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Thursday, December 30, 2010

I had to take a walk, away from everyone, and I just lost it ...

My most memorable moments from our trip to Ethiopia in November are those moments when we got to watch as a family met their sponsor child for the first time.  Rob Thomas, an attorney from Indiana, travelled to Ethiopia with us and he wanted his two oldest children, 15 year old Olivia and 13 year old Isaac, to share this experience wtih him. 

Their family is adopting from Ethiopia and they are anxiously awaiting news of their children!  Rob, and his wife Jennie, sponsor 5 year old Abush, at Trees of Glory, and we watched as they met and tried to coax a smile from this little boy who had obviously experienced much loneliness and grief in his life. 

We watched as Rob held Abush in his arms, as he spoke quietly with Simret and learned about his story.  And we watched as Rob held it together as long as he could, and then carefully and lovingly set Abush down, and walked away from us all as he put his hand over his face and his shoulders shook with sadness and pain for this little boy.  He "lost it" for the little boy that he was holding in his arms but could not erase the pain or replace the mommy and daddy that he had lost.  And he could not help thinking about his own 5 year old son at home  ...

Here are those moments in Rob's words: 

His photo had been on our refrigerator for a few months but I have to admit that aside from including him in a few family prayers, I did not think about Abush Megersa very much. Since returning home from Ethiopia a few weeks ago, I can’t stop thinking of him. I want to go back and bring him home with me right now!

We first arrived at "Trees of Glory" on a Wednesday, but found out that Abush was at the government school so we wouldn’t get to meet him until we returned on Friday or Saturday. On Friday, we arrived at TOG after a two hour drive through the winding, rolling countryside of Ethiopia ... and Abush was there!

My two oldest kids and I had the opportunity to sit down with him, read a letter from my wife, show him pictures of our family and give him a care-package. As I read the letter to Abush through the interpreter, I told him that we loved him very much and that we were praying for him. I told Abush that he is a handsome young man and that Jesus loves him very much.

Abush is a handsome little guy and he has a beautiful, shy smile. As I held him on my lap reading the letter and looking at photos, he looked down most of the time and I could barely see his face. The pictures confirm that he was in fact smiling part of the time and I think he enjoyed the gifts.

But the little five year old boy sitting next to me had been through some “stuff” and it showed in his actions and his withdrawn nature.

Both of his parents are dead and he was found alone on the streets of a nearby village. Abush is now living with a guardian in another village and is attending the care-point. After holding him and hearing part of his story, I had to take a walk, away from everyone, and I just lost it.

What I want to write is that Abush warmed up to us and we got to love on him and play soccer with him and assure him that we would always be there for him. But that's not what actually happened ...

Abush is a smart kid. He knew we were leaving. He cried on Saturday as I held him and then he desperately wanted me to put him down. As I put him down, one of the teachers said, “He is sad because he knows you are leaving.” He didn’t want to get too close. I don’t think he wanted to be hurt yet again.

I wasn’t able to learn everything about Abush’s story and I’m not sure that anyone really knows what his full story is. But I do know that this little guy needs a family!

He needs a family just like my own five year old son who gets to sit on his daddy’s lap every day (if I can catch him!), who gets tucked in every night by his daddy, who gets fed by his mommy every day -three times a day. Abush needs a mommy and daddy.

I take some comfort in knowing that we can do a small part by continuing to sponsor Abush.

More importantly, I take comfort in knowing that Trees of Glory is there.

I take comfort in knowing that Simret, Girma, the teachers and the rest of the TOG staff are there to teach him, to feed him, to love him, to teach him about the love of Jesus Christ and to give him a sense of family.

I take comfort in knowing that people like Karen Wistrom are fighting to support these kids and are putting together groups like ours to visit and bring care-packages to the kids and spend time with them.

I take comfort in knowing that through their efforts, the kids are being sponsored and the money is being used to care for the kids, pay the teachers, pay for infrastructure and so much more.

On Saturday, our last day at TOG, Simret and Girma emotionally thanked us for coming, and Girma quoted Hebrews 6:10, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

We thanked them for having us, for all their hard work and sacrifices, and we promised that we would never forget them. They are truly the hands and feet of Christ, every day, every night, giving everything for the cause of Christ and for the least of His.

My prayer is that the comforts of America do not again blind us from the needs we experienced on this trip. And my prayer is that when I look at the picture of Abush on my refrigerator, and when I see the pictures of the many kids that we were blessed to spend time with on this trip, that we not only think of them and pray for them, but that we do something about it!

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's all fun and games until somebody loses ...

With all the snow we've been getting, the kids are making good use of it this winter.  The two oldest have been ice skating for years and the two littlest have become quite adept at it too.  We've been blanketed by a few feet of snow in the last few weeks, and the kids took full advantage of the drifts and the hills to do some sledding over the holiday weekend!

We nestled into a lake cottage for the holiday weekend, just the six of us.  We had a DVD player for movies but no cable TV ... and it was wonderful!!  Lots of good conversation and time with the kids, both indoors and out. 

Wesley (4) has learned to play checkers and likes to challenge everyone to a game. 

Of course it's all smiles and giggles and fun ... until he loses.  (WARNING:  You're about to see his pouty face, up close and personal!)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And so it begins, in the lowly town of Bethlehem ...

Much of what is written in the Old Testament by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Zechariah, and the psalmists (much of which is attributed to King David himself), was amazingly written 500-700 years before Jesus was born.

And only upon the birth

and life

and death of Jesus

does it suddenly and miraculously ... and prophetically ... make sense.

These prophetic (and at first, puzzling) words that speak of a virgin giving birth to a child called Immanuel, which literally means "God with us", and that this child would come from the lowly town of Bethlehem, through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through King David. He would be pierced for our transgressions and this would heal our wounds (how can this be???!) and bring about a blessing for ALL nations.

Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathath, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who is ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us).

Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Jeremiah 23:5 “They days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David (or from David’s line) a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Isaiah 53: 5-6 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Zechariah 12:10 And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves a firstborn son.

Psalms 16:10 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

And so it begins … in the town of Bethlehem …

Luke 2:4 ...

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem the town of David. He went there to register (for the census) with Mary (who was also from the line of David) who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ (Messiah, the Annointed One) the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel , praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

From my family to you and yours - I pray you have a blessed Christmas where you ponder the miraculous birth of Jesus and wonder anew at the amazing gift given to us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I realized how careful and frugal they are ...

"We would like to have a special meal for ALL the children and the staff," I explained to Simret, the director at Trees of Glory.  "With goats and vegetables and injera and fruit ... everything ... a complete meal!"  Her beautiful smile lit up and she rushed off to bring back a calculator and notebook so she could put together a grocery list.  She would need to walk into town that afternoon to purchase all the ingredients so that we could feed over 100 children and about 25 adults the next day.

Simret and Fikre worried over the numbers and I saw Simret pause with concern, and then glance at me.  "What?", I asked.  "Is something wrong?"  Fikre explained, "She's not sure that two goats will be enough."  "Please get FOUR goats then," I replied.  She smiled and bent back over the numbers as I said, "And please make sure to get lots of fruit and vegetables too."  Simret quietly asked a question and I looked at Fikre to interpret.  "She is wondering about Coca-Cola??"  "Oh yes," I laughed.  "We definitely have to have Coca-Cola for ALL the kids!"  Simret blew me a kiss and went back to totaling her numbers.

I watched as she finalized her list and then totaled the numbers and with hesitation she presented me with the bill ... for $221.00.  "This is good,"  I told her, and reassured her that the team was prepared to purchase the entire meal for the kids, because this was such a special occasion!

In hindsight, I look back on this moment with appreciation because I realize how careful and frugal they are with the funding provided by the sponsor families.  Every dime is carefully considered as they stretch the funds to provide as much as they can for the children in their care.

When we arrived the next day, the kitchen was taking shape (our construction team had been working for a few days to build a kitchen, along with replacing several tin roofs, windows, light fixtures and door locks and painting several building interiors in preparation for a dormitory). 

This was the original kitchen structure.  Our construction team expanded the kitchen
by constructing an addition on the existing concrete pad.

As soon as the tin roof went over the "kitchen" the cooks moved into the shade and meal preparations began in earnest.

We watched in fascination as they made the injera.  Pouring a thin stream of batter from the pitcher, covering it with the lid until it started to bubble, and then carefully lifting the edge to slide a woven mat beneath it to lift it off the injera pan. 

This selfless and dedicated woman stood inside a hot, smoky, enclosed building all morning, wiping her sweating forehead on her shoulder, and smiling brilliantly as we watched in fascination.  She made hundreds of injera "pancakes" that day, rolling them into large napkin-size servings that the children would use to scoop the delicious stew that was boiling in a kettle nearby.

Several of the older children helped carry the large platters of food into the classroom, where over 100 children were sitting quietly and waiting patiently.  The teachers then helped to serve the kids, making sure they had seconds and even third helpings if they wanted.

One of the big jugs that are used to collect and carry water was placed outside the door - and the kids washed their hands at the spigot before and after they ate.  At the moment, there is no working well at Trees of Glory, and the big jugs of water are carried on the backs of donkeys every day so that they have water at the care-point.  Care-point staff members walk to town and carry the water back each day.  (We will be fund-raising for a well at Trees of Glory as soon as the survey and budget requirements are finalized.)

Simret (left) is the director of the care-point and Girma (right) is the manager. 
Simret is not married and dedicates her entire life to the love and care of
these children.  Girma is married and has one daughter.  Simret and
Girma both live at the care-point and they each have a small 10x10
room in one of the buildings.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The slaughter itself happened very quickly and humanely ...

As we left Kind Hearts after spending a full day with the kids, we promised to return the next day.  The kids didn't know it yet, but we were planning a feast!  Not only for the kids, but we had invited all of their care-givers as well.  Kind Hearts is able to provide a nutritous meal for the kids every day because of the sponsor program - because of the individual sponsor families that financially support each child.  But this special meal was a celebration of our time with the kids and we wanted to share that with their care-givers too - to show our appreciation and support for them as well.

We stopped a few minutes down the road from Kind Hearts, and our Ethiopian guides left us to do some negotiating for two goats.  (We needed to purchase two goats that evening so they could begin cooking the stew (wot) that would be served the next day.  And then we would purchase two more goats the next morning for fresh ribs and flanks cooked over an open fire.)

Our guides returned with two goats in tow and we watched as they tied their feet together, and lifted them to the roof of the van.  We returned to the care-point and presented the goats to the cook, so she could begin making the delicious stew that needed to simmer overnight.

When we arrived the next morning, the kids were eagerly awaiting our arrival and they rushed the vans as we unloaded.  They could see the huge kettle of stew (with carrots, onions, cabbage, potatoes, spices and goat meat) boiling furiously over the open fire and I'm sure the smell had their mouths watering with anticipation. 

We had purchased two more "fat" goats on our way to the care-point (along with fresh sweet bread, bananans and oranges), and they were quickly unloaded and we were invited to watch as the preparations for the feast got underway.

The slaughter itself happened very quickly and humanely.  With a quick knife cut across the throat, a rush of blood gushed from the open neck, and the goat's eyes rolled in its head. 

They tapped it's legs a few times with the knife to make sure it was dead, and then began to peel the hide from the body starting at the hind legs.  Once the hide was removed, the goat was quickly and expertly butchered and every scrap of meat was harvested for the stew or to be cooked over the open fire.

My daughter, Emme, watching the slaughter and butchering while the children hold her hands. 

A little at a time, each of us stepped away from the meal preparation, as little hands tugged on our hands and pulled us into play.  We spent the entire morning meeting with each child individually as we gave them their care-packages from their sponsor families.  The morning flew by so quickly, and then we were interrupted by one of the directors to let us know that it was time to eat and the children's care-givers had arrived.

Fikre asked me if I would like to say a few words as all of the adults assembled into one of the classrooms, and perched on the tiny child-size chairs.  About 70-80 men and women filled the room, and as I glanced around the crowd, I immediately recognized the two women I had met the day before when I visited their homes with their children (Beniam and Fitsum).  I discreetly waved to them, and they smiled widely and waved back. 

I saw elderly men and women (grandparents that had become care-givers to their grand-children when the child's parents had died) and I saw older brothers and sisters that had become the head of the household, and I saw lots of single mothers and single fathers, each of them trying to do the best they could for the children in their care.  One thing I didn't see was hopelessness.  Instead, when these men and women lifted their hands to heaven in prayer, I saw thankfulness and gratitude and hope that their heavenly Father would continue to provide.

I thanked them for coming and told them that we were honored to share a meal with them. 

I explained how all 18 of us had travelled a very great distance from the United States to spend time with their children. 

That we know their kids by name and we love them, and pray for them and their families, and that these kids have become part of our families.

I nodded at Beniam's mother and Fitsum's mother and told the group how I had spent time in their homes the day before and how welcome they made me feel. 

I told them that we would continue to support these kids and pray for them and that we would return next year to see them again.  And I promised that we would not forget them.

We all bowed our heads together, and we prayed together. 

I wish I had photographs of these events, but I somehow felt it would be inappropriate to intrude on these private and special moments that we shared with the men and women who care for these kids in very difficult circumstances.