Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Some Long Rambling Thoughts from Ethiopia

Upon returning to the States, I quickly readjusted to my American "go, go, go" lifestyle. Thankfully, last weekend I took a short vacation and was able to ponder my experience in Ethiopia. There is so much to tell, so many stories to recount, yet I can do none of it justice. These lyrics by JJ Heller ran through my head continually on the trip:
"Don't let your eyes get used to darkness, the light is coming soon. Don't let your heart get used to sadness, put your hope in what is true."

The Team

Sixteen people traveled together to Ethiopia. Most of us were somehow connected to Together for Adoption, but a few extra friends joined us as well. Five were adoptive parents, three were teenagers, one mom and two daughters came on this adventure together, three friends from church came from Jacksonville, two college best friends came to learn about setting up an adoption fund in the Mid-West, two other teammates have already started an adoption fund in South Carolina. We also added three honorary team members: Camden and Joe, Americans currently living and serving in Ethiopia; and Yoseph, an Ethiopian, who was our driver, translator and teacher of all things Ethiopia!

Hearing life stories from team members was one of the high points of the trip. On my trip application I stated, "... bringing like-minded believers together in service fuels passion within a group and creates a collective vision." Now that sounds so business-like, but learning from the lives of these new friends did increase my passion for adoption and orphan care.

The culture, the city and the people

Ethiopia is the third poorest country in the world and we saw a lot of poverty, but not the worst of it. We stayed in the capital city of Addis Ababa for the entire trip. Even if you have been to third world cities, it is hard to describe the masses of people, chaotic driving and herds of sheep and cows wandering in the streets next to Mercedes. It was bizarre to this small, suburban mind. Yet, in the apparent chaos and crowds there was an ebb and flow that made everything work. I was fascinated by the diversity of people walking the streets in the city. From the very poor to the very ricj, women dressed in traditional Muslim attire and ladies in thoroughly Western clothing as well. One minute you would international diplomats cars and then pass over a creek that wreaked terribly of human feces. It could be truly mind boggling.

The ladies from our group stayed at a nice, dorm-style guest house. Our fellow guests were from Holland and Switzerland, each working more long-term in Ethiopia. The two women who staffed the guest house were simply charming and embodied the Ethiopian culture to me. People are more important than tasks and guests are highly esteemed. Yoseph would tell us many stories about the laid back nature of the culture. It is wonderful because relationships are very important, but can be frustrating when you want to get something accomplished. Nothing happens quickly in Ethiopia and you spend a lot of time sipping coffee with friends. Not that I can complain about that. Which leads me to ...

The Coffee

Yes, an entire section on coffee. Frankly, it deserves its own section. Coffee was originally discovered and cultivated in Ethiopia. It is still a major export and plays an important part in everyday life. Ethiopians are very proud of their coffee and they should be. Each time we arrived at an orphange, a home or any type of ministry. Some staff would stop what they were doing and begin preparing a coffee ceremony for us. Coffee purists will love this. They begin with raw beans, roast them on a small fire, then grind and boil brew them into the darkest, thickest, most amazing coffee. Tradition is that coffee should not be served alone, so Ethiopians serve popcorn.

We also spent a good bit of time at various coffee shops in Addis Ababa. When in doubt, stop and get coffee to talk over plans. There are no words for the disappointment that I felt when I had a cup of coffee on the flight home. I fear that I am ruined for life for all coffee, but the real stuff. Sigh.

The Children
It is easy to write about culture and coffee. Yet painfully diffucult to write about the children and encapsulate it all into a mere blog post. We visited five ministries while in Addis: Children's Home Ethiopia (funded by The Forsaken Children), Hope affiliated orphanges, AHope Ethiopia serving children with HIV/AIDS, Bethany Christian Services, and Entoto Mountain Outreach. Carolina Hope Adoption agency sent us with money to purchase needed supplies for each of the facilities we visited.

It was a pleasure to meet and observe all of the Ethiopians working tirelessly to change the lives of the children in their country. I particularly loved the ministry of re-parenting and sharing Jesus with street children at Children's Home Ethiopia (go here to learn about what they do and how you can be involved). It was also a pleasant surprise to be able to visit the transition home for Bethany Christian Services. I have recently joined the Board of the local office and friends will soon be adopting the daughter through this home. I tried to meet her, but looking at a picture of her was a s close as I got since she hadn't been transferred to the city yet.
My passion for adoption comes from a deep belief that God tells His people to care for orphans. More than 13% of Ethiopians are orphans. This means that they have lost one or both parents to death or abandonment. Adoption is a beautiful expression of the heart of God, but it is not a solution to the orphan crisis. We discussed this idea at length as a group and I thought about the larger orphan crisis a lot as I held children with no parents or families. How does a society reach a point where 13% of the people are orphans? It is astonishing. Many things cause orphans: disease, poverty, irresponsibility. However, as a whole orphans show us that this world is not as it should be. The world doesn't exist now as God created it. We, as people, have marred it with sin and sin comes out as destruction in countless ways including millions of orphans worldwide.

Sunday morning I was reminded of God's promise that he will make all things new and that Christ will return some day and put His world right again. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:18-21.

If you don't believe in the Christian view of the world, you may think that I sound crazy right now. Sin causes orphans? Jesus is going to fix it all? Regardless of your your religous beliefs, you know that something is tragically wrong in this world and children left without parents because of disease, poverty and neglect are just one evidence of that fact. You know that there is something fundamentally wrong with children begging in the streets. There is a problem when parents discard babies due to inconvenience.

So much of what I witnessed in Ethiopia isn't all that different that everyday life at home. The rich turn their backs on the poor. Convenience and comfort are more important than the well-being of other people. Prosperity and tragedy are neighbors. Ambivalance reigns. As I mentioned before, Jesus will right all of these wrongs when He returns. However, He has also told His followers to bring His kingdom to this earth and that whatever we do for the least of these we do for Him. None of my blog posts are complete without a challenge, so here it is. What will you do for the "least of these" in Ethiopia? There are a lot of links above to ministries that are helping. Maybe you should donate to them, maybe you should go to see for yourself or maybe you should adopt a child and embody the love of the heavenly Father to him or her. Just a thought.

For more pictures of the trip. Go here.