Transformation... An ongoing process that life seems to continually put us through. This is the documentation of my time in Ethiopia; a living testament to share this experience with those who are looking to join me on this adventure. Through this spiritual journey, I go with the strength of God, and the prayers and support of a strong community who are committed to not only changing the lives of the people I come in contact with, but also my life.
For those of you who know me well, you know that I've been going through a metamorphosis of sorts.After college, I went through a roller coaster of emotions.Just over the past year, I was laid-off, engaged in a social environment that wasn't catered to my development as a person, and was rejected in a pursuit of a relationship.In that same year, I was provided a new job, learned how to invest in a community, was accepted in my pursuit of a relationship, discovered my faith so that I could finally stand for something, and was given the opportunity to touch the lives of people in another country.In life we all go through trials and periods of celebration but how great is He who can use those tribulations to further enhance life’s positive experiences.I hope that this testimony will instill a spark inside your hearts to contemplate life and begin your journey in faith while you are strong and able because time is short.If we wait until we die, we might miss the incredible adventure that was intended for our lives.One thing I noticed from my time abroad was how people lived their lives.They didn't have nearly as many physical “things” as we have and yet they seemed happier – really LIVING life.Since my return to The States, I find that we are bombarded with so many options and marketing campaigns, that we become obsessed with making the RIGHT decision in order to achieve some greater level of happiness.What if we could make a decision and have the faith that we could find joy in any circumstance.How much more could we get out of life if we found joy in our experiences (good and bad) instead of dwelling in what we should have done, or being stuck in the destructive mindset of "woe is me"?Romans 5:3-5 says in the NIV, "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."After meditating on this truth, I began to understand that now forgetting my keys isn't just to cause a nuisance, but is a chance to practice patience; a broken bone isn’t robbing me of something that was mine but an opportunity to practice faith; and a death of a close family member isn’t a divine attack on my heart but can proved a possibility to show love in family relationships where relationships might be strained or non-existent.It seemed to me that their faith in God helped them approach everything with a mindset of “everything was for us and nothing was against us” which led me to ponder what if we had the same type of mindset.This type of faith, this type of thinking is just a fraction of what I had learned in Ethiopia: living to live instead of dwelling in our inadequacies.
Most of you who are close to me and my family, know that I have moved a lot while growing up.Our lives were filled with a “grass is greener on the other side” mentality.Because of that, I became really good at making a lot of friends.If you doubt that, find me on Facebook…Although this seems like a positive from some perspectives, I began to realize that although I had a large quantity of good friends, I didn’t have any really close friends who knew me.When a relationship became strained or I felt the need to move to another social group, I would pick up and leave.I guess it’s easier to not get too close in case I ever need to say good bye.It wasn’t until a year ago, last September that I began to explore the idea of transparency, community, and how they relate to faith.James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”It is my assertion that it is in our nature to desire to be loved for who we are completely, both the good and the bad.It is through having faith in how the bad has shaped you that leads us to share.Once we receive a reaction of love we can begin to feel whole.In essence, we are free to no longer hide different parts of us anymore.Although I am still working through this idea (and probably will be for the duration of my life), simply working on it has changed me drastically in regards to developing healthy relationships with people who truly see me and building new friendships with people I come in contact with. God has used things in my past to strengthen and redeem me in a way that I can reach out to others.In Ethiopia it helped me in opening up to the people I met which in turn helped them open up with me.This gave me opportunities to become empathetic to their needs and really see them for who they are from the inside out.When I had conflict with Hebtambu, I relied on this idea, understanding that there was a reason he was acting a certain way.Perhaps he was plagued with a feeling of inadequacies leading to a perspective towards foreigners built around the ideas of, “how could they come here and really love me with all the things that they have?How could they really care or understand when they don’t see the things I see on a daily basis?”
As a result of my interactions with Hebtambu, I began to feel really convicted about something but couldn’t put my finger on it.James 1:9-10 says, “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.”Upon reading this passage, I began to realize another big reason I began this journey to begin with.It began to become apparent to me that two things were happening.First, although I realized I wanted to help the needy, I didn’t realize exactly how much they would be helping me.Without materiality and the fear of not obtaining the American Dream clouding their relationships and judgments, Ethiopians were free to live life rooted in their faith.I began to realize that I was feeling empty before because I had placed my identity in things that were out of my control: career, health, relationships, etc. – things that I thought would make me happy.Thinking that “I had it made” when I came over seas, I didn’t anticipate the fact that perhaps it was I who was in a low position.Through this, God showed me a great deal about living in the present and not dwelling in fear on whether my decisions would pan out the way I wanted them to.The second thing happening was that Hebtambu felt low when he was actually in a high position.Because of his circumstance, he didn’t have anything to obstruct his reliance on faith and his community except for his insecurities.I realized that my conviction was to persevere through the uncomfortable relationship so that hopefully through my actions and investing in him, he could understand this truth and find power and hope in his circumstance rather than emptiness.This was also apparent to me when I went to visit the leprosy colony.The old couple there was so gracious and joyful, praising God in their circumstance that I almost cried.In order to experience this, two things needed to happen: 1) I needed to realize that I was in a low position by witnessing a humble circumstance and, 2) The couple needed to realize that they were in a high position by encouraging graciously.It is ironic seeing people who have nothing give everything and people who have everything give nothing...
To summarize my experience, I had diarrhea twice, was electrocuted, had congestion once, had pink eye in both eyes, painted in the rain, and still came out alive. :DDealing with the elements, my health, learning names I wasn’t familiar with, learning a language I’ve never heard, teaching classes, and learning customs I knew nothing about; I had to root myself in something.Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.Against such things there is no law.”I was so worried about completing all my tasks on time and trying to be a good “servant” that I felt overwhelmed.Once I realized that I had no control over the elements or what bacteria I would be infested with the next day, I understood that it wasn’t the outcome of the tasks that was important, it was how I performed the tasks that I was given.I began to ask myself, “When I’m teaching, am I patient?”, “When I’m engaged in conflict am I approaching it with gentleness?”, and “When I’m investing in a new friendship, do I exhibiting love?” By switching the focus to the process and not the outcome, I began to notice a real connection with those around me.When I returned to the United States, I had a conversation with Getinet, the director and founder of Strong Hearts.He suggested that I should become a full time missionary and that he and the whole organization missed me.I missed them, just as much and felt a great sense of joy and encouragement and realized that the whole reason I embarked on this journey finally came to a conclusion.In the second half of Romans 15:31, Paul says, “[Pray] that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there”.When Getinet expressed his thanks, I knew that my service pleased them and was “acceptable”, which was a great way to conclude such a divine experience.As I move forward from this milestone in God’s shaping of my character, I look forward to the many opportunities to live transformed.As you move forward, whether you are Christian or not, I encourage you to meditate on this, Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
So the past three days have been a time of reflection. I feel like I'm not doing enough, but at the same time, I have no more time in my schedule. Also, now that Trish is gone, I'm starting to notice things that I didn't before as I walk by myself. Like crowds of people gathered outside the Child Care center, seeing if their child got a sponsor, or women taking a "squat" or "number 1" on the road side (yes I've seen men relieve themselves before, but this week was the first time I noticed a woman). Also, I've noticed the stares before from the people, but when you walk by yourself you notice them more frequently. Some might feel awkward, but it's actually kind of nice because most of them have a big grin on their faces. It is, however, a reminder that I'm a firengee and stick out like a sore thumb...
Wednesday we had class and finished painting the outside building. I must say that I actually look forward to the painting. It gives me time to socialize and also time to think and process. The kids are starting to learn some of the new songs that I've been teaching them: The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Ring Around the Rosey, the Hokey Pokey, and I'm a Little Tea Pot. And yes, I'm doing hand motions too... :D
Wednesday night, I started thinking and was led to read Galatians 5 that talks about the fruit of the spirit being things like love, joy, and patience (read it for a complete list). It's interesting how things that people normally think of as a means to a destination, might in fact be the destination. For example, we're patient so we can get something or we love so that we can build a healthy relationship. This changes what we should be focusing on. Not the work, but how we do the work. For example, I'm doing soccer camp, teaching, painting, etc. but am I loving through it? Am I being patient? How can I show more love and connect better with these people. How can I use my service as a way to build lasting relationships instead of just being "that guy who come to paint and teach that one time..."
I took this to heart and noticed a change. Thursday, at soccer the girls asked for me to sit with them after the game, a bunch of them cornered me and braided my hair. A bunch of the guys in my typing class are inviting me to play Foosball with them and try to speak as much English as they can with me. Kayla, the full time missionary is starting to open up more. I'm using this time to try and encourage her as much as I can since this is the first time she's been on such a long term trip (2 years)!
Friday, a couple of the moms and Hebtambu (the gentleman that I had an incident with) taught me the alphabet. I spent a good hour spelling out their names phonetically and I could tell they really appreciated the time I took to learn their language. After that I got invited to one of their houses to have lunch later on today (Saturday). I have also started learning an Amharic version of "Father Abraham" so I can sing it with the kids.
As my time is winding down, I'm trying to make the most of it. I know that when I look back, I'll miss every moment. Keep praying for me. Miss you all.
The past few days have been a transformation of sorts. I was feeling a little overwhelmed during my last post but have really started finding my "groove". Friday was a great experience as I went to support Strong Hearts on the first day of their Gospel series. It was a great experience. Dundy had one of his friends translate for us (Trish and me) and two people came to Christ. The building was packed and it was very charismatic in nature. Dancing energy and tons of emotion filled the room. People were making noises and praising God. Some were even crying. It's times like this like I begin to think, "how much more faith must they have in order to live in the situations that they live in." With all the materialism stripped away, all that's left is the spiritual and I was fortunate to get a taste that night. I hope I get an opportunity to see more over the next few days that I'm here.
Saturday morning I painted with Masresha, Trish, and Habuba (the handy man) and we pretty much finished the second class room. Tamrat, Dundy's friend and the government's coordinator for LaVolunteers (the organization Trish came with), stopped by the school for a visit. He proposed that we go see Hawasa, a city by the lake. I initially declined thinking that Dundy would want me here but when I came back to the guest house, he insisted that I go. I guess he really wanted me to get an opportunity to see other parts of Ethiopia and to take a break after all the work I've been doing. We took a five hour taxi ride that was quite eventful. Long story short, the taxi got a ticket before we left Addis and left a passenger behind at a gas station when we stopped for gas... Glad I didn't go...
Sunday we spent the day in Hawasa. Tamrat made friends with a taxi driver and he became our permanent driver. He would drop us off and pick us up whenever we needed something, then continue working his normal route. The first thing I noticed was how clean the city was. There were cobble stone streets and the streets were well lit and seemed relatively safe. We went to the lake and took a boat ride. For the first time ever I fed wild monkeys peanuts and saw wild hippos. We had a great time. Getting a taxi back, however, was tough. There was a lot of arguing back and forth about price and taxi drivers fighting over us and our business. The whole process took about 2 hours and I could tell everyone was getting irritated. It helps to know in situations like this that God is in control. It was a good opportunity to be there for Tamrat, who I could tell was getting upset. Side note: I saw my first Chadt and the guy chewing it was missing teeth... Doesn't seem like a good idea to get mixed up in...
Monday was great as far as teaching. I'm not sure what you all think about dreams but I sometimes I feel like there's a divine element to them that help me find resolutions to issues or bring issues to light that I haven't thought of before. Sunday night and Monday night brought resolution and I somehow began to feel a lot lighter emotionally. Perhaps the day trip was good for me to have a change of scenery. My uplifted mood definitely couldn't have come at a better time. Trish was asked to do a workshop for the teachers (she has been a teacher for a number of years and has a Phd) which means I was going to have to teach the kids and keep them entertained for an hour and a half straight. The class went by extremely smoothly. In the afternoon, I found that my computer class is becoming extremely popular. All of a sudden more kids want to take my class and there are like three classes now. The kids are learning fast and it's great to see. I think it's a combination of God's blessing and the fact that I gave the kid's candy on Friday during a typing race competition...
Tuesday we continued painting and had class like normal. I'm starting to really connect to the people here. They are already asking me when I'm coming back. Kayla (the full time missionary) said that I'm picking up a lot of Amharic and that she was really impressed with how much I've picked up. Apparently I know way more than she did in two and a half weeks. Every time I walk people look at me and kid come up and talk to me. Some people will yell "farengee" (which means foreigner) at me, which offends some people, but I just yell back abushae (which means Ethiopian) with a smile and I get smiles and laughs. I'm really starting to feel at home here and am starting see familiar faces. Can't believe I only have another 12 days. I wish I had more time... I will say that there is a lot to be done here and now that I've seen the needs first hand, I feel moved to put together a team for next time. Let me know if any one's interested! ;) No experience necessary!
Saturday through today has been a ride. Saturday was a good day yet still presented things
to reflect on. I was able to change the rest of my money and we went to the largest
cathedral in Addis Ababa. There's a museum there that has artifacts dating from the first
century. Being here has been a great experience. The history of Christianity in Ethiopia
has actually been recorded in the bible in Acts 8:26-end for those of who are into biblical
history. It's great to feel like I can help continue that legacy, even if it's only in a
small way. While we were driving I saw a naked man, about 50 or so, sleeping on cardboard
in the middle of the street. No one attempted to drag him to safety which was kind of
interesting to think about...
Sunday, Trish (a new volunteer), and I had a great time going to Tiggist's (our house
keeper) daughter's birthday. Her daughter, Salioam is so precious! When you go to the
house, you one could be shocked at the living conditions. It was a little smaller than the
size of the size of the couple's house from the Alart Village (leprosy colony) but when you
strip away all the luxuries we are used to, you realize what's really important. Tiggist
is so hospitable! They kept filling our plates! I was stuffed because I had eaten before
(but felt bad about it...). I also had an opportunity to witness my first coffee ceremony
and I helped to grind the beans which was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Monday was another day of teaching. I started painting and I must say that after three
days of painting, it looks GREAT! I've been having some help so it's been good. Also, the
full time teachers have started teaching a portion of the classes so I am now only responsible for a 30 minute class. Tuesday and Wednesday were similar to Monday except for the fact that I've been having dreams about issues that I thought had been resolved in the past. Perhaps God is reminding me not to forget where I come from and how important humility is as I move forward. It came in good time too because yesterday (Wednesday) I had a run in with one of the guards who was helping me paint the previous two days. I had feeling there were some cultural miscommunication and looked to Dundy for advice. Trish had had similar experiences and we looked to get support from Dundy together. Dundy was great and immediately put us at ease. After journaling last night, he and I had a conversation and it ended with prayer and an opportunity for us to get to know each other better.
Today was a little difficult because due to the events that occurred yesterday, there was a meeting for all the employees at Strong Hearts, so I ran the morning class for an hour. Things were a little uneasy with the conflict the day before but I'm trying to not be discouraged and am looking to continue to move forward in love. Dundy and those who I have looked to for council have been extremely supportive. I've also started feeling congestion in my head. I guess this is a part of the experience :D.
Considering all of the challenges of culture shock and work that I've been doing, I'm still in good spirits. I'm spending time in the Word and reading Forgotten God. After class we watched the boys play soccer and I was extremely touched when a little boy came up to me snuggled up on my lap during half time. Although our verbal communication is minimal, I feel protective over the kids, and I think they feel safe at Strong Hearts. Most if not all the kids were prescreened before being admitted to the school and are the kids in the community that need the school the most. From what I understand, most of them come from broken families and seeing them play soccer is a treat. You can really see that for that hour, they are completely letting go of anything that was bothering them before.
I started focusing on typing and some of the kids are progressing fast! I'm trying my best to spend time with those that need it the most. Tonight I participated in another street ministry. We went to visit a mom who had just had a baby a month ago. She was living on the street and Dundy was actually called to bring her to the emergency room when she was in labor. She just found a place to live and we went to visit. In order to get to her house we had to hike down a creek off the main road about a quarter mile. She lived in a metal shack about 2 meters by 1 meter. The baby was so adorable and you could tell that the baby was loved. We spent some time visiting and prayed for them. Then Dundy offered to take them house hunting, saying that Strong Hearts would pay the rent. I could tell immediately how much that meant to them. I hope I get an opportunity to see them again.
So today marks my first week in Ethiopia. I apologize for not updating my blog sooner, but the Internet is hard to come by. I actually intended to post on Tuesday but right before I posted, the Internet went out. Here's what you've missed out on so far:
The best way I can describe the past week in one word is "real". Before I left, there were a lot of things running through my head and I was a little anxious to see how I would react. Well, now that I've been thrown in the mix, I'm really starting to understand what is really important. I have already had so many experiences.
On Sunday I attended the international church in Addis. It was a great experience seeing so many people from so many different cultures. After Church we got Yemeni food. Addis is apparently the political capital of Africa and as you drive around you see embassies. Because of that, you can pretty much get any type of food (if you drive) so I've been eating pretty well. It tastes really good but unfortunately I haven't really felt "well" since I've been here. I think the food is sitting weirdly in my stomach and it doesn't help that the water will go out for days at a time.
I took my first bucket shower on Sunday as well. Not a new experience since I spent time in Vietnam a few years back. Since then I've started teaching a preschool class. We just learned our ABC's and I'm teaching them body parts (in hopes to do the Hokey Pokey) and numbers. I'll be teaching this class for another two weeks until Vacation Bible School starts. In addition, I'm taking over the computer classes for the older kids. I'm teaching them Excel and they are catching on extremely well! I'll probably move onto basic typing skills so that they can start progressing faster. The playground is not what you would expect coming from America. The fence is made of sheet metal, the ground is a mixture of big rocks and mud, and the slide and swings are rusty. Even though the equipment would make any mother from Irvine shriek from the play hazards, the kids have tons of fun. They play a lot rougher than in the states, but they also look out for each other when they get hurt.
In addition to the school, I've already participated in a street ministry and home visit to the leprosy colony. There are 10,000 people that are forced to live in the leprosy and it's only a 10 minute walk from the guest house. To get to the house that we went to visit, we had to walk through mud that was at least 4 or 5 inches in some parts. Even by our guest house, you can see people walking with missing fingers or limbs from leprosy. When we reached the house, it was an inspirational site to see. It was an old couple, both affected by leprosy. The man was 97 years old and just went blind. The couple met in the colony about 50 years ago. They have no children and never get a visit. The whole time we were there, the man and women were crying happy tears and kept asking God to bless. Here I am, living in America while they are suffering from leprosy and living in the poorest part of one of the poorest parts of the world, and they are asking God to bless me! As we were leaving we ran into a girl who is a neighbor to the couple and helps them out frequently. She just found out that day that she was HIV positive. I'm beginning to realize how much faith can really sustain life. No amount of money that I can offer will save any of these people so the only thing I can really do is encourage them and bring hope.
This idea took root even further when we did our street ministry. On Wednesday night, we drove to a part of Addis where I had never been. The streets are lined with bars and prostitution is common. At the end of the strip, the road goes down a hill and right when the road curves to the right, there's a dump to the left. We got out of our car and walked into the dump to find 5 young guys who made a shelter in the dump and had been living there for quite some time. They scratch for food or things to sell to make a living. Some of them were even addicted to a drug called chat that they chewed to get them high and one of them just got released from prison 9 days prior to us being there. The place had an odor that stung my nostrils but I soon got used to the smell after about 5 minutes. We had to watch where we stood to make sure that we didn't stand on one of the many ant hills. After hearing from one of the guys and his story, it was really touching. We took some time to pray, sing songs, and give them loaves of bread to hopefully hold them over for a few days.
The last highlight was the soccer game yesterday. Once a week Strong Hearts hosts a soccer game for their kids at a local community center. This week it was the girls and each week they alternate between boys and girls. They games are held on a cement basketball court which was good for scraping knees and handing out bruises. It was great to see the girls play because they were all into the game. One thing I've treasured since I've been here is how the people are so "present". When they play soccer, they play soccer. They're not waiting for a phone call, worried about the weather (it started to rain), or worried about bumps and bruises. They would fall, get up without even checking out their injuries, and have fun. Talk about tough girls!
If I wrote every thought I had, I'd probably be here for another 4 hours so I'll stop here and allow you to ask questions when I return. I've been getting your emails and I wish I could reply to all of them. If you don't get one back, please understand that it's tough to find time with everything going on, and know that the encouragement means a LOT. Keep the messages coming!
I'm am glad to report that I am safe in Addis Ababa. After an hour long delay and dealing with lost luggage I am happy to say that I am in one piece :D! The city is much like any big city but when you start reaching the outskirts at about 6:30 or 7 in the morning you start seeing hundreds of people walking towards the city. Perhaps to go to work. I was also able to catch a glimpse of some runners stretching after a long workout. The guest house is a lot nicer than I had anticipated and there are a few other volunteers from New Zealand, Scotland, and other European countries. There's running water (half the time), a fridge, and electricity. The weather is a little overcast and reminds me of San Francisco. We have tea, coffee, cereal, and toast for breakfast and everyone is extremely nice. Getinet, my host has a great sense of humor and has already started teaching me wrong things to say to people in Amharic. I've already said "Hi elephant" to a lady that works in the guest house... Until my next opportunity to check in!