Friday, November 30, 2012

A Gift Worth Giving ...

For the last few years especially, Christmas plays a tug-of-war with my heart.  In November each year, I am in Ethiopia, a country poor in material things but rich in relationships. 



I have dirt under my fingernails and in the creases of my hands, as I hold hands with children who welcome me into their homes (dirt walls and dirt floors) and into their lives with open, trusting, accepting arms.  A precious and sacred gift.

When I look around at their possessions, there is literally ... nothing.  They are proudly wearing the new clothes sent by their sponsor family, while the clothes they got last year are laying neatly folded nearby with a year's worth of dirt and grime, rips and tears (after being worn every day for the last year). 

They feel richly blessed for friendships forged with a sponsor family in America who they know loves them and prays for them and provides for them.  And that is enough - more than enough.

By the time I fly home, Thanksgiving is here and gone in a flash of jet-lag and sleep deprivation and the steady onslaught of holiday ads encroaches from all sides .. and I feel ill.

It doesn't even wait for the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) - it now starts ON Thanksgiving - the one day where we as a nation and as individuals and families pause to reflect on what we HAVE (instead of what we don't have) and give thanks.  Gratitude.

Contentment is an elusive thing.  Gratitude for what we have - without focus on what we have not.

Especially during Christmas, how does our focus end up shifting to what we have not??? 

Especially during this time?

"It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving." ~Mother Theresa

Why don't I feel good about what I am giving, as I buy Christmas gifts out of obligation for my children, friends and family who already have ... enough?  Why does this not feel like the right way to honor and celebrate the meaning of Christmas (with empty giving)?

____________________

My friend Robyn Davidson, has once again created a beautiful card for Christmas, that to me exemplifies the spirit of Christmas giving.  Not empty giving - but giving out of love to someone truly in need. 

THIS GIFT is literally a life-changer for kids that have little hope.  (The photos on the card are just a few of the 195 kids currently enrolled at Kind Hearts - beautiful faces filled with hope and purpose!)

Kind Hearts care-point in Ethiopia is now serving nearly 200 kids - providing nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship.  And it shows.  I have known these kids for four years and I have seen lives and families transformed and redeemed. 

But we are over-enrolled right now (we have grown from an original 68 kids to 195!) and the strain shows in the kids and in the staff.  Staff members are doing their best but with too many kids and too few staff, the strain shows.  Eating in shifts because there are not enough plates and not enough places to sit, the strain shows.  Not enough classrooms and not enough desks and chairs ... the list goes on.

With a new school building, Kind Hearts will have the resources to double the number of kids they can serve - including all of the kids who hover at the fringes of the care-point, hoping and waiting for the day they too can enroll and go to school and take the first steps out of hopeless, grinding poverty.

Here's how Robyn explains it ... "Giving a gift in someone’s honor is incredibly meaningful. It says, “I know you appreciate the significance of a good thing.” If you ask me about gifts I’ve received in the past, these are the gifts I remember. The simplicity of sending this card to family and friends can help improve the lives of hundreds of children for a lifetime. That’s a worthy gift."



Robyn is completely funding these cards and postage (as her worthy gift to her husband and her husband's gift to her) so that 100% of the proceeds can go to Kind Hearts.  Please click to Robyn's blog for details http://davidsonpartyoffive.blogspot.com/2012/11/i-have-perfect-gift-for-you.html and please give generously since every penny will go toward the new school!

Please consider this gift for those in your life who already have "enough" - and give a gift worthy of the season. 

Put some love in your giving!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More Than Enough!



Treading carefully down the steep slope at Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia, sunlight glinted harshly off the tin roof of the large building we were aiming toward.  As we approached, I could hear a steady murmur of chickens clucking contentedly and beginning to make more noise when they heard our crunching footsteps.



Check out this video from 2 weeks ago in Ethiopia ...



The traditional "wattle and daub" construction of the building keeps the interior cool, while the modern metal roof protects the structure from wind and rain.  As we stepped inside, a bucket of bleach solution was ladeled onto a mat that we all stepped on to kill any germs or virus'. 

The ruckus increased as Simret picked up a large scoop of chicken feed and sprinkled it generously into the tray in front of the chickens.  They immediately pressed to the front of the cages as Simret murmured to them, looking over each hen with care and concern. 

The chickens are able to move freely within the cages, about 5-6 chickens per enclosure, but they rush to the front at the possibility of food.  An egg rolled to the front of the cage, and a ready hand plucked it out and added it to the harvest already gleaned that day. With a huge smile, Simret exclaimed "That makes 177 today!!!  A new record!"



Last year at this time, Simret had explained to me her idea for a poultry project at Trees of Glory.  "This rural area does not have access to eggs or chickens in the local markets.  Not only would eggs provide an important protein source for the kids, but we could also sell eggs in the market to generate income for other essentials and begin to gain self-sufficiency."  Simret's vision was embraced by my church here in Buffalo MN and it became our Christmas project last year and was completely funded in 5 weeks!!!

Today - it is fully functioning with nearly 300 chickens producing eggs at the rate of 180+ per day!!  More than enough to provide nutritional food and protein for the 175 kids attending Trees of Glory, and also a welcome new provision in the local markets. 




"The local markets only provide basics like rice, wheat, tef, beans, spices and cooking oil.  Fresh produce like eggs, chickens, fruits and vegetables have to be bought in the markets closer to Addis, which costs more and requires transportation expenses as well," explained Simret.  Providing fresh eggs to the local market also gives families facing malnutrition a much-needed option for protein!

As it is, Simret travels to Addis every other week to purchase onions, carrots, beans, fruits and vegetables as well as bulk supplies to provide a balanced and nutritional diet for the kids.  The extra income generated from the poultry has helped cover those expenses so she can provide better nutrition for the kids!

Simret went on to explain that eventually egg production will decrease and when it does, the chickens can be sold in the market for their meat (as well as their egg production) and the income generated will be used to acquire new chicks.  The entire project will become completely self-sustaining.





Additionally, children attending the care-point as well as their families are being trained in poultry farming and egg production.  "Not only will we supply vocational training to the kids, but eventually families will have their own chickens for food and an income source!"

THANK YOU to Buffalo Covenant Church in MN for partnering with Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia to achieve this vision which has already had a far-reaching impact!! 



If YOU would like to get involved by helping to fund a project at Trees of Glory, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.  Simret shared several ideas with me that will help the care-point serve even more orphaned and destitute children and generate income to become more self-sufficient.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Instrument that Brought this Father Home ...

This year, I walked behind the team as we branched in different directions to the tiny clusters of huts on the various hillsides surrounding Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia.  The kids excitedly and possessively were holding hands with their sponsor family as they lead us to their homes - to meet their families and see where and how they lived.


 
I was taking in the views, the rolling hills with round huts dotting the land, livestock grazing, curious herders raising their heads to watch us walk by being towed by happy kids - an unusual sight in this area.  Our team split in different directions to visit four different homes and I followed my daughters to a familiar cluster of huts, one we had visited last year.





Click to this post from last year http://family-from-afar.blogspot.com/2011/12/she-was-on-her-own-with-5-kids-to-raise.html  when we stepped into the home of a family on the brink, to discover a mother and 5 children abandoned by their father (husband) and barely scraping by; hopelessness weighed heavy in the air that day. 

Last year, hopelessness hung heavily in the air.

Three of the kids were attending the care-point for school and nutritious food, but the baby on her hip was still nursing and her 3 year old little boy was forlornly clutching her skirt; hollow-eyed, thin, lethargic with a racking cough from sleeping in a smoky hut. 

We asked to enroll him at the care-point too and the next day, he was there.  Frightened and shy, but wolfing down the good food and keeping his little eyes on us all the time.  Later he became inseparable from Maea as she carried him around the care-point in her arms.

This year, when we arrived at Trees of Glory, his were the first beautiful big eyes I spotted in the crowd of kids and he broke into a big smile of recognition.  Since Abby Wasson sponsors his big brother, Gosaye, we set off for another home visit so Abby could meet the family, and I could check on their progress since last year.

As we crowded through the small opening in the rock wall surrounding the huts, Abby turned to me and said, "This man says he's the children's father!".  I responded saying, "No, that can't be right, he abandoned his family last year."  But the smiling man in front of me that greeted me warmly, looking into my eyes and pressing my hands with intensity was indeed their father!!!  He had the same beautiful eyes as his children.


I admit that last year, I felt resentment and disappointment toward this man who I understood had left his family in great need.  Their home was in disrepair, his children and wife were gaunt, obviously hungry, and looked to be living in very dire circumstances.  She never smiled last year and tears welled in her eyes when I prayed for her and her family.  What a difference this year!!!!

As my eyes scanned for the kids' mother, they came to rest on a woman with a beaming face, a head held high and round cheeks.  Could this be her?!?  She shyly reached for me and gave me the familiar kiss on both cheeks.  My mind struggled to catch up with what I was seeing - a family re-unified with healthy children, pride and hope in their future.

As it turns out, Sisay, their father, now works at Trees of Glory as a guard and is responsible for the livestock and their milk production.  He is a gentle soul who loves his family and I could see it in how he looked at his wife and touched her, and his gentleness with his kids.  He was a steady presence at the care-point each day, and many times I would catch his eyes and he would clasp his hands toward me and raise them to heaven, giving thanks and giving me encouragement.  He was truly enjoying watching our team interact with and teach the kids.

Whatever his reasons for leaving ... whether he had gone to his own family near the Kenyan border to desperately look for work or provision, or whether he could not face watching his wife and kids suffering and had simply walked away ... whatever the reasons, he was back and able to provide.  A family re-unified!!!!

The kids were healthy and clean, with shining eyes and shining smiles. 



The roof over the sleeping hut had been repaired to keep rain out, and the single room was tidy and clean with fresh grass strewn on the hard-packed dirt floors giving it a fresh, clean scent.  A raised platform bed had been crafted for the couple, and we admired his craftsmanship with the whittled sticks and leather bindings he had used.  A mattress stitched together from a tarp and stuffed with grass and leaves lay under a leather hide to provide cushion and comfort while they slept.  The kids' orange, draw-string back-packs (from Terri Keeler) hung in a neat row on the wall.

I realized that we oftentimes hear stories of families torn apart when a father or mother is forced to leave home to find work - a desperate move to be able to provide for their family.

Sometimes it means travelling a great distance and not returning for months (or never returning when the mother tragically disappears in another country and is never heard from again).  In this case, Trees of Glory care-point is not only providing basic needs for children and coming alongside families to alleviate poverty, the care-point is the instrument that brought this father home, reunified a family and provided a job and pride in being able to support his family!!


Abby Wasson with her sponsor child, Gosaye.

The four kids with striped sweaters (Trees of Glory uniforms) attend the care-point for nutritious food, clean water, medical care, clothing, education and Christian discipleship. 
The youngest, Daru, is sponsored by my family, Gosaye is sponsored by the Wasson family,
Mekdes (the sister) is sponsored by the Culwell family, and the oldest boy Haile,
is sponsored by the Muecke family.

 
Just before we left for Ethiopia to work with the kids at Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts care-points, we enrolled another 96 kids between both locations!!!  Many of those kids have already been matched with a sponsor family, but about 40 kids are still waiting. 
 
If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com and let me know if you have a specific age or gender of child you would like to be matched with.  $34 per month provides nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship and changes the life of that child and their family!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ethiopia In My Soul

Homecomings can be bittersweet. 

We landed in Minneapolis on Monday after 36+ hours of travel from Ethiopia ...
feeling tired ...
feeling fulfilled ...
thankful to be home ...
but missing our dear friends (Children's HopeChest staff), kids and care-point staff who we will not see again for perhaps 12 months. 

After a quick day back in the office with too many emails to sift through, we headed to Iowa to spend a restful Thanksgiving with family.  A sweet homecoming, with everyone wanting to hear about the trip and the kids they sponsor and love.

But my mind keeps straying back to Ethiopia. 



Specific kids who have forever imprinted on my heart.  The tragic stories of families torn apart by poverty.  Kids without a mom or without a dad.  And the incredible redemption visible at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory as these same kids see and feel HOPE and love. 



I can see it in their eyes, and in their smiles as their hands grip mine, and their little arms slip around my waist and pull me down for a kiss and a hug.  I can see it in their healthy little bodies that have filled out from good nutrition and medical care - and I can see it in their intense prayers as their hands cover their eyes and they pray with furrowed brows, eyes squeezed shut and a ferocity and intensity in their voices as they raise them to heaven.





I smiled as I put my tennis shoes on this morning.  Dirt from Ethiopia is still deeply embedded in the soles of my shoes.  And Ethiopia (and the kids) are deeply embedded in my soul.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Water Changes Everything (Ethiopia)!


 
Through the trees ahead, I could see a row of bright, yellow jugs lined up waiting to be filled with water. 
 
These are the familiar yellow jugs that families use to carry water home to use for cooking and washing and drinking since none of the homes in this area have plumbing or running water.  As we approached, we were greeted by several families from the area served by the new water point.  A celebratory coffee ceremony got underway and a tray of popcorn was passed around.
 

Now that the deep water well has been drilled at Kind Hearts care-point and the water reservoir (cistern) is complete, two water points (access points) have been installed.  One is located on the grounds at Kind Hearts within easy access for the kids and the staff.  The other water point has been installed near a very poor neighborhood to provide easy, convenient access to clean water!!
The Children’s HopeChest team explained that this particular neighborhood of tin and mud constructed homes has over 2000 homes, each with an average of 8-10 people.  That’s 16-20,000 people who now have convenient access to pure clean water!!! 
Several village representatives who greeted us that day explained that prior to the water point, mothers and children spent hours each day walking 6 km one way and 6 km back to fill jugs with water to use at home.  With the installation of the Kind Hearts water point, these families now have convenient access to water within a few steps of home.  Acquiring water and carrying heavy water jugs is no longer a chore that takes all morning.  It has freed up children from this important task so they can attend school, and gives mothers the opportunity to accomplish other tasks or even take on work to provide additional income!
Water changes everything!  And we could clearly see that at Kind Hearts and at this nearby village with the new water point!! 
Of course there is still work to be done with the well … we still need to construct bathrooms and shower facilities at Kind Hearts so the kids and staff don’t have to continue using the dangerous and filthy hole-in-the-ground that serves as a toilet today – and showers so the kids can easily bathe and even wash clothes.  Eventually, another water point could be installed near the kitchen and eating area to make food preparation, clean-up and hand-washing even more convenient and accessible.
Our team of volunteers hikes from the schoolyard at Kind Hearts, to the site
where the well is bored.  Water is then pumped to a large cistern (reservoir) at
a higher elevation to provide water pressure at the water access points. 

Yifrut (with Children's HopeChest) and the director of Kind Hearts explains where the
two water access points are located.  One at Kind Hearts and one close to a local village.


 
Fresh, clean, cold and abundant water is now readily available for the kids at Kind Hearts
and for nearly 20,000 people in a local neighborhood!
 

Our team of volunteers at the village water point with the water jugs that will be
filled and carried home by each family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reflecting on Individual Moments ...

Our team of volunteers who travelled to Ethiopia to work with the kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory CarePoints has arrived home with thousands of photos and hundreds of stories and amazing experiences!! 

As we look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday, we are all reflecting on the individual moments that deeply touched our hearts and inspired us to work ever harder on behalf of these kids.  The kids and the staff are deeply grateful for your commitment and provision that has changed the lives of so many.

Just a few photos from the past 11 days at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory ... with many more to come.  Thank you to each and every sponsor family for praying for our team and for your dedication to these kids!!