Before our team of 17 people left for Ethiopia in November, each of us shared the same heartfelt concern for orphans, and each of us was drawn to Ethiopia for varying reasons. But many of us had never met face to face before and had come to know each other only through cyberspace.
Having had this experience the year before, where you tentatively meet for the first time in a rush of airports and baggage checks, and within a few days, you become like family, I knew what to expect.
Parting is almost too quick and it leaves you reeling for a few weeks, trying to recover from jet lag - but also trying to wrap your mind and your heart around the things you have seen and shared on this brief trip. By the time you start to make sense of things - you no longer have the easy opportunity to sit and share with those that shared each moment with you.
I told eveyone in those first travel journey moments, "We don't know each other now, but by the end of this trip, we will be family and parting will be painful."
When the plane lands in Washington DC, and spits out its travel-weary passengers - each person stands individually in front of the customs agent, and then one by one we straggle to retrieve the luggage we hope will be there. The international baggage claim area is not a place to linger and say long good-byes. There are uniforms and motioning hands directing each of us in different directions - to different airlines and different destinations and tight connecting flights and waiting families.
I stopped abruptly and dropped my bags when I realized I was about to be rushed through the doors where there would be no return - and I ran back to say a quick good-bye, give a hug, and a promise to stay in touch to each person on the team ... and then we were heading HOME.
I asked each person on the team, (when they were ready) to write about a specific experience or a profound moment on the trip that specifically impacted them. Kristen Roach wrote to me with these reflections from the trip ...
"When we first returned from our trip, I felt like I was in an emotional vacuum. It was so difficult to try and process through our experiences of the week and also jump right back into "mom" role for my children. Having been to Ethiopia before for our adoption, I felt "prepared" for what we would see and do.
Boy was I wrong. While we did have the opportunity to visit an orphanage while there for our adoption, we didn't have the same connection or time with the children. This time we were going to not only hang out with them and do some fun things, we were going to be Jesus to them and show them the unconditional love of our savior. We were being Christ's hands and feet.
One of the things that struck me the most was the difference it made to the kids to show them love. Time after time, there would be a child who would look at us hesitantly, unsure of what to make of us, only to later be the one hanging on to my hand and crawling in my lap.
They were eager to give back the love they were being shown. Their sweet faces and eyes would just light up at my humble attempts to speak to them in Amharic. Never mind the giggles as I surely butchered my attempts at words! They were amazed at the surprises we brought and so appreciative of the smallest little trinkets. It was my honor to share all that I had, to bring them such delight. I wish I could have brought crates full of things. Things that we take for granted; toothbrushes, toothpaste, a new pencil or pen, or even a little lollipop, meant the world to them.
The children are forever etched on my heart. I will never forget their faces or the sweet feel of their arms as they were wrapped around my neck. I can't wait to go back and see them again!
I was also moved beyond words at Simret, the founder and director of Trees of Glory care-point. The heart and passion she has for the children was obvious. She is truly an inspiration to me. She gave up her life in the city to really make a difference.
She showed me the small room that was not much bigger than a typical American household bathroom that she was living in. She had a small bed and a cabinet which held all of her possessions. This is sacrifice. This is what it means when Jesus asks us to be willing to give up any or all earthly possessions to follow Him. She is living out the commandment to care for the orphans. Worldly possessions have no place in her life. She is focused on teaching the children about Jesus and giving them a hope for their future.
It was so hard to say goodbye to her. I'll never forget standing in the room after she and Girma had prayed over us and said our goodbyes. When I stepped forward to hug her and thank her for everything, I found that the words wouldn't come and really just seemed completely inadequate. We just stood hanging on each other as the tears flowed. Words were unnecessary. We were just two women sharing the same passion and heart for God. I have no doubt Jesus was there sharing in our embrace.
I am deeply grateful for my experiences in Ethiopia. I will never be the same, nor would I want to. God has truly broken my heart over the plight of the orphan and I will spend the rest of my life doing whatever I can to care for them.
Thank you, Karen, for what you are doing. Lives are being changed because of you. Not only the children who now will have the opportunity for a better life, but the lives of those who you have encouraged or inspired to join along in caring for the orphan. I am in this journey with you!"
And we are in this journey together! Kristen coordinates sponsors for a care-point in Kebron (about 1.5 hours south of Addis) that cares for and provides for 16 orphaned children and she is continuously searching and praying about ways to make even more of an impact.