Monday, April 30, 2012

Random Thoughts

April 25, 2012  I've had a bunch of unrelated thoughts running through my head today, so rather than a long essay I'll make a few notes. 

1. The lambs for Friday's feast arrived today. In true Ethiopian fashion, they are very much alive and kicking. They are grazing in the grassy area where we are playing with the kids. So far, they've stayed away from us, although I wonder if there will be a few "bombs" tomorrow morning. The lambs arrival created some excitement amongst our group. I had told everyone to expect them to arrive alive. One of our group refuses to look at them. Another of our group promptly took a video. I suggested that we name them, the response to which was a communal groan.  

2. We went to the pastor's house for lunch. He and his wife were very gracious and served an excellent traditional Ethiopian meal. I know now the difference between restaurant Ethiopian and home made Ethiopian and let me just say the difference is substantial. We were also served coffee and popcorn. Ethiopian popcorn is sweetened with sugar rather than salted. I love it. I only drink coffee when I'm in Ethiopia, so while it was delicious, it gave me quite the buzz for at least an hour. I considered drinking a second cup, so am glad that I refrained.

3. Tonight we were invited to a prayer service. This is my third church service in Ethiopia, and each has been an amazing experience. I love the singing. The songs are full of emotion and passion and love. Joy also sang (she was asked to sing while the service was in progress). She has a beautiful voice. Rob gave a talk about the connections between us and the congregation. The folks at Hill Song are fortunate to have such a gifted speaker as their pastor. Greg offered a closing prayer (the folks at his church are also fortunate to have him as their pastor).

4. Today, especially the afternoon, was a little more chaotic than yesterday. The afternoon group is much bigger than the morning group, so it is already harder to keep things going smoothly. Our vans were late picking us up from lunch so we got started late. Also, the prayer service scheduled for tonight meant that we had to finish early. 

The rec time was spent with frisbees and jump ropes. Luckily I wasn't decapitated with the dozens of flying frisbees. I was impressed that only two landed on the roof. Even then, the kids were upset that I couldn't get them down. Becka and Derek deserve gold stars for the rec time. It was hot outside today and the kids also seemed to be wound up. I would call rec time today "controlled chaos". Becka and Derek gave the kids enough space to have fun, without it turning into a free for all. (Greg spent the day with his daughter Abby, who has not been feeling well. She is better now and should be back with the flow tomorrow.)

The kids created journals for their crafts. I have some nice pictures of the kids decorating the front pages and writing inside. Let me also say that the three in our group (Sandy, Deanna, and Sarah P) who are working on the crafts are awesome. The crafts are creative, and they are all wonderfully patient. The kids are so proud of their creations and proudly display them to anyone who will look.

The other "station" is for the kids receiving their care packages. Each child received something, whether or  not they are sponsored. A friend of one of our group sewed dresses for each of the girls, which they received with their care package. I loved seeing the expression on their faces when they got to select their own dress. There was also underwear to select from, and the expressions were priceless as they were selecting their pair, ranging from being very thoughtful about the best ones available to them, to giggles at the idea of showing underwear in the open, to confusion as I don't believe many of the kids even wear underwear. The group working this station (Joy, April, Sara T, and Heidi) are so well organized that most of the care packages have been distributed to the point that we are not setting aside time Thursday for care package distribution.

Laura and Sarah D. provided entertainment for the kids not receiving care packages; it was fun seeing all the laughter and smiles as they played their games. 

 As much fun as the kids had, and as much as they received (including bananas, granola bars, and pens), above all else these kids loved being touched. While I was throwing frisbee, a girl came up next to me and quietly slid her hand into mine. Within seconds, another girl had taken my other hand (it made it kind of hard to throw frisbee after that). While I was sitting on the ground counting how many jumps the kids could do with the jump rope, I had up to four kids leaning against me, sitting on my lap, or tightly wrapping their arms around mine. As they were leaving at the end of the session, one after another took my hand in theirs or gave me tight (I mean really tight) hugs or kissed me on the cheek. They crave attention; something they're not getting at home. They want affirmation of their existence -- they all want their picture taken so they can see themselves, they want to tell me about themselves, they want me to learn their names, they want to be held and hugged and loved. And that's what we believe is the most important thing to do this week.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Child, Two Worlds

Our time with the kids started in earnest today. Given the curve ball we were thrown yesterday regarding where we would be, things went remarkably smoothly. There are two sessions each day, with some kids coming in the morning and then going off to school, and the rest of them coming in the afternoon after they are done with school. Today, Rob Tennant started each session with a Bible lesson. Easter is just finishing here, so he is teaching the kids about the events leading up to the crucifix of Jesus and will be leading them through the salvation. Let me just say that Rob is a master with these kids. They are engaged, hanging on his every word. He does a really nice job involving them with role play. It did strike me as funny when Rob asked for a volunteer to play one of the disciples,  and one of the moslem girls volunteered.

After the story, each of the kids received a back pack and water bottle. Some confusion ensued when the kids took the permanent markers they received to write their names on their new belongings and started writing on themselves. I'm not sure what we could have done differently as they needed to be permanent markers, and there was no way we would have gotten everyone's names written by the staff in a timely fashion.

Next, the kids were divided into three groups; crafts, games, and care package receipt, with a roughly 20 minute rotation. This is where the folks that came on this trip shined most. Some adjustments had to be made but everyone took them in stride and made sure the kids had a great time. The look on the kids' faces were pure joy. I've never seen bigger smiles in my life. There is no doubt that laughter is a universal language, as all of us had no problem understanding that we were all having a good time.

Finally, the kids received bananas and were sent on their way to school. The second session started at 3:00; lather, rinse, repeat. Great times all around.

Between the two sessions, two of our team had a chance to visit the homes of their sponsored children. I tagged along out of curiosity and for moral support for one of our team. We visited two homes.

The first home was quite a distance from the drop in center. Our guide told us that it takes the little boy thirty minutes of running and walking to get to the center (mind you, this is in tattered shoes). The home was made of mud and sticks, and had two rooms; the main living area and a room used for storage and cooking. The floor was dirt and there were no lights and no windows. Even though it was mid-afternoon, it was very dark inside. If the door hadn't been opened, we wouldn't have been able to see anything.

The mother invited us in to sit. She was very gracious and kind. She told us what a blessing it was for her son to have a place like Grace Baptist to attend, how much his sponsorship meant to her, and how she hoped her son would be able to be successful because of the sponsorship. There was an older girl with us as well. When asked, the mother said that the girl's mother was very ill and was living with them. Three people living in one room (and not a large one at that). 

It was obvious that the mother was preparing lunch. Something red and orange was boiling in the storage room. It wasn't a lot, probably enough to feed the three of them. The mother asked us to join her and the kids for lunch. I couldn't imagine how there could possibly be enough for all of us and I thought it would probably be rude to decline. However, our guide must have found a way because we left for the next home.

I will say one positive thing about the next house we visited. There was plenty of light. Unfortunately, there was plenty of light because the house was made only of sticks. There was no mud to finish the walls. Natural light poured into this two room home (again, one for living and the other for storage).

Basarat is twelve and is a double orphan, meaning both his parents have passed away. He is being raised by his 28-year-old sister. She works until midnight, so Basrat is left alone at night to fend for himself. Basrat's sister also thanked us for supporting the drop in center and for sponsoring her brother. Basrat wants to be a doctor some day, and I hope that comes true.

I'm glad I got to visit the homes of these two kids. It reinforces to me the importance of drop in centers such as Grace Baptist. While these two boys were nothing but smiles and laughter earlier in the day, they were serious and withdrawn as they were listening to their caregivers tell their stories. It was a sobering experience.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Road to Kombolcha

Day Two – The Road to Kombolcha

Many of you remember me telling about the trip to Kombolcha in 2009. The highway had been built in the 1930s during the Italian occupation, and was either in a state of disrepair or was in the process of being repaired. It was a ten hour ride over the bumpiest of roads. Today’s drive was much smoother (all but a very small stretch of the highway is finished) but it still took us nine hours to travel 250 miles. I haven’t the slightest idea why…

But it’s a beautiful trip. Imagine taking a drive from a major city with the hustle and bustle of traffic and people and high rise buildings, driving across the plains of South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma, up into the mountains of northern California, across the deserts of the southwest, over the fertile land of the Mississippi delta, and into the hills of southern California all in one day . Along the way there are small villages, decent size towns, people everywhere and more livestock (goals, cattle, sheep, chickens, mules, and camels) than you can ever imagine seeing in one day. I was a bit tired yet from the flight, but didn’t want to close my eyes to rest or focus on anything else for fear that I’d miss something. 

I most enjoyed looking at the people. I saw little kids playing along the road, tending livestock, or watching (and waving) curiously as these vans full of people from another place loaded with cargo barreled (yes, barreled) by them. Young men sat idly talking with friends, playing foosball, or working the fields. Women walked with babies or loaded with wood, water, or crops. Old people also watched thinking who knows what about these strangers in their country. We saw a funeral (in a distance), men praying towards Mecca, kids playing soccer and volleyball, women hanging laundry, men bathing themselves in the river, and countless other people doing every day activities as part of their everyday lives.

We finally made it to the drop in center. The directors had kept the kids late so they could meet us before activities start in earnest tomorrow. It was really neat to see familiar faces from two years ago, and even neater when some of them raised their hands when asked if they remembered me. Each of us introduced ourselves and talked a bit about what we would be doing with them this week. There was one little girl in the fifth row whose face was beaming from ear to ear as each of us talked. Many of the kids were excited, but this particular girl looked like it was all she could do to keep seated as we talked. After our introductions, we all went to the benches that each child had so dutifully sat on and started passing out handshakes and hugs. Some in our group described the experience as overwhelming. 

Our surprise for the evening, and a reminder of our need to stay flexible; there is some sort of dispute between the church and the school that is supposed to be resolved this week. In the meantime, we are not spending our time at either of the two locations we knew about. Instead, one of the members of the congregation is letting the school use his land. The land is much smaller than the other parcels, and there is even less space to play than we had counted on. We’re taking it all in stride though, although the soccer goalie is going to have to be really good or else the ball is going to end up in the river.

As we prepare for tomorrow, sorting donations and determining logistics for working with the kids, I remind myself that we are only here for the week, and after we leave lives will go on. We want to be a positive influence for these kids, and spend our time here loving on them and giving them all the attention they deserve. At the end of this week, we will go home. It is important for us to continue working to provide long term assistance to these kids. While we will return home to our lives, the livestock will still need tending, the clothes will still need washed, the kids will play soccer and volleyball, and the crops will still need harvested. We are a part of these people’s lives for only one week, but everyday life continues. I hope that through the course of this week, we are able to plant a seed in these kids’ hearts that over time, with nourishment and continued encouragement from us, will grow and flourish and provide a positive impact on these kids’ lives.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Update from team leader

Just in from Rob Tennant (team leader). They made it to Kombolcha this evening (a little later than planned)! All the kids cheered when they arrived! The team was able to introduce themselves, then hugged, loved on and played with the kids! Eight of the sponsors will make home visits this week. They were invited and will attend the Wednesday church service. Camp tommorow! Please keep the team and children in your prayers!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Day 1

Day One:

It's interesting, after four trips to Ethiopia, to see this country through other people's eyes. Perception is an interesting thing. I remember how in one of my undergraduate psychology classes, the professor talked about how unreliable witnesses are to a crime. If there are seven witnesses, you'll get seven different observations. We see things through our past experiences and personal biases. It's human nature.

I remember my first trip here and seeing how beat up the roads were, how dirty everything seemed to be, and saying to Lori, "Wow. This is worse than I imagined." Now, while I still see the dirt and decay, my reference isn't how bad things are, but rather how much progress has been made. The roads are better; it's easier to get around. Construction continues at a rapid pace. There are new high rises and new houses. Someone mentioned to me today that it seems very destitute. Maybe I've become immune to it. Maybe I'm like the teenager in the filthy room who can't understand why her parents think her room is a disaster area. Maybe it's all relative.

Tomorrow we travel to Kombolcha, a small town of 12000 about 240 miles from here. It'll be a six hour drive, and along the way we will see small villages in much worse shape than Addis Ababa. While there seems to be a thriving middle (and upper?) class in Addis Ababa, some of these small villages and towns will show no signs of prosperity. Maybe when we return to Addis on Friday, the folks I'm with will not think of Addis to be as bad as they thought.

I also wonder if people see what they want to see. We are a group of people from all over the country, here to help. Do they see a run down city because otherwise it would make them question why they're here? I don't say this to question anyone's motives. This is a great group, and everyone has worked very hard to gather donations for these kids in Kombolcha. And, there's no question that these kids need help.

Several years ago, when I came here to visit orphanages all around the country, I was surprised at how people wrote about the trip. The pictures some posted to their blogs seemed only to reinforce our stereotype of the country. They certainly weren't reflective of the diversity here. Where were their pictures of the high rises and gleaming shopping centers? Or how about all of the road construction and signs of progress? Instead the focus was on beggars, run down houses, and dirty roads. When they described the kids at the care centers, they described them as listless and apathetic. The pictures tended to be the ones where they were withdrawn. While they were surely sick and malnourished, how about the pictures of their smiles, or the talk about their energy as they played with us? I hugged kids that were nothing but skin and bones, and had awful sores on their bodies. But were they worn down? No. Were they apathetic? Absolutely not. Are they sick and in need of attention and food and education? Absolutely. Ethiopians are a strong people and the children reflect that strength even at this young age. These kids are fighters and I like to think of my involvement here as a way to provide them the tools to wage that fight; to give them the tools they need to rise above the poverty that pervades them.

Surely there are huge needs here. But I think it is wrong to paint Ethiopia in a way that only reinforces what we've seen on tv or read about. This country is rich and diverse. The people are resilient. There is incredible change happening. While there is much to be done, and the help is surely needed (and appreciated), I believe it is disrespectful and self-serving to portray Ethiopia in any way that does not reflect the true nature of this great country.

Tom is in Ethiopia!!!

Just a quick update to say the team made it to Ethiopia! They slept for a few hours and are now having dinner! They will head off to Kombolcha, Ethiopia tomorrow morning at 7am (which will be about midnight tonight here). I will update with what ever info he is able to send me!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kombolcha schedule

Here we go. Another trip to Ethiopia. Candy Tennant just sent the schedule in brochure form, and all of a sudden it is very real to me. Lori has been spending the last few months gathering donations, packing suitcases, and coordinating gifts. Daniel and Lori have collected over $1600 in monetary donations that will be used for a feast for the kids and the start of one of the capital projects. Friends have sent water bottles, pencils, tooth brushes, crafts, and toys. We also have hand made first aid kits containing band aids and ointment for each of the kids. Becka Morris, one of our neighbors, and I are joining a larger group of people from around the country to travel to Kombolcha. Others in our group have crafts, back bags, clothes, shoes, and much much more for the kids.

Kombolcha is a small town of around 12000 about 250 miles from Addis. Below is our schedule for the week. I'll be posting updates (assuming we have Internet access) and photos throughout the week.

Sunday, April 22 ~ Check in at the Guest House. Schedule will vary depending on when you arrive at the house. Make sure to leave items for Trees of Glory and Project Green Light at the front desk.
Monday, April 23 ~ Breakfast at the Guest House. Depart early morning for Kombolcha (Tom's note: it will take most of the day to get to Kombolcha. Last time it took us ten hours. And there are no McDonald's to stop at along the way). A bag lunch will be provided by the Guest House.
* Upon arrival at Grace Baptist Care Point, please keep pens or pencils in your backpack or pocket. Children may ask for a pen or pencil which they need to at-tend school.
* Be prepared with a few games or the parachute. Josh, Rob and Tom to meet with the Pastor. Determine schedule and which children will be at the site and at what times.
* Hand out water bottles. Have sharpies on hand to write names on the bottles.
Monday evening ~ dinner at Sunnyside Hotel. Pre-pare for the following day.
NOTE: Backpacks will be given out with the Care Packages!
Tuesday & Wednesday ~ Breakfast at Sunnyside Hotel. Morning and afternoon camp sessions at Grace Baptist Care Point. Lunch at the hotel. During the break between camps, sponsors may be able to meet with parent or guardian at their home.
Thursday ~ Modified camp schedule to be determined. Make time for distribution of Sew Important (girls only). Laura Driggers to lead. Must have female translator.
Friday ~ Modified schedule. Morning camp only. Feast at noon.
Saturday ~ Depart Kombolcha early morning for drive to Ethiopian Guest Home in Addis Ababa. Make sure you have snacks for the ride back.
NOTE: Call Ethiopia Airlines to confirm seats for Sunday departure!
Sunday ~ Attend church at IEC. English service at 8:30-9:45 and 11:15-12:30. Coffee shopping at Moka Harrar Coffee (across from St George's). They have the BEST coffee in Addis. Worth waiting for them to roast the beans.
The cost of a lamb will be approximately 700—1000 ($60 per lamb depending on the size). Total $300.
$287 is as it is; this will be for injera, sauces and soft drinks.
$78 for the long lasting plates (90 count).
Care Packages ~ Care packages, Dresses, Spreadsheets, Underwear
Crafts ~Banner, Beads, Masking Tape, Paints, Paper, Pens & T-Shirts
Recreation ~ Balls & Parachute
Waiting Area ~ Air pump, Balloons, Bean bags, Masking tape, Scissors, Scratch Art & Yarn

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Count down to mission trip (4 days)!!!

In four days Tom will be leaving for Kombolcha, Ethiopia on a mission trip! Please stop by between the 21st and the 30th of April to see how God is working in Ethiopia!