Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Feast Day and Good-Byes

March 14, 2015

Friday. Our last day in Kombolcha. The end of a great week with the kids. A great day because of all of the smiles as kids are eating the feast. A sad day knowing many of those smiles will soon be replaced with tears. A humbling day because of the foot washing ceremony. A satisfying day because we have seen how well these kids are being cared for by the staff at Meseret Christos. A reflective day as I think about all of the things we have experienced in the short time we've been here.

We have a full day scheduled. We will go to Meseret for foot washing, the feast, and good-byes. We'll then go to Grace Baptist to observe the food distribution to the families of the kids in that program, take pictures of the kids that have been sponsored, and hang out with the kids. Then, we'll head back to Meseret to have dinner with the church leadership.

First, the foot washing.

Foot washing
We started this a few years ago, as part of one of Rob's Bible lessons. Each of our team takes turn washing the feet of the kids, just as Jesus did in the Bible. It's very special to us, and we take it seriously. Some of us seek out kids we've become especially attached to. The kids are able to opt out if they're not comfortable with it. I'm not sure how many choose not to participate. It's a well oiled machine, as we are taking turns washing feet while others are making sure we have clean water and dry towels. Since we are kneeling while doing this, we take turns to give our knees a break. In what seems like no time, all of the 150 kids who want to, have had their feet washed. Many of the kids, then, ask to wash our feet. They, too, take this very seriously, meticulously soaping our feet. Four different kids asked to wash my feet; I must have had the cleanest feet on the planet!

Benjamin, getting his feet washed
I was especially touched when one of the translators, Taweke, asked to wash my feet. I have known him for many years, as he was originally at Grace Baptist when we first visited in 2009. We are connected through Facebook and I am proud to call him a friend. As he was washing my feet, he prayed for me. It was very moving, and even now as I write this, can feel the emotions from those few minutes. I gave him a big hug afterwards and thanked him for everything.

Benjamin rocking the painted
As the kids were finished getting their feet washed, they participated in finger and toe nail painting. Benjamin was sporting brightly colored digits. Zelalem and Ben Johnson walked away with bright pink fingernails. While Benjamin spent an hour tonight scraping the polish away, Zelalem and Ben continue to proudly sport their nails.

A highlight of the day was when one of the kids started banging on a drum in the corner. Suddenly, three or four of the kids were banging on the drum, while others started singing and dancing. Benajmin quickly got into the middle of it and was having a grand time dancing with the kids. Ethiopian dancing has some distinctive moves that have to be seen to be fully understood. The kids were teaching Benjamin some of these moves. Most of the kids, and even the adults, were singing, and dancing, and clapping. It was a spontaneous moment, but one that will be a defining moment of the week. The laughter and joy were infectious. Even the older kids who tended to be a bit stand-offish were enjoying themselves.

Next came the feast. There are three tables of food. One table is for the Christian kids. It had goat, injera, bread, a vegetable dish of potatoes, carrots, and onions, and soda. The second table was for Moslems, which had the same food but the goats had been blessed by a Moslem cleric before being killed. The final table was for the Greek Orthodox kids. Since it is Lent, they are fasting, so there was no goat available (I believe they had lentil). We jumped in to help serve and were told to be sure to give generous helpings. There was plenty of food so every kid that wanted seconds or thirds or even fourths was able to have it. We also give the kids mangoes and bananas. There would be no one hungry at the end of this day!

I have to say a word about how the mangoes were eaten. Mangoes have a tough (not tough like hard to bite, but tough as in durable), but edible skin. The kids would slowly massage and knead the mango inside the skin until it was mush. Then, they bite a small hole in the skin and squeeze the mango through the small opening, similar to a "gogurt." It was fun to watch.

After clean up, and passing out inflatable globes, it was time for good-byes. We were told to line up at the gate and the kids would say their farewell as they left the compound. I think there was an intention that if the kids were to say good-bye on their way out they would not linger. And that worked for some of them. However, many of them stayed and kept circling through again and again. A few of the kids were sobbing. There is one girl, Karima (sponsored by Lori's aunt and uncle) who seems to be especially connected to me. Throughout the week, she has a tough persona. She's full of smiles, but she doesn't take anything from anyone. Today, she cried and cried. I held her tight, and she just sobbed in my arms. Some of the kids start out teasing the others who are crying but by the end, they are also shedding tears. Natnael, another kid who always seeks me out, tried very hard not to cry, but you could see he was at first holding back the emotion, but finally could not stop from crying.

I'm not sure why they are so emotional. I was very surprised the first year we were here when they started crying on the last day. One of our translators later told us that the ferengi (foreigners) always cry, but this was the first time he'd seen the kids cry too. We're only here for a few days, they know by now that we are coming back next year, yet they are so emotional when we leave.

I'm also given several messages to pass along to sponsors. The overall theme of the messages I'm to pass along are to thank them for their support and to God Bless them, asking when they are coming to visit, thanking them for the care package, and to let them know they are doing well.

So the good-byes go on for at least forty minutes. I don't want to leave, so am happy to hug and console as long as I can get away with it. Karima comes back to me several times, and meets me again just as I'm about to get into the van, still sobbing uncontrolably.

It is a quiet and reflective ride to Grace Baptist.

Our agenda at Grace Baptist is two-fold. First, we are to observe the distribution of teff and cooking oil to the families of the kids at the care point. Typically, a care point needs at least half of the kids sponsored before such a food program can begin. Because of the generosity of our family and friends, along with others on our team, we were all able to donate enough money to start the food program before that benchmark was reached. In fact, there should be enough money to pay for two months of the food program. Hopefully, before then, we'll get to 50% sponsorship.

The kids at the new care point
Benjamin hamming it up with one of the boys at Grace Baptist.
We also needed to take pictures of the 20 kids who are already sponsored. Myndi and Ben took care of the pictures, while Patricia, Benjamin, and Ty sang with the kids. Brittany was on the floor playing games with other kids. These kids are between the ages of three and ten. They're the age the kids at Meseret were when we first came here in 2009. I'm looking forward to getting to know these kids better. We spent an hour or so hanging out and having fun.

Amy, Yonas, and Aden,
staff at Mesert Christos
After a quick rest at the hotel, it was back to Meseret to have dinner with the church leadership. It was a great feast, and it was nice getting to talk with everyone. There are three people who spend the most time overseeing the program: Yonas, his wife Amy, and Aden. It is obvious how much they care about the kids. Wednesday, one of the kids was off in a corner not participating in the activities. Yonas went over to him and spent at least half an hour with his arm around him, counseling him. The love they have for these kids is a joy to see.

It will be an early morning tomorrow, as we head back to Addis. The plan is to leave at 6:30 am. I can't believe the week is over already

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