This post is written by Janet. Janet is one of the members of the latest team to travel to Ethiopia......
It started just three months ago.
A vision of a little African boy looking up at me, came to me as I was falling asleep one March night. I immediately heard myself asking, out of the blue, "Is this about Ethiopia, God?" And, over the next few weeks, I became aware that yes, God had absolutely invited me to join Him in His work through the mission trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with several others from Valleybrook Church.
I had never thought seriously of such a trip and did not see this coming. I was not sure I would have even "qualified" for such a mission. But God had plans for me beyond what I would have come up with myself! He was persistent. He removed my doubts and cleared the obstacles that seemed at times overwhelming.. And... it was this little boy He showed me, who drew me to a mission that God revealed would break my heart wide open for the women and children of Ethiopia... those with whom I eventually had the privilege of witnessing the power of love, of sharing, and of believing! My gratitude for what He has done in my life these past four years, since I accepted Him into my life, can barely be expressed in words, and when I can get those words out, it is rarely done without accompanying tears.
Even before we left, I so identified with, and had a heart for these women and children with whom we would share a week together. Like for these women, living with shame, insecurity and self doubt, was my identity for many years...until I found myself at Valleybrook and the healing began. My story of His work in me, is one of forgiveness, freedom and redemption. There is no way, through my own efforts, that these changes could have happened. Nothing, without Him. And it was my hope that I could help others find the same answers.
Our arrival in Ethiopia, after a 12 hour long plane ride from Washington DC, brought to me a new awareness of life in a different part of the world. I knew that this trip would offer me an opportunity to feel the emotions of one who is in a land where most spoke a language I could not understand. Having never been to a third world country I can remember feeling overwhelmed by several distinct differences
First, were the thousands of men, women and children that walked alongside and sometimes in between cars, taxis, buses navigating the streets in a way that none of us could quite fathom. Their beauty caught my attention but so did the magnitude of those who seemed to be struggling. The sights, sounds and smells were all so foreign to me and it gave me insight into what it must be like for those who come to the USA for the first time.
Secondly, I knew I would see poverty but I was not prepared for the mile after mile after mile of "homes" that were made of corrugated aluminum, cardboard, sand. Having not been inside one of these homes, I cannot tell you what it was like to live within these walls.
To my inexperienced eyes and comparatively privileged lifestyle, I jumped to the conclusion that it must be horrible, but then I thought of the thousands who do not have a shelter of any sort, so these homes could be coveted by many. Who am I to judge? And how did it affect me?
I felt humbled by what they did not have and indebted for what I do have.
My perspective on "what matters most" has changed. Needs vs. wants. God has turned my head around, after already turning my heart inside out.
Island of Hope
Discouragement could come to those who witness these conditions. But I want to tell you about what I call the " Island of Hope" amongst this debris and chaos. It is the " Eyes That See" organization. Having spent time in the Eyes That See (Love in Action) compound, I want to tell you of what my eyes saw.
I saw children in the after school program that have an opportunity to learn, play, be loved.
God put us in a place that initially may not have looked like much...I saw the photos before I came to Ethiopia and remember thinking that there were some pretty bare walls and rugged surroundings. But when I got there, and spent some time with the women attending the salon training and the kids attending their program, I realized that these "bare walls" are far more alive with warmth, opportunity, hope! Pictures do not do it justice. Being there does. Watching and experiencing the interaction between the instructor and the women; between the teachers and the kids; between the counselors and the women, between the staff and the students; all spoke of love, guidance, concern. No wonder this compound has initially been called "Love in Action" because that is exactly what one witnesses!
And the amazing part? That I/we were blessed to have the opportunity to engage with all of them. We had the privilege of playing with the kids, not just teaching them something but being taught by them!
About trust, about engagement, about openness. Not just watching the women in their training but of sitting beside them, sharing ourselves as best as one can without speaking the same language, and being allowed into their world eventually with the aid of an interpreter.
My heart was transformed.
While we could barely speak with one another due to the language barrier, we did "connect". I found myself taken in by the children...their bright eyes, their engaging and beautiful smiles spoke more than words can convey.
That they "allowed" us to be part of their world is an invitation that is never to be denied and forever to be cherished. The stories for each of these women and children go deep, and while I may only know a fraction of what they have experienced in their lives, I know that some are now living with hope. The sadness and loss, shame and confusion that have plagued them are beginning to be replaced by hope and for some, faith in a Father that they may never have known before.
I know that my own story, which I was able to speak of ever so briefly with the women during the Bible Study we led, shared several similar points: having doubted the existence of Jesus and God; having felt shame, insecurity, regret; having doubted my own worth and not being sure I deserved forgiveness. I began sensing some of the women's recognition of the same experiences.
Going first, out loud, through an interpreter, being vulnerable because I am being obedient, was not what I planned but it is what He planned. And he provided us this opportunity in this island of hope amongst a land of both internal and external chaos, fear, debris.
Which brings me to this: I was continuously reminded of the starfish story I'd heard years ago, which speaks to the difference we might make because of how God uses us and our gifts:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?
The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.
Son, the man said, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
I made a difference for that one.
Before the trip, everyone said "You will be changed by this trip", "You will be a different person when you return" . These are the encouraging words heard before this trip. I hoped they were right. I saw and heard about the changes others experienced when they journeyed on a mission trip. And I discovered that indeed, it is true when you trust Him to renovate your heart.
So, the many individuals who prayed for us, need to know that their prayers were answered:
· That He showed us exactly what He wanted us to do, what projects He wanted to use us for; that our team was protected; and that fear was expelled by His love (for me personally, He brought me to Psalm 91 my second sleep-deprived night there);
· That these women and children are discovering truth, and hope, in a world where there has been so much loss and pain;
· That we were received, and were able to receive others, with eyes that see and ears that hear;
· That when He opened up the door to share the Forgiven and Set Free ministry with women who are hurting, He gave me words to speak healing into their lives.
Now that I am back, I am looking at our world with eyes that see...differently. The shed in our backyard would be a haven for many in Ethiopia...a concrete floor, solid wood/sided walls, a shingled waterproof roof which houses our lawnmowers, snowblowers, rakes, shovels..would provide a home for perhaps a family of 10, protected from the elements and from others who might mean them harm.
I look at our yard, at our streets - clean, easy on the eyes, easy to navigate, not congested. Perhaps it is not fair to compare Eau Claire with Addis Ababa. Perhaps a better comparison might be with New York City or Chicago. But this is my world, here in Eau Claire and that's all I can compare it to.
I have so much to be grateful for. None of this is deserved, I know that now. It is all a gift, blessings from Him. Whether one is a therapist in a Midwest town or a woman in Ethiopia who hangs on desperately to her child, providing the only way she knows how... we are both loved by God. What can I do to help her? I can pray. I can send support. I can appreciate more, what I do have. I can realize that what I do have, are not all needs, but probably many more, wants. I can do with less. I can share more. I can love more.
I am grateful for the opportunity to see our sisters and brothers in Addis Ababa and speak of what I know to be true about my faith and what each of them can look forward to and hold on to. I am eagerly awaiting to hear the stories of the women with whom I was able to spend time praying with. We are not so different though our lifestyles would suggest quite the opposite. But we do not want to be fooled by the exterior of our surroundings; it is what is inside that makes us related to one another.
I thank God for those who made this trip possible, and for Matt and Nikki who in their obedience started Eyes That See and opened it up for others to join in. I will look forward to the posts by my teammates who shared in the witnessing of Love in Action. Until then, God bless, and "Selam"!