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!

A Strange Connection — by Ellen Tuthill

About a week ago, my family and I were traveling back to Austin after spending time with my in-laws.  Departing from the tiny airport in Binghamton, NY, we learned at check-in that our first flight was delayed.  Everyone was confused and grumbling — flights out of Binghamton are few, and nearly everyone needed to make a quick connection in Detroit in order to get home that night.  Most affected was the 16-yr-old girl who would be traveling by herself.  Her grandparents worried she could be stranded overnight alone.

I noticed that the girl was wearing a youth ministry shirt, so I struck up a conversation.  She told me that she’d just spent a week volunteering at a camp in New York. “I’m flying to Detroit and then back to Austin by myself, and my family is really nervous about me going alone.”  Natalie’s parents had moved to Austin just three years ago to help pastor a new church.  I was happy to learn that we shared the same city.  “Yes, and I volunteer a lot with Camp Nikos for at-risk kids in Austin,” she said.  “Have you heard of it?”

I got chills.  “I know of Camp Nikos…do you work with the kids just in summer, or year round?” She said she volunteered all year.  “Did you happen to work with the kids at Camp Nikos when they made gospel bead bracelets to send to orphans in Ethiopia?” I asked, not daring to think she had.  “Yes, I did, actually!” she smiled.  “We were teaching them about the nations…and making that gift helped them see that it’s a big world out there, with other children facing tough circumstances…”

A boy shows off his his bracelet made by Natalie and the kids at Camp Nikos (we tucked them into Easter eggs)

A boy in Zeway shows off his bracelet made by Natalie and the kids at Camp Nikos (we tucked them into Easter eggs)

My eyes filled with tears, and I broke into a goofy grin.  “My husband and I led the little team that delivered those bracelets,” I said.  “Our friends Tara and Kebede explained them while we passed them out to about 70 orphans in Zeway.  I got to personally tie some onto the kids’ wrists.  They were so excited and they recited the colors and their meanings back to us…I just can’t believe you had a part in making those!”

Natalie’s grandfather, a pastor, said, “This is so strange…we have been praying that God would send someone to watch over Natalie on these flights and make sure she makes her connection in Detroit.  I can see that He sent you to do that.  Thank you for serving our family in this way.”

I didn’t do much, but God gave me a chance to be a stand-in mother for this girl.  She was alone for a few hours, and she knew that if she needed anything on her journey, I would be there to help and to fight for her. The airline held the plane for us in Detroit, and we landed safely in Austin that night, where I got to meet Natalie’s mother.  She told me that just after she finished praying for someone to watch over her daughter’s travels, her parents texted her from Binghamton to say that such a person had just appeared.

The loving local team who cares for the orphans and widows

The local team who cares for the orphans and widows

Every parent — especially those who are dying of HIV — prays that someone will step in to watch over their child when they’re not able.  Though Natalie is young, she has already stood in the gap for kids on two continents.  I want to encourage you that ALL of us have the opportunity to answer a parent’s prayer for the orphans of Zeway, Ethiopia.  They need housing and education.  They need health care and job training, and food.  And the best thing about Hope in Ethiopia is that, for $40 a month per child, you can provide all of the equipping and the material things these orphans need — but we also employ amazing men and women to stand-in as parents in other ways as well.  When you give to this ministry, you are actually planting a loving, local adult in the kids’ lives to serve them and protect them on their journey.

In IMG_5170addition, you can effectively stand in the gap from afar.  Once, one of our teams from Austin visited teen orphans at their tiny home in Zeway and were asked to pray over them and bless their lives.  Afterwards, the children said, “Our parents are gone.  But you are like parents to us, because in our culture, those who provide for our physical needs are considered father and mother.” The team was shocked at the gratitude and connection these kids felt to strangers from another continent.

You don’t have to get on a plane to see a young person safely on her journey.  If you have not already, please consider the role of stand-in parent, and join me as a donor to Hope in Ethiopia.




Light in the Darkness — by Kristina Vandiver


“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5

As we entered this one-room mud hut in Ethiopia, the first thing we noticed was the absence of light. The one window was tightly shut, and there was no lamp to illuminate the room. Then we noticed the woman lying on a straw pallet quietly moaning in pain. As soon as we saw her, we stopped, bumping into one another, dumb in stupor. We’d come to visit her and the little boy, her son, who was playing outside. But, how do you visit the dying when you thought you were going to visit with the living? As we fumbled through the darkness, our translator took over. “I will ask her how we can pray for her. It is not appropriate to ask other questions at this time.”  Our cameras were quietly put away.

This was one of my first “home visits” with the Hope in Ethiopia partnership — a collaboration between Food for the Hungry, local Ethiopian congregations, and our home church in Austin, Texas. The AIDS pandemic has created a generation of orphans in the world’s second largest continent. In years past, grandparents and aunts & uncles would care for these children, but many of those potential caregivers have died as well. For those caregivers who remain, there are just too many children and not enough resources to care for them all. The result: children living alone, trying to act as grown-ups as they grow up. These young ones are incredibly vulnerable to malnutrition, disease, exploitation of the cruelest kind, and the fate of living in an unbroken state of extreme poverty. Our cross-Atlantic partnership tries to catch these little ones in a safety net of love, protection, and grace.

We’d traveled halfway around the world to visit these children and children who had parents still battling this ravaging disease. The woman lying on the floor answered our translator’s question by saying that she was worried about what would happen to her boy if she were to die. She wondered how she could pay her $20 renEthiopia 2014 027t every month when she was too sick to work. She was worried…and she began to weep. By this time, the little boy had entered the room, and as his mother wept, he curled his little body up next to her feet and began to weep with her. After a quiet pause, we asked if we could pray over her. With her permission, we gently laid hands on her frail frame and began to pray. As we prayed, the darkness that seemed to be so overwhelming was inched out by the one true Light. He was there, before us, but it was prayer that opened our eyes to see Him.

Ephesians 6 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And 1 John 4:4 reminds us that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Why?  Because only Jesus has secured victory over death and darkness on our behalf.  There are times when the darkness can seem overwhelming, crushing even. But Paul encourages us, as he did the people of Corinth, with these words:

Copy of Ethiopia 2014 066“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 

I want to encourage you not to give up.  We can confidently fight the darkness wherever God has placed us, because He IS the light.

To help us fight for the children and widows of Zeway through prayer, financial support, advocacy, or encouragement, please visit the rest of this site.


Overcomers — by Rebecca Kunkel

Rebecca with RedietI love to run!  But I really don’t like running directly into the wind.  And, I certainly don’t like running uphill into the wind.  That’s tough.  It takes endurance and strength.  It takes commitment of will.  Sometimes when I’m running in these conditions, I want to give up.

When I visited Zeway, Ethiopia last month, I saw people who face great adversity… each and every day they are running uphill, into the wind.  I could spend a long time explaining the enormous challenges these Ethiopians face on a daily basis.  But instead I want to tell you about the great strength, endurance, and commitment of will they possess.

I saw a people who are overcomers — strong despite adversity.

Rediet with BezaI talked to children who are grateful.  American kids often grumble about going to school.  But these children in Zeway are grateful to have access to an education at all.  Many of the children asked for prayers that they would do well in school, because they know that academic success is a stepping stone to a good future.  These children are eager to learn.  Their faces are constantly wearing a smile.


IGenet Roba cropped talked to families who are hopeful.  Despite illness — even HIV/AIDS — and lack of material goods, these families have hope.  They believe God can improve their lives.  They see proof of it in the things they now receive through our program: a roof over their heads, a goat to provide some income, clothing, daily nutrition, and the attention of a local social worker and church volunteers who love them.  They see past their history and their current circumstances and dream of a better future.  Their eyes are full of hope.


I witnessed a community that supports one another.  When we visited homes, often the family didn’t owServing coffeen enough chairs for us.  But I saw neighbors appear with stools and benches from their homes in order to make us comfortable.  While we were visiting one widow, suddenly coffee appeared that had been prepared by a neighbor at this mom’s request, so that she could honor us with a traditional sign of hospitality.  Their hands are busy doing things for others.

Tilahun with Hajiis I witnessed children who are alone, but not always lonely.  Many of the children I met have no parent in their home.  They are double orphans, living alone or with a sibling for so many years that they can’t remember their parents at all.  Being alone is a harsh reality they did nothing to deserve.  Yet, they haven’t given up.  They endure.  They have commitment of will.  Many of these kids describe having a new “family”:  their Hope in Ethiopia social worker, other orphans in the program, and most importantly God.  They have faith in a loving Father and they keep moving forward.

I was deeply inspired and forever changed by what I saw in Zeway, Ethiopia.  I saw widows and orphans running uphill, into the wind.

They face extremely difficult circumstances.  They experience painful memories and emotions.  But, they also have endurance and a deep commitment of will that I have seldom seen.  Because they are grateful, hopeful, and faithful, they are people to be admired, not pitied.  But they need a little help to overcome, and we want to continue to provide that.  Will you join us in meeting the material needs of these orphans and widows in Zeway?  To see how you can keep the hope in their eyes, follow us at or, and attend our event at 12:30 on May 18th at Grace Covenant Church in Austin praying


Kebede, front left, kneeling, with the team and other FH staff at site of the new office and library

Kebede, front left, kneeling, with team members and FH staff at site of the new office and library

On Sunday, our team returned home from a joy-filled trip to Ethiopia, where we met with orphans and single parents with HIV/AIDS, whom this ministry sponsors.  We also spent time with the local social workers employed by Food for the Hungry, who regularly look after them.  Travel in a foreign country – especially in rural Africa – presents Americans with unique thrills and challenges.  Our guide through all of these was Kebede Workineh Lule, who manages Marketing and Communications for Food for the Hungry Ethiopia.   We were very attached to his predecessor, Markos, and when we learned Markos was not to be our guide for this trip, I lamented.  Markos responded by saying simply, “Kebede is a very godly man.”  But I struggled to trust God that this new person could take care of a team from Grace CC as well as Markos had.

So, still apprehensive, we landed in Addis Ababa and met Kebede at the airport.  He did many things to relieve our fears and help with our cultural awkwardness.  He created an  in-country “survival guide” for our team, told us what we could safely eat, and tirelessly served as translator.  He used humor and hugs to quickly establish connections with the orphans we visited.   He negotiated the price of our souvenirs and helped us find bottled water and bathrooms.  He even taught us to write our names in Amharic.

But none of those things compared to the way Kebede inspired us spiritually.  Crushingly poor as a child, Kebede grew up very faithful to the national Orthodox church.  One day, his sister had a transforming encounter with the living Christ, and told him she had “found Jesus”.  Soon Kebede was determined to “find” Jesus as well, searching constantly for something more than ritual.  Eventually Kebede came to faith in Christ at the age of 17, during the dark period of the communist Derg regime in Ethiopia.

Kebede translating Tara's presentation of the gospel bracelets

Kebede translating Tara’s presentation of the gospel bracelets

Six months later, he was imprisoned and tortured for his new faith and his refusal to violate the Bible at communist youth meetings.  For more than a year, he suffered physical and emotional abuse, cut off from his family and education.  After his release, he tried to re-enter school, but later was imprisoned yet again.  Unwilling to compromise his faith, Kebede paid a price that few of us in the west ever dream of.   But having Jesus meant that nothing could break him or defeat him permanently.

Today Kebede is a well-educated, happy, spirit-filled family man with a full life.  His early years of suffering inform everything he does, whether it’s explaining to an orphan that he, too, went hungry and knows the child’s pain, or celebrating the progress his beloved Ethiopia is making.  And, most of all, Kebede is “not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His faith lived out before the orphans and widows inspired us.

I want to leave you with one last portrait of our new friend.  On our first full day in Ziway, we all sat down to lunch at the hotel and started practicing songs we thought we might sing at worship with the FH social workers.  Kebede then sang a short worship song in Amharic.  A few minutes later, Kebede left the table.  An Ethiopian man had been sitting on the other side of the window, trying to drown his sorrows in beer, when he heard Kebede’s song.  He asked Kebede to come outside and explain God to him, because he had terrible problems with his in-laws, and was planning to go immediately to the lake and drown himself.  Kebede patiently encouraged and exhorted this man with the gospel, and finally prayed over him, telling him to come back any time that week to speak some more.  Here is a photo of that moment.

Kebede praying

The desperate man whom Kebede counseled laid his own hands on Kebede’s head to bless him, too, for saving him from destroying himself.  All of us from Hope in Ethiopia wish to pray blessings over Kebede as well.  Thanks be to God for His provision of godly men and women — Kebede, every FH social worker, nurse, staff member, driver, architect, and food distributor — who stand with us to care for orphans and widows in their distress in Ziway.

With love,

Ellen, Will, Tara, Scott, Rebecca, Joel, Kristina and Sherry

Showing Up and Laying it Down

We have an amazing team heading to Zeway on Friday.  I say that because each of them is uniquely equipped and passionate for what we’re going to do as we visit orphaned kids and widows.  Six of the 8 team members are going for the first time.  We asked Joel and Kristina Vandiver to share some thoughts on why they are following God’s call to Ethiopia.


JKVandiverBoth of our mothers have died. Joel’s mom died when he was 17 of ovarian cancer. My mom died of a prescription drug overdose when I was 22. It follows that we both have a big space in our hearts for the motherless.

If you listen to Joel give his testimony, he will mention his mother’s death. He’ll also mention David, the youth intern, who came day after day after day to sit with him in his grief. David didn’t say anything, he didn’t do anything, he didn’t bring anything, he just showed up.

If you hear me give my testimony, I will also tell you of my mother’s death. And, I’ll tell you about  Callie, my best friend, sitting next to me as I cried. I’ll tell you that she let me give voice to my anger over the loss. She said nothing, did nothing, brought nothing. She just showed up.

The Good News is that God showed up. In the flesh. The good news still is that He continues to show up. On the good days. On the bad days. On the in-between days. He is a show-up kind of God.

When we visit the orphans of Zeway, we will show up. There will be nothing that we can do, nothing that we can say, nothing that we can bring to undo the losses they’ve experienced. But, we can listen to them tell their stories. We can sit with them. We can enter into their anger over the injustice of their situation. We can hold their hands and cry with them. We can, by our mere presence, tell them that they are worth showing up for.

It’s our prayer that our presence will reveal Christ’s presence. For the kiddos who know Christ, may it be a powerful reminder that He has not left them, nor forgotten them. For the kiddos who do not yet know this incarnational God of ours, may it give them a glimpse of the One who shows up for them every day.

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.           2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NET)


Zeway Trip 2011 052 You’ve heard it all before.  “I’m going to Africa to see how much I have here in the States.”  For me this true, but it runs deeper than that.  I don’t just want to see how much stuff I live with that I think I can’t live without, but I want to see what’s in my heart that I think I deserve, but don’t.  I want to be rid of the latter without neglecting the former.

It’s simple and it’s complicated.  It’s self-entitlement.  What is that, you ask?  Well, it’s saying, “I’m entitled to this or that because I am such and such.”  Yeah, that’s right, I have the right…I must have what I have because of some innate qualities within myself, aside from anyone or anything else.  I look back over my life with astonishment at what I thought I deserved.  This all came to a head in college when I thought I deserved to be a leader.  And, it’s precisely when you think you deserve to be a leader that you lose the right to be one.  Yes, this lesson is easy for me to see now that 10 years have passed.  But, what is in me now that is as obvious to God, but that I don’t see?  What lessons do I still have to learn?012

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3

One right, though, remains clear:  “the right to remain silent.”  I keep this one close by, not because of the law, but because “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” -Proverbs 17:28

Do I have the right?  Sure, I have the right — to lay down my life and deny myself“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” — Matthew 15:24    A quick search on the antonyms of entitlement bring me to:  disqualification, ineligibility, prohibition, refusal, withholding.  Yes!  That’s it!

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that is my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  Philippians 3:7-11

Did you hear that?  Rubbish.  I want all the things I hold dear that I shouldn’t to be counted as rubbish.  That’s a reason to go.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  1 John 2:15

What is the true antidote to self-entitlement?   Gratitude.  Thanksgiving.  Sacrifice.

Zeway Trip 2011 010

Will You Go to Africa? by Scott Garner

[Read more…]