I have only ever found myself on the other side of the screen, reading about all of the amazing things that my friends and family are doing overseas to help bring the Kingdom. It is a strange place to find myself trying to come up with the right words to describe the heart change I experienced in Ethiopia. I have to be honest and admit that I am much more comfortable being on the other side. Writing about the moments, the emotions, and the people that I interacted with during my nine day “trip” is more than difficult, and I find myself still processing a lot of it.
The first few days back at “home” are strange. All of the sudden you find yourself surrounded with the same people and the same routines you had before you left. The only difference being that you have experienced a complete change in perspective, and those around you, despite their most genuine intentions, cannot fully comprehend where the many heart-altering experiences have left you. This is exactly where I find myself — surrounded, supported, and loved, but unable to share my heart completely. Though it seems somewhat silly to try and describe the incredible experiences via blog, I feel as though it is the best way to summarize some of the most important/awesome highlights! It is with my best intentions and fragile human words that I will attempt to recount how awesome our God is and how beautiful it is to see His joy change the world.
Arriving in Addis Ababa:
Our plane touched down in Addis Ababa late Thursday evening and we were shuttled directly to our hotel, about a 5 minute drive from the airport. Most of us were pretty tired from the long travel day — luckily for me it was only a two hour time zone change! The next morning I was woken by the sound of obnoxiously loud car horns and children playing — a weird mix of sounds if you ask me. Myself and the rest of the Canadian team headed out to the market to do some shopping as it was going to be one of our only days in the city. It would be a large understatement to say that the driving in Addis is crazy! Driving lanes do not really exist and most people just use their horns constantly in order to get where they want to be, a little scary, but an adventure nonetheless.
Addis’ streets are very much alive. There are groups of people everywhere, which most definitely plays a role in their unnerving driving habits. I was extremely impressed by the liveliness of the city, it is quite the contrast to our North American “busy” streets. Ethiopian people live together, not simply among each other. At almost anytime of day you can find folks drinking coffee together on the streets, or holding hands as they journey to their next destination.
Our journey to Gojo, Ethiopia
The next morning we were scheduled to depart for Gojo around 10am. This plan got delayed due to some major unrest on the road to the village. The previous night we had been prepped that there were “a few issues on the road” due to the current sugar cane crisis — we were told to be praying as the conditions seemed to be only worsening. Behind the scenes our leaders and Ethiopian staff were busy accessing the severity of the situation, trying to figure out the safest way to get us to where we needed to be. To summarize: the road that we needed to use to get to Gojo was the very route that transport trucks also use for exporting the sugarcane. Due to the current shortage, and surely other political reasons, mobs of people had seized the sugar trucks, setting them on fire and blocked the roadways with giant boulders.
After being delayed for over half a day, we were notified that the road had been somewhat cleared and the military had responded. It was an incredibly eerie feeling driving through what had previously been a war zone. If you don’t already know this about me, (ask Ryan about my breakdown in a Mexican Walmart) I am a TERRIBLE traveler. For some reason, I am the most fearful and the most anxious when I am in a new country. The craziest part about the bus ride to Gojo was the sheer and perfect peace that I felt as I took in the alarming scenes through the dusted bus windows. God was in control and he had work for us to do in Gojo — of that I was sure. It has never been more clear to me than in that very moment that God is the most powerful, and nothing — no sugar crisis, no political unrest — can stand in his way. It really was a miracle that we made it through seemingly unnoticed.
Why we were there, what we did, and how we made it happen:
Petros Network takes a team into Gojo every six months. My trip was titled “Fall 2017” and was focused on three specific areas: Women’s Discipleship/Leadership Training, Medical Care (including a new and exciting special education program) and Church Planter Training. As for myself specifically, I was primarily involved with the medical clinic both in the prayer room and working with children with special needs. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Women’s conference, and spend some time with Petros’ sponsored orphans. For the sake of word count, I will not go into detail about the background of the various facets of Petros’ Redemptive Lift campaign, but you can find all the details on their website:
As I mentioned, I was given THE BEST job of hanging out with some awesome kiddos!
In Gojo, as in many rural African communities, Children with special needs are rarely valued and in most cases are hidden from the rest of society. These children are usually viewed as a shameful mark on their family’s line and often do not survive past their first few years of life. So Petros is working to change this by placing value, not shame, on these children. The foundation of this change is a biblical understanding that ALL children are God’s children. And ALL children are fearfully and wonderfully made by a creator who loves them unconditionally. This was the message we shared with the few courageous parents who brought their children to the clinic. Our hope is that these parents, who took the first step in bringing their precious babies out of their home and into the light, would be the catalyst for change.
Change requires training. Training takes time. But I am confident that we made a ripple of change and as the word gets out, more and more parents will arrive with their children on the doorsteps of the TESFA centre, in search of hope, support and encouragement. By the end of the week, the need was apparent and significant, and the founders of Petros Network announced that there would be a new opportunity to sponsor these special kiddos, so that they may go to school and participate in life and culture in a more typical way! YAY!
She is one of the precious little girls that Janna (the angelic blonde women in the photo below) and I got to spend a ton of time with. She has down syndrome, and she is beautiful. Her beautiful mama brought her to the clinic three years ago, and since then Janna and Petros have been working to bring awareness to the community. Bertu is so full of life, and we are praying that BIG change happens through her and her very brave family!
When I wasn’t working with the Janna, I could be found either in the clinic’s prayer room or hanging out with the amazing women at the Leadership Conference on the other side of the TESFA centre. The women’s leadership conference was made up by the community’s female church leaders as well as many of the widows whom Petros sponsors through their business grant program. Church leaders and widows… what would our conferences look like if we stepped out of our comfort zone and intentionally sought out and incorporated women from all walks of life? Powerful.
How BIG our God is:
“If anyone thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this persons’ religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27).
I have been wrestling with why exactly I went to Ethiopia since being home. To be honest, it was for many reasons… and not all were pure and undefiled, that is for sure. So you can imagine how humbled I felt as God gave me those specific words in James. It is interesting to me that God only calls us to “visit” with widows and orphans. He does not call us to fix, to change, or to do more. He calls us to love. He asks us to simply sit with them, to hear them, and to assure them that they are of great value in His kingdom. Though I am still processing all that I saw in Gojo, I am sure of this: God is alive, and he is moving in and through his people in Ethiopia.
There were so many moments in Gojo where I felt sure of God’s presence. I wish I could recount all of them here, but I’m not sure I would have enough words. I cannot wait to come home from Germany and sit in many different living rooms and share all of the stories! For now, I will leave you with one particular story from my time in the prayer room of the medical clinic:
I remember asking God on the first day of the clinic to show me something amazing; I was desperate to see Him move in a BIG way. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I knew I wanted a miracle.
I really can’t describe how it feels to witness so much suffering in one place.
It really wrecked me.
It was the last day of the clinic and everyone was physically and emotionally exhausted. We had seen so much, cried more than I had thought possible (even for me), and prayed more than I had ever prayed in such a short amount of time. I was just outside the doorway of the prayer room, talking to two little boys in wheelchairs (make sure you ask me about this story when I’m home, it’s not one I feel comfortable writing about, but it is a must hear) when all of the sudden I heard one of our Ethiopian pastors shouting at a patient (not so uncommon, really).
We were very blessed to have two amazing Ethiopian pastors with us at all times — I think I learned more about how to pray, by listening to them in a completely different language, than I have ever learned listening to any english speaking person pray… Bold doesn’t even begin to describe their prayer life! It is truly awe-inspiring.
When I turned to look at who was in the room, I realized it was the man who had been brought in on a stretcher earlier in the day. This man had been bedridden for over a year, and was so dehydrated that the doctors could not even find his pulse. He had unbearable head-pain and was unable to walk. Because of the limited space and equipment at our medical clinic, the doctors could only give him a basic treatment: an IV with some vitamins, saline and tylenol. He was then moved into the prayer room, still on his stretcher (I wish I had a picture of this… it was literally made of sticks and rope).
I watched intently as the man was prayed over. I listened to the fire in the preachers voice, and I was sure something that something significant was about to happen.
All of the sudden, the man stood up.
Everyone was crying, hugging and celebrating.
When asked what had happened, our Ethiopian pastor, in broken english, simply said, “I told him to get up and walk in the name of Jesus.”
All I could do was put my head in my hands and sob.
I personally, am not sure what ended up happening with our miraculously healed friend. I hope that one of the team members was able to interview him. But because of the pace of the clinic, most of us had to just move on to the next patient. What a crazy whirlwind it was. What a beautiful day it was.
Our God is the God of healing. He is greater and more powerful than we let him be in North America. And I am forever changed.
Thank-you’s and what’s next
Ethiopia is a wonderful place. But the God of Ethiopia is the same God in North America.
My Ethiopian friends live an incredibly hard life.
They sleep on cold, often wet, dirt floors. Entire families live on less food each day than you and I eat for breakfast. Yet they have more joy than I could ever imagine. They know what it is to be in need. And they know what it is to rest only in the joy, love and hope that Jesus offers us.
So what’s next for me, you ask? Well, my prayer is that God continuously reminds me of what I learned in Ethiopia: Pure joy is found as we rest in Him. Regardless of what our struggle looks like, whether it is starvation or pride in our plenty, we are all in need of pure joy. We are all searching for rest in Him.
So thank you to everyone who prayed bold prayers for me while I was in Ethiopia. Thank you to everyone who financially supported Petros and my trip in particular. Thank you to my family for trusting me in this seemingly crazy and dangerous trip. Thank you for reading this blog, and for going with me on my journey this year.
All my love,