deteriorating, many were bedridden and sadly, their deaths seemed imminent.  Many of the children were therefore already playing the role of head of household.  We wanted to connect with them and their children in hopes of being a source of comfort and support, providing food, clothing and shelter, as well as emotional support during this traumatic time.

Amalouk and family in 2010 when first added to the partnership

Visiting with the de facto families two years ago felt like going from death bed to death bed.  In addition to their physical suffering, emotionally they were lonely and despairing.  They were outcasts in their community.  Family and neighbors shunned them, pointed fingers and forbid their children from playing with the widow’s children.  These mothers without hope, had no will to live.  They often refused to take antiretroviral medication.  And those that did take the medication often suffered from such a lack of nutrition that the medication made no impact.  Many tears were shed during those visits and I felt hopeless, returning home and deeply mourning for these children who would soon be orphaned, and for their mothers who would not enjoy the gift of parenting their children into adulthood.

Yet, I was reminded that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways.  He is a God who redeems and restores.

Amalouk and her family in June 2012 Photo by Kristin J. Photography

I had the extreme joy of visiting with these “de facto” families earlier this month!  Where there was once despair, HOPE has been restored.  These widows are thriving!  Lives have been transformed.  Once enrolled in the CHH program, both the widows and their children received consistent food and provisions, the children could then attend school instead of doing day labor work, counseling was given and friendships were forged with Food for the Hungry (FH) social workers.  FH also helped build community among the widows, hosting monthly gatherings for the widows to meet together, share their stories and become family to one another.  As hope was restored, the widow’s will to live was restored.

Amalouk and Heather Photo by Kristin J. Photography

This Partnership set out to stand in the gap for orphans, living on their own — to keep them in their communities and give them a future and a hope.  But, as always, God had more in mind that we can fathom.  With the expansion of including widows and their children  in the program two years ago, we are seeing the PREVENTION of orphans, beauty from ashes.  Won’t you join us?  For just $50 per month, your donation will support a widow or orphan.  BE A PART OF THE STORY!  Follow this link to learn more.

Profoundly Cluttered

written by Sandy Burton

Eighteen years ago, a dear friend of mine described me as “highly organized, yet profoundly cluttered”.  It’s still the most apt description bestowed upon me.  My mind continues to be cluttered with profound thoughts about the 2012 trip to Zeway and the eternal work being done by the Hope in Ethiopia Partnership – thanks to you and your prayers and financial contributions.  Days pass as I sort the pieces into manageable piles that can be labeled and described.  In my messy mental housework, I found a treasure I did not expect.  Not at all.

Sara, a ZY widow and Sandy

This treasure…is “JOY”.  I expect it’s not a first thought when considering the global aids orphan crisis ministry, but it is an eventual one when you see the fruit of the efforts. It is the thought I now wake up with every morning and go to bed with every night.  Joy became the theme of my trip transformation and is now the word marking this season of my life. As I’ve said to my gracious home team fund donors and pray-ers, “I went to Ethiopia to bring Hope and I came home with Joy.”

You know that happiness is based on circumstances and joy is something altogether different – deeper – occurring in the *midst* of circumstances, particularly suffering and tragedy. It is a sense that you have simultaneously – joy juxtaposed on top of suffering.  It would be like ice cold fresh spring water erupting from an angry boiling geyser, if there were such a thing.  I have experienced this joy before, but never in such overwhelming measure.

In the lives of these many orphan families with no parents, and the few HIV+ mothers who remain tentatively with their soon to be orphaned children, the tragedy and suffering is stark and extreme.  If you allow yourself to feel and imagine the emotions of the stories without the option of the truth and work of The Gospel, you are crushed as they are crushed. If you allow yourself to imagine the stamina, endurance, compassion, patience needed by the staff people looking over these fragile ones, you can ONLY cry out to Jesus in sheer desperation.  If you allow yourself to imagine being at the jaws of death with only the Cross before you, you – along with them – beg God to be real and show Himself!

And then you see them smile.  You hear their voices speak faster and with exuberance. You know you are in the Presence of the One Who Sees, The One Who Provides. In a dark, dank 8ft x 8ft mud square, in the stagnant hot charcoal smelling air, you see Him shine from their faces.

You see the absolute pure, inexplicable supernatural, completely simple joy and gratitude that flows from a waif of a woman, recently bedridden and now standing in praise.  You want to be with her on The Rock on which she stands and your embrace is eternal joy.

Words cannot express the feelings and experiences I witnessed on this trip.  It is transformation and yet a one word description of the old becoming new, despair becoming hope, suffering with joy, seems so oversimplified.

We see clutter. He sees clear.  We can’t bear to think it. He brings joy THROUGH it. Our team brought hope and encouragement and needed “things”.  Mostly we brought love – the only true transforming love of the Father and His Son. We came home changed and intentional to spread change.  God is real.  Jesus is real.  He makes order from the clutter, beauty from the ashes. Somehow it is  just..that…profoundly…simple.

House Visits with Widows and Orphans

The team spends a good deal of time during trips visiting orphans and widows.  This is an important time of encouragement for the children and widows. It is a time to see progress of the partnership, or where we can be supporting and praying for the churches and Food for the Hungry social workers.  The team also brings home their most transformational testimonies that come out of these short visits to the mud homes of the orphans and widows.

We look forward to the team sharing these testimonies in detail, but until then we have a few very abbreviated updates from the team (via text messaging)

Asnaketch has been part of the partnership since 2009.  She and her brother shared a story with the team about how their baby sister, Bezanesh, was taken in by a family after their mom passed away 8 years ago.  Bezanesh grew up in this home (she was 5 months old when she was taken in by the family) and she was forced to serve as a house slave.  She was denied clothing, school and she was hidden from the community.  An elder brother of Asnaketch rented a motorbike and searched until he found Bezanesh.  Despite the false accusations made by the family to the police, Food for the Hungry and the older brother were able to advocate for Bezanesh and bring her back to live with Asnaketch and Teshome.

Bringing orphans into homes to become house slaves is not an uncommon story in areas of Ethiopia. This is not something we should judge the Ethiopian people for (we have our own problems with fatherless children in America.)  but this is to share to show the importance of the partnership’s goal to encourage God-honoring adoption of the orphans in Ethiopia.  We are working with an organization, Kidmia who is working with the Ethiopian government and holding conferences around Ethiopia to teach more about adoption as it is demonstrated in the Bible.  (Read more about the Seed Adoption Conference held in Addis last year where 50 Zeway pastors and wives attended.)


Please be in prayer for Bezanesh as she heals from the traumatic first 8 years of her life.  Pray for a God-fearing family to step up and support these children.