Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Missions Trip, My feelings, My Reality in the Raw.

So, I have a confession to make. I don't have it all figured out. Surprising, right?

I went on an amazing, detail oriented, love giving, life changing, poverty stricken, heart melting missions trip to Ethiopia... and I still don't know. I have no answers. Just feelings. About those feelings... mixed!!

It's been 2 weeks since my trip and I am still processing it all. When does it click? When will God reveal what I'm supposed to know after it all. Or was the point of the trip just to catch my interest? Leaving me curious and thirsty for more? Like I said, I'm still figuring it out! I hope God isn't disappointed in me for not having it all together... I feel like Moses or David.... totally inadequate for the job, but believing that God will provide and use me as a vessel for His will... whatever that is. Back to square one. *sigh*
Enough with the circles... let me tell you where I am now and all that I can offer...

Of all the adjectives, REAL and RAW are best suited to describe my experience. It wasn't glamorized or even dramatized. It was authentic. Real people in real poverty. It was National Geographic in the raw. I saw people wearing clothes that hung onto their bodies by threads. Literally! I couldn't help but think of all the clothes I have hanging in my closet and in that moment, looking at those people, that I would have the audacity to say, "I have nothing to wear".

Vanity doesn't exist when survival is number one on your "To Do List" for the day.

I saw children with no clothes, most of them without shoes, many of them with flies in the creases of their eyes and mouths and up their noses. The worst was looking at the children who didn't even swat them away... what's the point? This is the lowest of lows. Acceptance. In other words, no more hope.

You can't see this is the magazines and your heart can't hurt like it should for these people because they aren't real to you. You turn the page or change the channel and we all feel a little better about ourselves. Especially if we decide to donate a few bucks to support the "cause".

I'm not saying that I haven't done that either or that it's a bad thing to donate and support organizations who reach out to people in poverty... it's wonderful! But when I was there.... I couldn't do that. I was there... looking Jesus straight in His eyes.

In Matthew chapter 25:35-40, Jesus says, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you game me something to to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and  you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink.... The king will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "

So... surrounded by "the least of these"... I was also, surrounded by Jesus.

Here's the thing. In the United States (aka, the American Bubble) it is difficult to feel God's presence or to feel surrounded by Jesus. Why? I don't know exactly and I don't claim to have all the answers, but, I would confidently suggest that it's because we (Americans) don't have to rely on God for anything! Maybe emotional support (depending on life's circumstances.... ) but definitely not our basic needs. We have welfare, homeless shelters, at the very least... the "least of these" in America can find a faucet somewhere and get clean water to drink! Girls (yes, girls!) walk miles and hours to fetch contaminated water daily. These people are dying of preventable diseases because of it! How many homeless Americans can we say walk that plank?

*Back from my tangent*

Not only did I see more poverty than I ever have in my life... I saw more joy than ever too.
How can this be? Same people... the people who have nothing had everything!

I want that joy! I want to praise Jesus and be healthy - like them! I want my family to depend on Him and seek Him and rejoice in Him like their families do. I want us to have so much joy that we can't help but burst with thanksgiving and worship the Lord! And you know that God does nothing but smile at his children who rejoice in Him and give credit where credit is due!

Still, I'm at a loss. I just don't know how to get there and frankly, what God is calling me to do next... I got nothin'... still....

But I don't want to be one of those people (couldn't tell you who they are exactly, but you know, "those people") who get back from a life changing and convicting experience and does nothing because they haven't figured it all out yet. If I do that, I'll never do anything!

If there's one thing I have learned from this trip, it's that God asks us to DO. He wants us to love (as a verb!).

St. Francis Assisi said, "Preach the gospel always and if necessary, use words."

Think about it. Jesus didn't just sit in a temple and have story time, all day, everyday that He was on earth. He went out and loved on people! He still asks us to do the same today.

Thinking practically... I have started to assess myself and my family to work on this in 2 areas:

1)Loving others and helping the "least of these" and
2)Exposing my family to the joy and blessings that Jesus wants to give us (which is easier to see and experience with a cleaner ozone on Planet Young - Spring Cleaning Has Arrived!).

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27

Like any practical goal, we need a plan. Kind of a "How do I get from Point A to Point B?" kind of journey. My heart is set on it, now I need to make the rest of me follow...

LOVE: We - Mark and I - have sponsored a little girl, Hemiari, for 3 or 4 years now through World Vision. (World Vision is who we/Lakeside Church teamed with when we went to Ethiopia). In sponsoring her month-to-month, we allow her to be healthy (clean water, safe food, health care, etc.) and go to school (she won't be spending her days fetching water!).

Here's a picture of Hemiari!
She has grown SO MUCH since the day Mark picked her out of the stack of faces...

We have been writing back and fourth to her for several years, but now I am highly motivated to see her! I'm curious to see what World Vision is doing in her community and how God is moving there. How can we love? Next, I want to visit her with Mark. - On this trip to Ethiopia, we visited sponsored children (our church has sponsored over 200 children in Abaya, Ethiopia.... Yeah!) and some of their child sponsors came with us! I was a bit jealous that they got to meet their kids... now I am super excited to meet Hemiari!)

Here are some of the meet and greets of our trip:

Just look at that face!
At first, she was extremely hesitant to meet Brad and even receive his gifts. After awhile, she was smiling, twirling, dancing, and having a great time!!
She was so precious!

We were invited into a home/hut to meet one of the families.

I know Mark was sad he couldn't come with me on this trip (he was especially sad after I came back and shared with him how real it was)... but maybe that's because we are meant to go on the next one together to Indonesia... to see Hemiari... to love somewhere else! Since coming back, we have talked about doing so after we are comfortable leaving baby #2 (whenever that is!).

Also, when Ethan is old enough (maybe 4 years old?) we will ask him if he would like to help a friend in need *I am SO excited for this day!* If/when he expresses interest, we will take him to choose a "buddy" to write to. This will be our second child that we will sponsor... and on and on with the other kids we'll have. How cool will it be to take each of our children to visit their "buddies"? I praise God for the opportunity and ability to make these relationships for and with our kids!

How else can we love? God is not far... He's near! We just need to look for Him where we are. We need to do more locally, jump into service projects, invite people over for dinner more and share life with and love people where they are and people in need! God is relational and generous. We need to work on that.

JOY: This one has many steps...

We need to cut out the noise/junk/cloudy pollution that keeps us from seeing the sun! (my world analogy ;) ) This means... Less TV. Less Movies. More time with the Lord and Time with Family!

As of today, we have canceled cable and signed up with Hulu Plus. We don't watch 98% of the channels we pay for and we watch them only after they have been recorded anyway so... Hulu was a great option to cut out the unnecessary junk!

We got ClearPlay for our DVD's. Not all movies are bad - not all are fruitful either. I've always wanted to get one for Ethan so that all the junk would get cut out of movies anyway... after visiting Ethiopia, I have definitaly been called now to do this for our whole family. Most people are desensitized to graphic images with age, but for some reason, I have been sensitized! God has just been working on me over the years in one way or another (I literally cannot watch war movies anymore... it's too graphic!... or any of the horror movies I used to like watching... forget about it!)

It is now a Monday - Friday habit that dinner is ready by 6pm (Lord help me!) where Mark, Ethan, and I pray together, eat together, Ethan is put to bed, Mark and I have scripture time together (once Ethan is developmentally ready and can stay awake longer... he will join us too! As for now, the children's bible, songs, etc. will have to do!) and then we can relax... watch Hulu, a movie, take a bubble bath, read, whatever!

Like all things, old habits are hard to break... but we are chugging along and really trying to to this! As of late, Ethan has hit another nasty cold (not quite hospital level... but the Doc said we are on our way if we don't intervene with treatments!). We are currently on breathing treatments every 4 hours he is awake. Unfortunately, this means lots of TV time for Ethan. I can't get him to sit still long enough for breathing treatments (15-30 minutes depending on the time of day!) and eating otherwise!

SO! In a super small nutshell.... that was my trip and the affect it had on me. At least what I can piece together as of today. Like I said, I'm still figuring it all out.

I want to share the link to our Team's Blog and specifically what I wrote in my post about a Fruitful Farmer in the Shone Community in Ethiopia. I wrote this while we were still there. Check out the postings from the other members of our team too!

For those of you who would like to hear more... my team is presenting the trip at an event called A Cow in Every Kitchen. Catchy right? If you come (March 31st at 7pm @ Lakeside Church... click the link!), you'll hear why we're calling it that. Also, you will get the opportunity to sponsor a child in Abaya, Ethiopia.

Now for the plethora of pictures!
I did my best to display them in chronological order...

This is a picture of my last American coffee at the Sacramento Airport.
I thought it was going to be a sad goodbye... I was pleasantly surprised! We all were! Ethiopian coffee is superb! No wonder Starbucks is all over the stuff.
As Pam put it, "Now all our coffee back home is going to taste like water..."

The team getting some fresh air (well, kind of) outside LAX.

Off we go!

We landed safely! Here we were picked up by 3 World Vision Staff:
Andy - Sacramento Rep
Julianne - Human Resources
Tamiru - The best guide/host in all of Ethiopia!

Our team:
Brad, Scott, Pam, Me, Tari, and Andy

We practiced our Amharic on this guy... he was nice to tolerate us :)


World Vision National Office

Our first day consisted of meetings at the World Vision National Office. We listened to 3 men talk about 3 very important areas that WV focuses on:
Child Sponsorship, Christian Commitment, and WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene).
Displayed around the conference room were posters explaining the values of WV.
Here are a few of them:

 Coffee and Tea Breaks are big there. Here are our empty glasses of coffee/macchiatos.

After our meetings we made a tour of the building. We visited the office where all the child sponsorship letters are processed...

And the "mail room" where all the packages/letters from the child sponsors to the children are received.
YES they DO actually get all the mail you send! There is a reason why they ask for small/light packages. Someone has to deliver them by foot... cars are a rare luxury! They will only drive the packages so far...

The next day we headed out closer to the communities that we will be visiting... The Shone Community (a community that has been with WV for 10 years+) and the community Lakeside has sponsored children, the Abaya Community (WV is just starting to help). The point of viewing both was to see where Abaya could be with some help...

Some pictures on the road:


A presentation from Samuel, the ADP (Area Development Project) Manager of the Shone Community.
Samuel presented ways in which the community has made improvements since WV stepped in to help.

A big part of their progress is because of education. WV is huge on educating the community instead of just "fixing" their problems. This way, once WV has left the community and if something goes wrong, the community will be able to fix it themselves (self-sustaining). If the problem is contaminated water, for example, because they have been educated they can repair the water pump themselves and continue to have clean water... at the very least know to boil the water, etc. to survive in the mean time. It's surprising but what we would call common sense doesn't exist here. People just don't know!

The most beautiful bouganvillas I have ever seen outside the ADP office.
Pinky orange...

We visited a Water Project next... we were greeted by lots and lots of children here! They all wanted their picture taken.
Pastor Brad did a really cool sermon on this when we returned. He related the desire of the kids/people to have their pictures taken to how we are all made in the image of God. And in Genesis, when God created the world... and Adam... how He saw it all and thought it was good. God was pleased.
Likewise, the children were pleased to have their images captured and smiled with joy when they saw the themselves on the LCD screen.

Laundry and bathing in CLEAN water!

The Water Project

A man washing his feet (and modeling for us) in a runoff...

Brad speaking with Samuel, the Engineer, and the man in charge of this WASH project.

Back to the jeeps. Wherever we went, the children followed...

I'm guessing this says, "Wash Me" in Amharic?

More pictures...

Scott turned his iphone to the camera that faces the screen (for "face time") so the kids could see themselves like they were on video...
this little boy was tickled :)

We visited an empty reservoir... here's our pastor climbing down into it!

Temptation got the best of us... we closed the door on him... he was all smiles when we opened it back up :)

Probably one of the most amazing moments of the trip was when we visited an orphanage that was run by MEN (miracle #1) who were both Muslim and Christian... together! (miracle #2)
We gathered to hear the pastor and imam (who are good friends) speak about how they all came together in the name of Love and for the children.

Pastor Brad said a few words and prayed for us all.
This was Brad's day to write in the blog... I'm including part of his post about this day...

"That was one of the most holy moments I have ever experienced. Now, some people may say Christians and Muslims should not be joining together for such purposes. After all, we don't believe the same things. And that's true, we don't. But Jesus taught at least two things that were miraculously evident in Shone today: love your neighbor and love these little children. I saw it happen. It was a miracle."

Here are some of the precious children these men look after:

The next day we met some sponsored children who had grown up and are going to college.
They did it! They not only survived childhood but they are going to be contributing members of society!
It was an honor!

We then visited a farmer. His name is Elias (pronounced El-e-us) and he breathed Jesus!
One of God's brightest lights, for sure!
For more about him and this day, read my post on the other blog. It was a day I'll never forget!!!

Here is Elias...

Coffee from his garden

An apple mango hybrid fruit


The same thorns that made up Jesus' crown on the cross...


The Obama Avocado Tree... simply because God told Elias that the tree would provide the fruit when Obama was elected President. We called them Obamacados :)

This is the boy that game me the avocado (that I talk about on the blog)...

Tamiru translated for me when I shared with him about my family and my son...

He loved the photo of our family.
This was a heart-to-heart moment for me and 100% God given!

The boy was Elias' son. Here are some of his siblings (Elias has 6 kids!)

I ended up giving all the kiddos pictures (after receiving multiple avocado gifts from the other siblings... word got out!) I love how the little girl is holding the picture so close to her cheek here. It's so precious!!

Lunch! 100% organic ;)

My vision for a Picture Perfect Family.
So healthy! So loving! Christ centered!

This is me asking Elias to pray for my son, Ethan (the boy in all the pictures that his kids have!).
If I made the trip just for this it would have been worth it (I know it's selfish!)
How amazingly cool is it that Ethan has a family half way around the world praying for him??

Now, most days when we'd get back from meetings, meeting with people, or visiting sites... we'd return to the hotel with just enough time to eat dinner, have devotions, and go to bed.

One day, however, Andy and Tamiru asked if we would like to go to "the resort" for dinner. Why not? A change in food would be nice and it'd be a fun get away... and honestly, I think we needed a break!

So we went. It was very fancy! Our plan was to take a boat out for a ride, but the waters were too choppy. We enjoyed the scenery instead!

Back to work! The next day was Sunday and the very first day to see the Abaya Community.
This is Analym, the ADP Manager of Abaya.
We met with her briefly before church to get an overview of the community.

Church! (in Amharic... happy to sit next to Tamiru!)

I love this picture! This little boy kept peeking into the church. There was a section just for kids...?

Tamiru said that this woman was filled with the Holy Spirit. She threw her hands up in the air and shouted things like, "My yolk is broken! I am free!"
Amen! :)

Brad said a prayer... and therefore, so did Tamiru...

The collections

There he is again!

With the kiddos

Here's that same little boy with a buddy :)


And of course, more coffee :)

We had lunch with the local pastors of Abaya. They were so gracious and thankful. It was difficult to squeeze out of them where they needed help. They were more concerned about informing us on all the things they are already working on (not to sound lazy/appear as if they are looking for hand-outs) and thanking us.

Attempt #2 for a boat ride = success!

Shades on!
Seriously one of the most wonderful men I've ever met!

Hungry, Hungry.... Hippo!

I can't take credit for the rest of the pictures on this boat ride. Brad took my camera and worked some digital magic!

Fisherman in his skivvies!

Best picture! Perfect... right down to the angle of his pole/spear!

Good fellowship time...

or reflection time.

Ambo! (Sparkling Water) It was a popular drink in our group!

A sadly blurry picture of our crew.
Would've been a good one.

Taxi ride home!

These kids were across the dirt road from the ADP Office in Abaya. The little boy liked having his picture taken...

The little girl... not so much.

A creative attempt at the ADP Office

Here are some pictures of things we saw on our way to meet sponsored children.
Dried up water source.

Women collecting water at a pump (government provided)

A boy chasing after our jeep
(like I said, they're a rare find!)

Skinny animals

Finally... they meet!
Here are pictures of Pam meeting her two kids

She gave the littler girl a jump rope. She lit up!!

The is the little girl's brother


Walking to meet Pam's 2nd child.
The views were fantastic!

His name is Mama.
That's why Pam picked him :)

A little spectator.
I had to capture her dress.
I looks like it was made up of patches of scrap fabric.

Brad's Meet and Greet

So grateful!

Scott's boy. Take note of Scott's shirt!

The kids with their parents and child sponsors

Twirling some cuties

Playing Ring-Around-The-Rosie...
Pam is a teacher too!

All Fall Down!

Playing Duck, Duck, Goose.
It didn't catch on. But they had a great time :)

Lunch is served... can you find Scott's shirt?

These two kids with the same green shirt are Martin's sponsored children. Martin is a Lakesider who couldn't make it on the trip, but we made sure to see his kids. Martin also owns the clothing company Godsome. For every shirt you buy, he gives one away to a child in need. 

This little guy was a bit distant. I got him to stack bottle caps with me.
He humored me then stuck them all in his pocket.

Bubble time!

She was tickled :)

This was the best part... watching the parents enjoy blowing bubbles too!

We also gave the parents kitchen staples. They were very happy about that.

Then we visited another family in their house/hut! That was very exciting for us! After days of wondering what they looked like on the inside...
The family put this cross on the gate to welcome us.

The grateful family

This was the look on the face of the littlest one when I took her picture.
She had no idea what I was doing!
(totally a kid model by the way!)

After I showed her her image

Tari showing her boy pictures of her family.
Everyone clapped when she gave the little guy a blanket.
Who knew that was the coveted gift??

The next day was a busy one! We saw a water source in Abaya that is normal/dirty, visited the only medical clinic, a school, a barber shop (one of the places WV sets up people who have completed a skills training course and provides them with the shop rent free for a few years to help them out...), and finally we saw a Heifer Project.

I couldn't help but think that the stream looked like the Chocolate River in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Very different, but still... very brown!

A worm

One of the girls collecting water

We took turns carrying a full container on our backs.
It was extremely awkward and heavy! 50 lbs.


Driving to the medical clinic

One of 2 doctors that run the clinic

Malaria tests

Medical records. The book was 3/4 full after only 3 months!
Diagnosis: Malaria
(apparently they aren't worried about HIPAA) 

"Some scientists believe that one out of every two people who have ever lived have died of malaria"
- A Hole in Our Gospel.

The man in the chair got up after he was finished and said in English, "I'm young again"
Hilarious! We thought he couldn't understand a word we were saying...

Check out the top hair styles!

School time!

Old Classrooms

  After all my attempts of "creative pictures" Brad says, "Here a creative picture!"
I laughed and said, "Yeah, not quite!"
A kind thought though :)

 New buildings provided by WV

The principle (and 2 American teachers)

School bell

Last lunch at the ADP. They brought out fancy flowers and incense to roast the coffee beans...

Music too!

Look familiar?

Washin' up!

Praising the Lord!

Thanking God for coffee... Pam looks a bit wired here :)

Sharing a good laugh

We got gifts!
A very special Thank You from the Abaya ADP

On our way back to the hotel, we check out a Heifer Project. This sweet boy saved all of the letters from his sponsor. His sponsor also gifted him with a cow (which he keeps in his kitchen.... spoiler alert!).
He was SO. HAPPY.
JOY from ear to ear!

"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord." - Jeremiah 22:16
On a final note (if you made it to the end of this post!) I want to HIGHLY recommend the book, The Whole in Our Gospel. It's written by the US President of World Vision, Richard Sterns. I can't think of a more appropriate book for anyone who wants to get out and love people! The statistics may shock you and his personal story will encourage you.


Maybe it's not so crazy that I don't have it all figured out. Honestly, after reviewing all the pictures and commenting on them... it was a lot to swallow!

I'll let y'all know when I do get my epiphany though. Until then, I'm going to work through what I've been giving practically and all the while, continue to read the Word and listen to what God has in store.

I don't think it's by chance that I read this in my bible yesterday:

"In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." - Isaiah 40:3

In the commentary (I have the Life Application Study Bible. An early Easter gift from my Hubby!) this is what it reads:

"Preparing a straight highway means removing obstacles and rolling out the red carpet for the coming of the Lord. The desert is a picture of life's trials and sufferings. We are not immune to these, but our faith need not be hindered by them. Isaiah told people to prepare to see God work." 

So... here I go! Attempting to remove all the "obstacles" in my life (the pollution/junk I talked about earlier) so that I may prepare to see God work!

Prayers please :)