Redemption (by Dawn Patterson)

In the times I have visited Zeway, I have heard stories of sadness, stories of hope, stories of forgiveness and stories of transformation.  But today, I witnessed an incredible story of God’s redemption that I have to share.

We went to visit the home of Selamaweit.  I had the privilege of meeting her two years ago.  She has 4 beautiful children named Beniyam, Samraweit, Mintossonet & Edatu.  She is a widow living with HIV.  When I met her 2 years ago, her faith was contagious.  When she spoke about Jesus, she would stand up because she was so amazed at all He had done in her life.  Today when we came, there was another little boy there.  As we greeted her, we asked who this child was.  She shared with us how her neighbor had abandoned the son and she chose to take him in.  She also said she was the “legally registered” care giver.  In other words….she was his foster mom.  We were blown away.  Here is an HIV+ widow caring for 4 children and not only does she take in this child, she goes through the effort to become his legally registered caregiver.   She was so loving toward this sweet boy (as she was with all her children) and he was clearly very attached to here.

But here is where the story gets good….as if that’s not good enough.  After her husband died, a few years later, she fell in love with a man.  She made the decision to leave her children and abandon them so she could go to be with him.  Ultimately, God brought her back to her children and she became a believer but she was alone, very poor and struggled to provide for her children.  She said she cried to God to help her.  She said she wept tears.  Then she said “and then God brought me you all and FH.  If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to care for my own children and I wouldn’t have been able to take care of Ibidde”.

God wastes no tears.  He is the God of second chances.  He is the Great Redeemer.   I have heard it said that from our deepest hurts come our greatest ministries and I belive this to be true.  I imagine the time away from her children is one of Selamweit’s deepest hurts, but how beautiful it is that through that hurt, God has brought her to a place where  she is able to minister to this precious child.

Being Known (by Dawn Patterson)

As we drove into Zeway town I started thing about how much our lives have changed since we first visited.  I looked at the faces of every person hoping to get a glimpse of someone I recognized.  If I saw someone I knew….would they remember me?  I thought about the excitement the children must have when they know the “forengi” will be visiting.   Are they as excited about meeting us as we are about meeting them?  Sometimes there is the misconception that WE are the blessing to them.  But the truth is….they are the ones that bless us.

I’ve never left a home visit feeling like “wow…we’ve done a really great thing for these children”.  I’ve always walked away feeling challenged.  Could I rise to the occasion as these children have done in their circumstances?  If I had no parents to guide me, would I walk hours each day just to go to school?  I just can’t say my answer would be yes.

There is a determination in the spirit of these children.  Some how, some way….they don’t give up.  How easily we give up when things don’t go our way.  But they press on.  When I close my eyes and picture these children….I see Jesus with each and every one of them.  Holding their hand, walking with them….even carrying them.  They can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.

If I had never come to Zeway…I wouldn’t have ever met these children.  I don’t know that I would have been so challenged in my own personal life to help be a voice for them.  I wouldn’t have spent so much time examining my own faith and the realities of just how shallow it is.

My friend Julie said her prayer for this trip was that these children would know that they are KNOWN by our God.  That they would know who they are….a child of the most awesome King.  That is the message I want to share with these children.  That they are dearly loved by a perfect Father who will never leave them or forsake them.  He is the reason we are here.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:13-14

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

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.

Money Well Spent

My name is Ellen, and I want to tell you a story. It sounds a bit like a fairy tale – the ones by Grimm or Andersen that include suffering and gross misbehavior by human beings, and sometimes end happily anyway.

There once was a mother who was so poor that she was always, and only, a beggar. She had 3 children, and was pregnant with her 4th. They lived in what can best be described as a nest on the grounds of a local church. Eventually the priest made them move, so they had to beg and wander and find a new place to make a shelter. The mother got sick, and then sicker. The children took their mother to a hospital. They begged $2 from their neighbors to pay for one night. Then the hospital demanded $13.80 – a large sum in their country – to treat the mother’s kidneys. They could not move their neighbors to give them this much. The hospital sent the mother home, the children in tears and feeling that they had failed her.

When they had traveled the many miles back to their town, the mother sat the children down and pulled a little pouch from her waist. “I have here the $13.80 needed to pay for my treatment,” she said. “But I am going to die soon anyway. We can’t waste this money on me. It’s all we have. I will divide it among you to live on.” And she did.

Shortly thereafter, the mother died. The children watched her burial, and a family came forward to take in the youngest of the four, who was just a few months old. Surely this was better than asking the other siblings – 6, 7, and about 12 years old – to care for a baby. But the new mother took the baby to a far-off city and made her a house slave. Once she could walk and begin to work, this foster mother forced the girl to work constantly, kept her from school, barred her from any interaction with the community, and even denied her clothing.

The oldest brother heard the ugly rumors of this and rented a motorbike. He made the long trip and searched discreetly until he found his sister, now 9 years old. He implored her to leave with him, and stole her away on his motorbike. She had never been so happy in her life.

When they returned to their hometown, the brother reunited Baby Sister with her other siblings, who were now teenagers, and had been longing for her for years. But the bad foster mother, enraged at the loss of her slave, arrived in town with the police in tow. Lying to the authorities, she attempted to steal Baby Sister back for herself, saying she was her own child.

At this point, this terrible story takes a dramatic turn, because these children had an advocate. They had a modern-day knight – a mere slip of a woman named Tsehaye – who heard what was happening and boldly stepped into the story. Tsehaye was a social worker supported by this Hope in Ethiopia partnership – and she intervened to help this family. She went to the police, explained that the children were the truthful ones (as they so often are), and convinced the authorities to leave Baby Sister with her siblings. The legal workings were handled. The family of orphans was put back together.

This story certainly has the elements of a fable. The bad news is that it really happened, and I heard the whole thing first-hand from the children.  But the good news is that God is using this partnership, these social workers, our dollars to mend lives and rescue children through advocacy and protection. For years I have thought that the money I donate to Hope in Ethiopia is well-spent because it goes to feed, clothe, house, educate, and counsel orphans like these. Now I believe that the greater thing my money is accomplishing is this: in Zeway and its suburbs, orphans and widows have advocates, defenders, helpers motivated by Christ to step in and fight for justice to be done. Perhaps this causes evil people to think twice before abusing orphans in these towns. Perhaps it gives hope to the young girl who has just lost her second parent, and hears that there is a person to turn to for help. Maybe it prompts the local church members to take up the same work in the name of Christ. Perhaps it points people to a God who loves mercy and justice for the fatherless.

Whichever it is doing – and there’s evidence it is doing all of these things – my money is well-spent.  $50 in my pocket never looked as good as the faces of the three siblings in this photo anyway. I’m not at all ashamed about buying my way into their story – this is the role The Author wrote for me, and perhaps for you.

To learn more about getting into the story, click on the DONATE link above.