The Evangelist

By Scott Thacker

Whether by nature or by nurture (probably both) I am a skeptic.  This doubter’s view permeates all of my life, even spiritual things.  To be clear, it is not that I doubt the existence of God; I’m all in on Him.   But I do often doubt the things people claim that God is a part of.  In my head (never out loud) I question the validity when people claim “this was God”.  How do they know that it was God that made their cold get better?  How do they know that it was God that caused them to meet up with an old friend in an airport?  Many people see God in these things; I question, “Is He really there?”

Believe me; I don’t like being a skeptic.  While there is value in questioning things, it is not much fun to live your whole life on the pessimistic side of the glass.  So when I see things where there is no other explanation than God himself, I grab on to them.   When we were in Ethiopia in June I got to see one of those things.

Me, Miki (back), Sami (front)

We were at the end of a long day and making one last visit to a new de facto family in our Partnership.  The mother’s name is Meseret and she has three children – all boys.  We spent time visiting with Meseret and hearing the story of her husband’s death from HIV and the pain of being shunned by her family for also being a carrier of the disease.  She then introduced us to her children: Seadam, Miki and Sami.  When she got to Miki she said, “He is the evangelist”.  It’s not often you hear a six-year-old being called “the evangelist” so I was curious to hear more.  She told us how Miki had almost died when he was younger, and that she had told God that she would give Miki to Him if He would save his life.  Despite the doubts of the doctors, Miki survived and Meseret pledged him to the Lord.  She told us stories of Miki and how he shares Jesus with the homeless, how he prays for the sick and how he proclaims the truth of Jesus throughout Zeway (see video below).

Really?  All of this from a six-year-old?  It sounded like a great story, but it felt embellished.  I’ve got kids that age…I know what six-year-olds are like…they are not out on the street corner sharing Jesus with the homeless.  My doubting heart would have stayed there, but then I heard Miki pray.  This little boy, whose body is strained by the scars of his own HIV, prayed like an adult mature in his faith and understanding of the Lord.  Was God there?  No other way to explain it.

A friend told me recently that you need to remember the faithfulness of God.  Like God told Israel, build a monument of stone to remember how He has delivered us.  That way, when you are in doubt, you can think back to those times and believe again.  This friend also told me to look for God in your everyday life – in the sway of the trees, the kindness of a stranger, the prayer of a child.  Is He there?  I sure hope so.

An Unusual Invitation

By Ellen Tuthill

I had been inside the tiny homes of Ethiopian orphans before.  But this June, I was invited into a home in our “de facto” orphan program, where 3 generations lived together – a widow Amina, her widowed daughter Aliya, and 2 small grandchildren, ages 9 and 6.  Amina was aging, Aliya was very ill with HIV, and the children, Sara and Baradeen, might soon be orphans.

The absence of friends stood out on this visit.  No neighbor children hung around the door to stare and shyly smile at us.  No women stood nearby in quiet welcome.  It turns out that the people of  their small community have completely shunned this family because of their HIV+ status.   No one speaks to them…they cannot use the communal water pump…neighbor children are barred from playing with Sara and Baradeen.  This also means that they have no way of making a living.  The family seemed surprised that we actually intended to enter their home.

As soon as we sat down, this tiny Muslim grandmother stood up, raised her voice, and began praising our young Christian friend and social worker, Tsehaye, calling this 20something girl “my mother”, to our great surprise!  This was because Tsehaye (middle back row in olive shirt) arrives regularly on behalf of Hope in Ethiopia – on behalf of all of us who support it – to deliver food, conversation, hugs, and money for rent and school.  In Ethiopia, this means Tsehaye deserves the honor due a parent.  And outside of Tsehaye, this family is totally alone, because she is their only visitor and their only friend.  She represents hope, and she represents Jesus.

Tsehaye is a humble servant of God who has something in common with that much-envied, much-imitated Proverbs 31 woman:  “She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.”  Unlike her, you may never meet these widows — but you can send Tsehaye to their house.  You can pay her salary, and you can even fill her hands with food, clothes, medicine, and money for the schooling and housing this family needs.  You can pray that every time she wraps her arms around Amina, Aliya, and the children to comfort them, they will feel the embrace of God.  In giving to Hope in Ethiopia, you can help keep these widows alive day to day, and bless their children with a future.

It’s an unusual invitation.  But consider yourself invited.  :-)

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!

 

 

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.

The Team is in Addis!

The trip team has arrived in Ethiopia!  They will be there  for 10 days. The goals for the trip is to primarily visit orphans and widows and continue the relationships built during this partnership.  They will also be delivering a couple laptops and digital cameras to the social workers.

I was cc’d on an email that was bouncing back and forth among trip team members right before they left on Friday.  One particular email response made me think of the weight of this type of trip—it was a reminder for everyone to start their malaria medicine.

That one reminder, to take malaria medicine, brought perspective to me that this trip team has entered another world when they stepped off the plane.  A world where the diseases are different,  donkeys are still a primary source of transportation, houses have two rooms with mud floors and walls, electricity is optional.  A world where most babies are not born in hospitals and the life and death of a family really is dependent upon rainfall.

Among all these differences, so vast that it really does not feel like they could be only a plane trip away, there are also great similarities with the people they meet.  Despite a complete inability to communicate at times, the trip team will meet people who they will have an instant and strong connection.  The connection they feel with each other will be because of the unity of vision to care for orphans and widows and to love and keep oneself from being polluted by the evil in the world.  It is with these connections and unified vision that we have built this partnership on.

Please pray for the team as they experience this other world in Zeway, Ethiopia.  We hope to have several updates from them as they visit Zeway, but internet and phone service is limited and sporadic.  Please stay posted to hear more of the contrasts and similarities with us and the people of Zeway.   If you are in Austin, make plans to have coffee with one of the trip team members upon  return.  The sights, sounds, smells, and connections they will have experienced will be well worth the time you spend with them.

It Is About Me

by Sandy Burton, Guest post and Trip Team Member

Just not the way you think.  Of course, it always has, is and ever will be about HIM.  Always.  He and His story and glory.

But follow me here when I say “actually it is about me.” I am, one person, a seasoned believer,  trusting in God each day that He will use me. Right where I am.  Yes absolutely, right where I am.

Until one day He extends a completely irrational and illogical invitation to cross my line. He prompts me with the idea that I am to go to Zeway, Ethiopia to visit orphans and widows.  I hear the “Get in the game, get off the bench!” from the pulpit and say, “Good word, Preach it!”  I feel good about myself because I do think I have made remarkable progress in boldly stepping out, at least as I see it.  But there’s that line.  I still have a line.  It’s a line of fear and of choice and trust.

And He wants me to cross it.  He wants me to go to Zeway. It is so glaringly clear that logic and rationality fade in the light.  How do I react?  Panic.  How is this going to affect me?  How am I going to do this? I have to actually ASK people for funding?  Well “it’s really not FOR me, it’s for the ministry”, I say to myself, but I can’t fool the person inside who is so protectively focused on staying comfortable and keeping all fear at bay, especially when it comes to being self-sufficient.

And there are 20 other things to fear besides provision and in my short-sightedness all I can think of is what I see.  What if?  Can I face what I will see?  Will this make me come face to face with a difficult past that has been put to rest? (Yes.)

Income status is obviously relative, so let’s just say I’m particularly “under-resourced” for this venture and in the middle of it another high cost absolutely necessary item is added to it.  Seriously, God, you expect me to trust You for ALL this?  All before June 8th?

No, this is not an article about how God comes in with piles of money to save the say.  Yes, donations have come, but the “IT IS about me part” is in the *process*.  At last count over 100 people now know about Hope in Ethiopia and the orphan ministry.  Seriously.  And they know about it because I told them.  I had to and God knew that.  The point is *they* needed to be a part of this. And they would not had I told God no.

People I haven’t seen in years have crossed my path.  People I barely know have crossed my path.  And the conversations begin with THEM saying, “So, what’s new in your life?”.  And the ridiculous bending of time and space to cause these “chance” encounters are downright hilarious.

Here is the point.  I could have said no.  In fact, if I knew all that was coming, I would have said no.  But, THAT DAY, God said – “Sandy, you can get in the game right now.  I have prepared these works in advance for you to walk in.  I will provide what you need, in fact, I already have – you just can’t see it.  This is your time to shine – not for you, but for ME.  You are My daughter and I have a plan for you – this is about you *in* My plan.  And My plan is WAY bigger than you and I can accomplish it without you, but I want you to carry Me in the vessel you are to do something eternal.  What do you say?”

People have said, “Aren’t you scared about…this and this and this…?

I could never go and see the tragedy of poverty and orphans and dying Moms.”  Honestly, what scares me is…I had the choice. The tragedy would have been to say no – not me, God.

It is always about Him, but His Kingdom is set up to work with Him in us.  Him in me.  Him in you.  When He says,”what about you?” will you hear Him?

Faith Comes by Hearing

One of the amazing things that happened on our trip to Zeway this past June was being able to take a “Proclaimer” audio bible (www.faithcomesbyhearing.com), recorded in Amharic, the most widely-spoken Ethiopian dialect, as a gift for the Zeway Evangelical Church leaders. They had literally just started to tell us how they were struggling with being able to get the Gospel story out to people when we were able to give them this gift! It was a Holy Spirit moment, and as these pictures show, they are making great use of this very cool little black box. Praise God for this!