Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just soaking up our presence ...

I asked each one of the travel team to reflect on our recent trip to Ethiopia and to share an experience or a moment that had a profound impact on them.  Michael Schaefer, from Minnesota, contacted me months ago about our upcoming trip in November.  He was very interested in going and yet he was struggling with the thought that instead of spending the money for himself to go, maybe he should donate that amount to the care-points to help more children.  I encouraged him to GO and explained that these kids will forever remember that he felt they were important enough and valuable enough to invest in them with his time and his presence - and that by being there, he can demonstrate the love of a father for his children.  With much prayer and thought, Michael decided to join the team and travel to Ethiopia.

Michael is a fine craftsman by trade and he makes an amazing personal connection with kids.  He teaches a Sunday school class of 2nd and 3rd graders, and the kids and parents alike truly appreciate him.  Michael was part of our construction team while we were in Ethiopia - and he made specific time each day to spend with the kids.



One of my personal favorite memories is from a day when we had many activities and projects planned for the kids and we were keeping them busy every moment.  As the day wound down, we tried to engage the kids in one more group activity by gathering them in a large circle to play duck-duck-goose.  The circle never quite took shape and the arc of children undulated and flagged until it broke into little sections or groups of kids. 

By then, the travel team members were feeling the fatigue from our long travel days.  As each person sat down on the ground with kids pulling on their hands, and little arms reaching for hugs, I watched as children scrambled for a coveted spot on a lap, where they could feel an adult's arms wrap around their little bodies.  Kids that weren't lucky enough to get a lap-spot, entwined their fingers with any available hand.  With one or two children on each lap, and one or two children holding each hand, another child usually draped themselves over a shoulder, while two more children snuggled up on each side.

In the busy-ness of the day, I had one of those moments of awareness that made me stop and appreciate what was happening.  Each adult had settled onto the grass to relax, with many small children pressed contentedly against them.  Little bodies yearning for comfort and contact. 

Earlier in the day, it was nearly a frenzy of activity and excitement ... and just a few hours later as the newness wore off and they became used to the idea that we were going to be with them for a few days, the kids were content to sit in the grass, and just lean into an adult.  Here are a few photos from those moments and Michael's words as he reflected on our time in Ethiopia.



From Michael ... Sharing a week in Ethiopia has impacted me in ways I'm only beginning to discover. Emotions ran the gamut from joyful laughter to tearful sorrow. My heart will never be the same after having spent time with the kids in their world.

I enjoyed sharing care packages with the children from their sponsored families. The look of awe and excitement on their faces as they saw their gifts was equal to any thrill I've ever had. When they saw pictures of their sponsored family their faces became alive because they knew that this was their family and that they were loved.


The children treasured their gifts, they loved playing ball and frisbee, they were fascinated by the creative craft projects, but what I sensed they wanted and needed most was just to be held and shown affection. They were content when they felt they were loved. It made me realize how significant it was for me to be there. I could have sent money and gifts, but I had to be there in order to hold them and in doing so, fulfilled one of their greatest needs.

Poverty goes beyond material needs, it reaches into the heart where loneliness and desperation rule. If I was able to express love and compassion to only one child and given them a sense of God's eternal love for them, my trip to Ethiopia would have been well worth it.

My teammates and I are just ordinary folks who care about kids. We are overwhelmed by the love of our heavenly Father. And our only response to His love is to love others.




  






Sunday, November 28, 2010

"It was as if we had been reunited, without ever having met!"

Of the 17 people that travelled with me to Ethiopia last week, five people had started sponsoring a specific child months ago and wanted to to meet their sponsor child and get further involved in the care-points.  Greta Byers, a pre-school teacher in Wisconsin and mother of two boys, had started sponsoring a little girl nearly a year ago and it was a monumental family decision for her to join me in Ethiopia to meet the little girl (Bizuayehu) that she and her husband, Matt, had been praying for and thinking about for so long. 

I was in the room when Greta sat down with Biz, and the recognition in Biz's eyes and the tears in Greta's had us all choking back tears as we witnessed their first meeting.  I asked Greta to recount the experience in her own words ....

From Greta ... It was a sleepless night after a long flight, but I had been anticipating meeting our sponsor child ever since we started sponsoring her a year ago. Now, Monday morning, we were heading to Kind Hearts to meet all the children and bringing them school supplies, soccer balls, bead necklaces to make together, and cameras to take all their precious pictures. As we lined up watching them sing and watching them stand in their lines in front of their school, I quickly scanned the faces looking for our little girl. She had stole my heart through a computer screen so many months ago, so many worlds away, and here we were this close!


As soon as the teachers released the children to greet us, I started getting hugs from all directions. We were strangers, yet the kids just swarmed us for instant love and attention. It wasn't long before we weren't feeling like strangers anymore. One of the interpreters, Alex, passed by so I asked him if he could find Bizuayehu Worku for me. I told him I was her sponsor and I would love to meet her.

Within just a few seconds, Biz came over shyly looking around him up at me. As soon as I made eye contact with Biz, she seemed to recognize me like a child recognizes her mother behind a costume. She ran up to me and flung her arms around my neck. It was as if we had been reunited without ever having really met. I had sent pictures and I had her picture from her profile, but this was more like she just knew who I was! What a moment that was! I started to tear up and swing her as I held her. She looked at me sadly when she noticed my tears, but I quickly told her through Alex that they were tears of joy and I was very happy to be with her. She rarely left my side all day except to eat and play with some other children when I had to work with other groups.

The next day, we came to pass out care-packages and take their pictures with their packages from their sponsors. As we entered through the gate at Kind Hearts in the vans, I scanned through the crowd of children waiting for us and then following us. I spotted her as her eyes searched the van for me. It was so precious to see that connection and know she was looking for me.

I was able to personally give Biz her care-package and explain each of the photos and gifts, with my friend, Messiker, to translate.  Again, I teared up as I read through our photo album and introduced our children and my husband who pray for her and think about her every day. I gave her a Dodgeville T-shirt and she put it on right away so I could get her picture.





She thanked me over and over, yet it is Biz who has given us so much. She has given us a chance to love a daughter from afar and help her in her own school and village.

We had to say good-bye on Friday, but not without giving her one more little package. I had noticed earlier in the week that her little jelly shoes were torn and tattered. I had some shoes I had brought all the way from Dodgeville, from a friend of mine. They would be a little big, but I decided to give them to Biz anyway, along with a little dress as well.

When I gave them to her, she seemed overwhelmed as if they weren't for her. I assured her they were for her and she just clenched then to her chest. She gave me a hug and ran outside to show her friends her new shoes and dress. The girls took the dress and danced with it and then also took the shoes. I had to intervene to get the shoes back and had Biz put them all in her bag to take home.

After that, we all prayed together and promised we would not forget them at Kind Hearts. I gave Biz a hug and told her I loved her. We ended up finding each other a couple more times for hugs, then it was "good-bye."

I will never forget that week.  I got to give a little bit... to get so much back... from a precious little girl in Ethiopia.

Click here to read more about the trip on Greta's blog.

************************** 
There are 42 new children enrolled at Kind Hearts, and 18 new children enrolled at Trees of Glory (about 60 new children total).  If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com
 
Sponsorship is $34 per month and provides food, clean water, medical care, education,clothing and Christian discipleship.  You can write letters to your sponsor child and I stay in regular contact with updates about the children and the care-points.  I also lead a team to Ethiopia at least once each year to continue working with the kids and the care-points.  I will have biographical profiles on all of the new children in the next few weeks and will contact you with registration instructions (Children's Hopechest  www.hopechest.org/) as soon as I have the profiles. 
 
At the moment - I have committed sponsors for all but about 15 of the 60 new children.  Please contact me if you are interested in being matched with a sponsor child at Kind Hearts or Trees of Glory care-points.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sacred Moments in Ethiopia

Home from Ethiopia for just about two days now, each of us on the travel team (17 of us) are working through raw emotions and experiences from our time in Ethiopia.  Today, as I drove home from work with the trees and hills turning white with snow, my tires making soft shushing noises through the slush as big, fluffy snowflakes blanketed the road ... my eyes kept filling with tears as my mind tried to balance where I was two days ago, with where I am today.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow and we will be enjoying time with our families, with a crackling fire dancing in the fireplace, good and plentiful food made by those we love, and easy, comfortable conversation with sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.

I have over 4000 photographs from my trip to Ethiopia and I will be dedicating time over the weekend to sort through them, emailing photos to sponsor families who are anxiously awaiting news about a child on the other side of the world that they have come to know and love. 

I want each of you to know that every single child at the care-points had one-on-one time with someone on the travel team as we went through each care-package.  Each person on the travel team is a mom or dad (or a sister or brother) that wanted each child to feel loved and special, valuable and worthwhile.  (Even the new children received a package of gifts that we assembled with extra items that everyone brought.)  Letters were read with a translator, photos emerged from the bags and little faces lit up as they realized these precious gifts were from their sponsor families. I wish you could have been there to see the smiles on their faces as they hugged the photos to their bodies. 

With excited smiles, each child tucked their package into a brightly colored tote-bag, nearly skipping from the room to show their presents to their friends.  Later, we noticed children reaching into their tote-bags to touch the photos, sometimes pulling them out again to look at the faces of the family that loves them so dearly.


This is Temesgen, one of the little boys at Kind Hearts, as he spends time
with a translator and Rob Thomas (one of the travel team members)
to pour over the contents of the package.  The children treasured
the letters and photos the most!!




As Temesgen played out in the schoolyard with his friends later, he kept looking
at the photos of his sponsor family in America!!


For 5 members of our travel team, they got to meet their sponsor child face to face. 

Please click over to Apryl Harbaugh's blog to read about her meeting with Jirgna, her sponsor child.  I had the privilege of being present as each person met their child and the intense emotion and love was so evident.  Apryl told me later, "I did not expect how emotional it would be to meet him for the first time!" 

I got to watch as this shy boy first came to realize that the woman sitting next to him, showing him photos and explaining each item in the care-package that she and her husband and kids had picked out just for him at home - was his sponsor mom.  With tears in her eyes, Apryl explained how much they love him and pray for him and think about him everyday.  And Jirgna smiled shyly and then reached out and embraced her. 



The rest of the time we were at the care-point, his eyes would search her out of the crowd, and he would come up quietly by her side and slip his hand into hers or just lean against her.  These were some of the most sacred and special moments during our entire time in Ethiopia.  Please click over to Apryl's blog to read the story in her words.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Update from Ethiopia

After over 30 hours of travel, the entire team arrived home to their family and friends last night (Monday).  The post below was originally posted from Ethiopia but for some reason did not come through on blogger.  Here is that original post ... with much more to follow!!!






THURSDAY:  The entire team is sitting together in the lobby area of our guest home, writing, checking emails and updating blogs. It's been an unbelievably busy week between visiting care-points, planning for each days' activities, sorting through care-packages, and spending quality time with as many children as possible.

The stories we hear as we interact with the kids are heart-breaking and yet they are all survivors. These children, despite their many losses, are the lucky ones ... they can count on a meal every day and are getting an education. They know love - from the staff at the care-point, from their American sponsor families and they are experiencing the love of God.

At Trees of Glory yesterday (Wednesday), one of the staff members pulled me aside and lead me to the crest of a hill. Sitting in the shade there, was an old, old man and it took great effort for him to stand and greet me. He leaned against a walking stick, with dust in his beard and his heavy clothes. He spoke in Oromfia and presented two tiny children - his grandchildren - both were filthy dirty and covered in dust. The bones on their faces protruded as they stared intently at the ground (too shy to make eye contact with me that day). The grandfather explained that he is too old and nearly blind, and cannot care for them. Their father had died and their mother abandoned them. He had heard there was food at the care-point and was asking if they could eat here.

I cannot express the heavy weight of sadness that I felt at that moment.  I couldn't understand what he was saying but I could see the desperation in his eyes and hear the pleading in his voice.  As Girma turned to me and explained his request, I nodded to him. "Yes, Yes! Of course!," I said as I nodded and gestured with my hands that they were welcome. He grabbed my hands and kissed them repeatedly. We made sure that he had food and water too that day as he rested in the shade waiting for his grandchildren.

And guess who was at the care-point this morning, cleaned up and smiling shyly at me ... the little boy and girl that had come with their grandfather the day before. I asked the staff if these children would be enrolling at the care-point, and yes they are enrolling and will be needing sponsor families.

Today - we prepared a huge feast for the children and our team got to watch it being prepared. Injera and wot (the heads of the goats we had purchased the day before were still laying in the corner of the kitchen) along with cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes ... and a big treat .... Coco Cola and Fanta!!  And for dessert ... slices of sweet, juicy oranges.



We spent the entire day at the care-point and the children really started to engage with us, slowly losing their shyness. We spent time with each and every child going through the care-packages, reading letters, looking at photos and telling them about their sponsor family. Their faces just lit up when the photos would emerge from the bag. Each child got a bright green "Trees of Glory" T-Shirt (thank you to the Mullins family!!), a tye-dyed t-shirt made by Lindsey Kerby's team and a brightly colored tote bag along with their care-package.



As the day came to an end and it was time for the children to go home, we could look across the surrounding hills and countryside and see pinpoints of rainbow colors as the children walked home to their villages with their brightly colored shirts and tote bags.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane!!!



Finally!!!!  It's here!!!  Our much-awaited, much-anticipated trip to Ethiopia to work with the kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory care-points!!!! 

Nearly 200 orphaned and desperately poor children are now being served by these 2 care-points.  Our team of 18 people will be spending 3 full days at Kind Hearts and 3 full days at Trees of Glory - working with the kids - teaching, mentoring, building relationships and demonstrating the love of family to them!!

Our travel team members span the country (MN, OH, WY, WI, CA, IL, TX & IN) - and many of us have never met face-to-face.  But we all share the same heart for these precious kids.

The entire team leaves tomorrow from their hometowns - and we will meet in Washington DC for the flight to Ethiopia on Saturday evening.  I'll update from Ethiopia as often as possible - whenever we can get an internet connection.  Please check back often!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's OK. I'll Be With You.

UPDATE Wednesday:  Maea is home and recovering!  She is taking a few different antibiotics and has a follow-up appointment on Friday.  We are so appreciative of all the prayers and well-wishes!

"We need to admit her to the hospital and start IV antibiotics", Dr. Nelson explained. 

"Right now?  As in .... right now?"  I asked with surprise. 

Maea's chin started to quiver and she gave me that look that warned she was about to cry.  The doctor left the room to make arrangements and I said to Maea,  "It's OK.  I'll be with you.  Are you scared?"  Her eyes pooled with tears and she nodded as she wiped them away.

Our 12 year old daughter, Maea, came down with the flu after trick-or-treating last Sunday.  After a day or two of throwing up, her appetite did not return and she was left with a dry cough that seemed to leave her exhausted and spent.  Each morning she would rally a bit and say, "I think I'll be able to go to school tomorrow."  But by evening, she would be just as sick. 

Finally, on Friday I called the doctor.  She had lost 8 lbs by then and had a strange cough.  At first the doctor thought it was just a nasty virus.  Just to be on the safe side, she ordered a chest x-ray.  Maea braved the blood draw like a hero and fell asleep on my shoulder as we waited for the results of the chest x-ray.  With a quiet rap on the door, the doctor leaned into the room and said, "You should come see this".  And there it was - a big white area on the screen where it should be black.  Pneumonia in her upper right lung. 

With a prescription for a knock-out dose of antibiotics, we headed home with instructions to call on Monday if she wasn't noticeably improved.  The dry, persistent cough continued through the weekend - and she continued to weaken.  Today - we went back to the doctor, and they admitted her to the hospital immediately.

Getting the IV inserted proved to be harder than anyone expected.  After numerous tries, the supervising nurse was called.  Maea clenched my hand in hers, squeezed her eyes shut and tears leaked out and pooled in her ears.  They tried and tried and tried again - fishing this way and that under her skin.  Finally - in the very tender skin of her upper wrist .... success.  And within an hour, she had more color in her cheeks than she has had all week.





She's not out of the woods yet.  On her second bag of antibiotics, she looked at me with a funny look and said, "Mom, I'm feeling kind of weird".  I looked at her arm where a very noticeable rash was travelling up her arm from the IV line to her elbow.  She was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. 

My finger found the nurses call button instantly and within minutes they had unhooked the bag and were checking her vital signs.  Jay is staying at the hospital with her tonight and she is resting comfortably.  She's in good capable hands there.

In 5 days, my oldest daughter, Emme, and I are travelling to Ethiopia where we will be working with nearly 200 orphaned and desperately poor children at 2 care-points, Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory.  Even though every one of these kids has a sponsor family in America to provide for their basic needs, the medical care in Ethiopia is in stark contrast to what we have in the United States.  Estimates say there is only 1 medical doctor for every 100,000 people in Ethiopia.

We appreciate your prayers for Maea tonight and tomorrow as she fights against the infection in her lungs - and we appreciate your prayers for orphaned children all over the world that don't have a mom or dad to look out for their health or have access to doctors to provide antibiotics and medical treatment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fantastic News from Ethiopia!!

Fantastic news today from Ethiopia!!! 

We have been working with "Kind Hearts" care-point in Ethiopia for about 9 months now.  Last year, when I was in Ethiopia, the care-point was only able to feed the children 1 cup of rice, 1 time each week.  The care-point was so low on funding, they were considering closing their doors for good. 

So much has changed since then!  All 68 kids were matched with a sponsor family, who committed to a monthly sponsorship of $34 to provide nutritious meals every day, clean water, medical care, clothing, education and Christian discipleship.

This care-point and the kids have been transformed by the love and provision of sponsor families here in the United States.  In less than 2 weeks, I will be leading a team of 18 people to Ethiopia to work with the care-points and the kids.  Most of the travel team members are sponsors and they will meet their sponsor child face-to-face for the first time.

For nearly 9 months now, ALL of the children at Kind Hearts have been sponsored, the feeding program is fully established, school is open and in full swing, and capital projects to improve the care-point are in development.  I have been working with Hopechest to open the doors at Kind Hearts to more kids, so that more children have the opportunity to experience the love and provision of a sponsor family!!

We just received word that over 30 children have just enrolled at the care-point and are in need of a sponsor family!  Over 30 more children who are orphans or living in desperate poverty, that will now have the incredible opportunity to attend the care-point!!

It is a wonderful coincidence that our team will be in Ethiopia in less than 2 weeks.  We will meet these kids and spend time with them before I even have the profile information from Children's Hopechest.  (Profiles include a photo and biographical information about each child.  The Hopechest staff in Ethiopia is working on the profiles right now!)

If you are interested in sponsoring a child at Kind Hearts care-point in Ethiopia, please email me right away at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.  I will be spending time with each of the kids - and will be able to match you with a child shortly after I return from Ethiopia.

Feel free to stop by my blog often in the days ahead.  Our travel team will be in Ethiopia November 13 - 22 and I'll update as often as possible.