Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"... Shook me to my core"

Each year, as our team of volunteers assembles, I love watching this group of separate and very different people, from all areas of the country, merge into a solid, hard-working team that feels like family within a few days (or even a few hours).  It is with remarkable bravery that many individuals embark on this trip all by themselves, with a group of people they have never met before.

For many of us, we meet for the first time in Washington DC as we get ready for our overseas flight.  But we have a common goal and a common passion and that is all it takes to forge friendships that last a lifetime - here and in Ethiopia!

Danielle's family has sponsored 2 children at Trees of Glory for a few years. She contacted me about joining the team and I was looking forward to meeting her! We ended up being room-mates, and I was immediately impressed with her depth, uwavering cheerfulness and steady, solid personality.

 Danielle with Shashitu and Ashenafi, giving them a care package, letters
and photos from her family!
 
 

Each night, Danielle wrote in her journal (I can still see her in my mind, on the top bunk, sweatshirt hoody over her head, writing and writing) - afraid that without putting words to paper, she would forget the events from the day, the small and important details, the emotions, the experiences.



 
When our team arrives home after a very intense 10 days in Ethiopia, there is much to process.  We leave behind a land and people of incredible beauty and fortitude - and unbelievable poverty - and we arrive home to Thanksgiving and Christmas in the land of plenty.  And it's hard to process ... it's not fair ... it's easy to become angry at the disparity and unfairness.

I ask each team-member to write a blogpost about their experiences in Ethiopia and many are still processing that information. I was thankful to hear from Danielle and not only did she share a journal entry with me about her home-visit with her sponsor kids, but she shared some heartfelt thoughts with me as well.

THIS is what makes these trips so important and eye-opening and life changing ....  We oftentimes think we are changing lives through sponsorship (and we are), and we come home changed by them.  These children bless us as much (if not more) than we bless them.  Danielle is barely 20 years old and she saw that first-hand and it has changed her forever!!

A small bit of what Danielle shared with me in her email ...

"After returning home I felt very angry and confused. I think I emailed you a bit about this already. It took me weeks, ok a couple months, to get past the negative emotions. I am confused as to why we are so "blessed" with material things and they suffer in poverty. Why can't we do more? Why is the world unfair? How can people allow this to continue without doing ANYTHING? ... I also recognize that they are rich and abundant in love, peace, patience, kindness, etc. and they deeply trust in God.

A part of me is envious of that and I wouldn't want to taint that in any way. Then I think that there HAS to be a way we can make MORE of a difference. A large scale change... Wrestling with my own feelings/emotions about everything AND with God about my experience was a bit of tough love.

I believe I have come full circle back to a clear-minded me. This experience has been truly wonderful and really shook me to my core. I am grateful to be more aware of what actually goes on in other parts of the globe, and in the third world. I hope my story here will help others to become aware and encouraged about the difference their sponsorship makes. Thank-you for allowing me to be a part of the team in November. Ethiopia will forever be in my thoughts and prayers."

Danielle - I can't wait to see the difference you are going to make in this world!


From Danielle's journal:

Home visits today!

I met Shashitu and Ashenafi. They are adorable! When I shook Ashenafi’s hand he didn’t want to let it go. He must have known I was from his sponsor family before being told… 

We took the two minute walk to their house as a small group with two translators. We brought sugar coffee and a scarf for their mother.



They’ve lived there for 12 years and it took 8 to build the house they are currently living in! One room, one bed. Some family photos were on the wall.





We sat and asked a few questions about their family and the house and the kids. They said thank you so much for the love, gifts and sponsorship. Their gratitude was almost overwhelming. I fought back tears of joy as their joy overflowed.

The father used to work and live in Addis but he can now live at home because the kids have a sponsor. To know that my family is able to help bring another family closer together is a wonderful feeling.

They have animals and a barn with a half wall to their kitchen. It seems as though they are quite blessed, not every family has land, livestock and a roof over their heads.

At one point during the visit little Ashenafi pulled something plastic out of his pocket, and looked up at me with a smile. It was our family photo! They said he carries it with him all the time and shows his friends!! Yet another time when I fought tears. It became all too real when our worlds collided like that.



We learned that he wants to be a doctor and his sister wants to be a teacher. I was able to pray before leaving the house. I prayed love and blessings, growth and gratitude over our entire group and Trees of Glory.

This family is abundantly blessed to be together again and have the opportunity for their children to attend school. It is a truly humbling experience to see what few material things they have in comparison with my own family, but even more so I am humbled by the strength of character and the abundance of love they have for one another.



They are a true inspiration and beautiful example to me. Hope is revived when we see what might be considered small ($34 per month for sponsorship) can translate to an impact beyond imagination when we trust in the provision and grace of God.

Danielle and her family are now sponsoring 2 more children at Trees of Glory care-point!  Twin boys Yared and Yakobe are now being sponsored by Danielle and her sister (in addition to Sashitu and Ashenafi)!

There are still a few children at Trees of Glory care-point waiting for a sponsor family.  If you are interested in sponsorship, ($34 per month provides nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship for one child) please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com

Monday, January 21, 2013

More lives will be changed for the long term!

 
 
I am thankful to be able to report that ALL of the funds to build new classrooms at Kind Hearts have been raised and the project is underway!! Blueprints are being finalized, a survey needs to be done and permits need to be obtained but the project is moving forward thanks to YOU!

In addition - as January got underway, donations continued to come in to the tune of $11,000. Our budget to fully furnish and equip the new classrooms (and replace the old rickety, broken desks and chairs in the current building) was $10,500. Amazing!! More than enough to fully furnish both buildings!!

Your supoort and commitment to these kids is so appreciated and has changed everything for the kids already attending!! With the completion of the new classrooms, we will be able to enroll more children and change more lives for the long term!

THANK YOU for your commitment to make a difference for kids in Ethiopia! As the project gets underway, I will update my blog with photos along the way!
 
And just as an update ... remember the Christmas Cards created by Robyn Davidson to help raise funds for the new building?  That project raised about $2,500 for the new school!
 
 
 
____________________________

If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at
kjwistrom@yahoo.com.  Sponsorship is $34 per month and provides nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship.  For the 195 kids currently attending Kind Hearts, sponsorship has been life-changing!  There are still a few kids at Kind Hearts that have not yet been matched with a sponsor family.

 

 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

We May Never Know ...

Over the last two years, after Jessica Irvin visited Trees of Glory CarePoint and met the staff and the kids, she has been a tireless advocate.  Giving a voice to the orphaned and destitute children attending Trees of Glory, telling friends and family about sponsorship, raising funds for livestock and books, and being a constant support and encouragement for Simret (the founder and director of Trees of Glory).

Jessica and I have emailed back and forth over the years and have always looked forward to meeting each other in person and hoping that our schedules would coordinate some day and she would be able to join one of our volunteer teams.  Imagine my amazement when her trip to Ethiopia to finalize the adoption of their son Eli, perfectly timed with our volunteer team trip this November!!



Jessica and Nick, and their son Caleb, were able to join us for two days as we worked with the kids at Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts!

Below is a photo of Meseret, Jessica and Nick's sponsor child at Trees of Glory.  Jessica has visited Meseret on at least two previous occasions, spending time with her, encouraging her, praying for her and trying to coax her out of her shell.  Unfortunately, Meseret always reacted the same, with fear, reservation and distance.  Until this time... 

We may never know what exactly caused Meseret to suddenly blossom into a confident young girl with a dazzling smile that shines like a piercing light in the darkness.  Was it Jessica's repeated visits?  Simret's constant care?  The love and prayers and encouragement of the TOG staff and the Children's HopeChest staff?  Or a combination of all?


Meseret's profile photo, Summer 2010
 
November 2012
 
November 2012, With her sponsor family, Jessica, Nick and Caleb

To read Jessica's blog about her experience at Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts CarePoints, please click to her blog at Defending the Fatherless.  Click over now, it's a great read with videos too!
 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Return Visit to Ethiopia ...

Paul meeting his sponsor child Samrawit in November and sharing a photo of his family.
 
Paul Cooper was part of our team of volunteers in November and he and his wife, Jenn, just returned from Ethiopia to attend the court date for their adoptive daughter!  (The judge decreed that they are now the legal parents of a beautiful little girl and they will return to bring her home as soon as the US embassy processes all their documents!!) 
 
While they were there, they made the familiar, scenic drive out to Trees of Glory care-point so Jenn could meet their sponsor child, Samrawit and meet the TOG staff and kids!!
 
To see an update of their visit and Jenn's fabulous photography - please click to the Cooper blog at  http://blog.jcooperphotography.com/2013/01/still-processing/