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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.


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