To anyone who has asked me the question, "How was Ethiopia?", first of all, thank you for caring, acknowledging and remembering that I was halfway across the world for a month. But I hope you know that I can't answer that in a word or in a sentence. I've mostly been saying "amazing"...which is the most accurate word I can come up with...but completely insufficient.
Here’s a breakdown of what we did while we were there:
A team of 19 of us went to Project Mercy in Yetabon, Ethiopia where we divided into pairs to teach English to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at Project Mercy’s school of 1800 students. I taught with my teaching partner, Adam, under a tree, in weather that ranged in the 70s (while the rest of you were freezing your butts off. Yeah I’m gonna rub it in), with a small portable chalkboard and whatever teaching supplies we could muster up. We had 6 classes a day (2 first grade, 2 second grade, and 2 third grade), each for 45 minutes and with about 10-15 students in each class. About 70 of these 1800 K-12 students are “House Kids,” orphans that live on Project Mercy’s compound. We got especially close to those kids as we played with them every day after school or on weekends, sat with them at meals, taught them in class, or tutored them.
The first Saturday we hiked at Crater Lake, some of us going down a pretty steep and treacherous path to touch the water. We took two more long (about 5 hour) hikes in the mountains that surrounded Project Mercy –the first to a waterfall, the second to an Orthodox Church and then some of us went up to the top of the mountain. I felt I was in a constant state of awe and praise as I hiked, not even believing that this was real life and I wasn’t dreaming.
What ended up being a pretty large part of our ministry too, besides teaching and building relationships with the House Kids, was performance of music and drama. Kayla and I brought our guitars and Heidi brought her violin, so we led worship on numerous occasions. We also prepared multiple skits before coming, some which I was a part of, and three of them—without any words—displayed the gospel message to the people. (Ethiopia is a pretty evenly divided country between Muslims and Christians. The House Kids all attend a Christian church Sunday mornings, but 95% of Yetabon is Muslim, so a majority of our students were Muslim.) We had the opportunity to perform our music and drama multiple times—in church services on their Christmas (January 7) and 3 Sunday morning services; a special performance for the House Kids; at our “American Day” assembly for the whole school; and at our final bonfire with the House Kids.
I also had the opportunity of giving an eighth-grader named Ashenofi a couple guitar lessons, I led a young girls’ Bible study with Brittany after school, typed a couple high school final exams for teachers, led worship during team meetings, and had my first star-tripping experience. J And every night we came together as a team after dinner and had a time of devotionals (led by a different member of the team every night) and prayer, planned our lessons for the next day in a room full of construction paper, crayons, balloons, and just utter chaos, and laid on the basketball court with our heads in a circle looking up at the wide expanse of stars. It was glorious.
I wish words and pictures could capture my experience. I want desperately to go back there someday and take with me those that I dearly love. I was saddened by the poverty and the lack of progress in that country. My students would come to school with the same faded and ripped clothes and shoes (if they had shoes) every day. And as we discovered on our hikes, many students came from tukuls (huts) on the mountains and would have to leave in the morning for school, making the maybe 1 or 2 hour hike down in the dark, some without shoes. These children had flies crawling on their faces and bodies from living with their animals and very rarely, if ever, bathing. And yet, when it came down to it, in a lot of ways they were no different than kids in America. They roared with laughter while we played with balloons to teach colors, there were the classic jokesters in every class, and they went crazy over play-doh and stickers.
I was spiritually refreshed and renewed by the joy, generosity, beauty, and simplicity of the people and the country. I was challenged as a teacher and undoubtedly have become a better teacher through teaching 6 classes of non-English speaking students every day and trying to figure out the best and most effective way of getting the material across to them. I was taken out of my comfort zone in leading worship and acting in the dramas (I almost didn’t even take my guitar with). And I think most importantly I was taught a lesson in love and what it looks like to love from my interactions with the House Kids and from seeing my team’s love and devotion and time spent with those precious children. This may sound cheesy, but it’s true: it was like a little glimpse of heaven on earth. One memory I will forever hold in my heart is the memory of walking a young boy, Solomon, who was in one of my third grade classes, back to the house after the bonfire. I asked him to sing me his favorite song, and he sang it first in Amharic (the primary language at Project Mercy and in the capital), and then in English, and it went something like “I love you Jesus (repeated), I hold you in my heart.” A simple song, but one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. We sung it together as we walked back that night, and it’s something I’ll always cherish.
It’s sad how quickly this whole experience can just kind of vanish from your mind. I felt like I was in a different world for a month, so coming back here was…weird. My transition has been pretty difficult, and I’m still not adjusted or motivated for the semester, but I think that will come in time. It’s crazy how things that have impacted you so much you can just put aside and just totally compartmentalize. I talked about going shopping in Chicago over J-term break and using my Forever 21 gift cards. My mom’s reaction was “wow, I thought you would say you wouldn’t want to shop after an experience like that.” I responded that I guess I caught the shopping bug again. I am shocked now at what I said. But I hadn’t yet processed the experience. I hadn’t yet brought it back here and learned from it and took what I saw and felt and experienced and did something about it. So now that I’ve done a little more processing this week, I have realized the lessons I learned in Ethiopia. I pray to God that they stay with me and become evident in my life from now to forever.
1. Live without fear…God will step in and take care of everything
2. Love without holding back. It was so hard to leave those kids after investing so much of ourselves into them and them into us, but it was worth it. Our ministry was effective because we aimed to love to the extent that Jesus loved.
3. I cannot be fulfilled with man’s praise. Seek out only the affirmation that comes from God’s word and you will conquer any feelings of inadequacy. I know now that He alone has the ability to satisfy, strengthen, and bless me.
4. “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 I never believed so fully in that verse before as I continually stepped out in faith and surrendered what I thought my limitations were.
5. I don’t need anything of this world. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19
Lastly, I want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to those who thought about and prayed for me and my team this January. God truly took care of us and blessed our time there, proving Himself faithful again and again. I would love to share more stories or answer any questions you have, so please seek me out! Also, pictures are up on facebook! : )
Thanks for taking the time to read.
Love love love,