February 29

This morning we had the chance to discuss re-entry into our home country. For those of you who have experienced this, you know this is a process. What our team has seen and experienced is something that will affect each of our lives from this day forward. Please be patient with us as we come back and re-adjust.

“You will have changed in light of your trip. But you likely won’t know how, at least not fully. You’re not the same person who left and it may take a long time to realize that. You’ve got the rest of your life to figure it out, so remember: Your return may actually be just the beginning” Steve Brock

Before we left for the airport we were able to go into the city and get coffee – not just any coffee, but Ethiopian coffee! The birthplace of coffee! Coffee plays a huge part in this country. It was not uncommon for us to have 3-5 cups of coffee a day, many times through a traditional coffee ceremony, the way many Ethiopians prepare their coffee.

After some wonderful coffee and then lunch, we were able to shop in Addis Ababa and pick up some local souvenirs. This also was a whole new experience as we were in the market place and bartered for different items. Clearly we did not have enough time scheduled for this event, most everyone was ready for more!

Tonight we begin our journey back home. Our flight leaves at 1125p. While we may be flying home, we each have certainly left part of our hearts in Ethiopia.

Goodbyes – February 28

A day of goodbyes. Not an easy task when your heart has been touched, your eyes have seen so much, and your love has expanded. Today we said goodbye to our partner church. They had gifts for each of us, gifts for our church, a meal prepared for us by their own workers, prayers and words of encouragement. What a great time with them as we conveyed our love and appreciation for them and for what God has done in this last week.

Today we left Debre Zeit and headed to Addis Ababa. Our evening was spent at a cultural restaurant filled with cultural music and dancing and food. We got to spend the evening with Getu – our Leadership Development Program (LDP) student who is sponsored by our church. Getu is finishing his second year in college, and has another 3 years to go. He is such a neat guy and is growing in his love for the Lord as he grows into a man. Having this opportunity to go to university will greatly enable him to become a leader in his community, one who loves the Lord, and has shown great spiritual leadership in the Compassion program throughout the years.

Vacation Bible School – February 27

After our day of rest, our team was prepared for our day of VBS with 200+ children! Our team that planned VBS did an amazing job and put together the details for the day.

Our theme was The Ultimate Gift and 11 of the team members put together a wonderful clear skit to share the love of Christ with the children. Crafts were included that represented our theme and shared the verse, John 14:6 I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.

Throughout our morning it was evident that God is doing a work in the children at Mehale Ketema Church (MKC) and ET-104. We witnessed the older children lovingly helping the younger ones, we watched as they patiently waited to receive their crafts and supplies, all signs of maturity and growth.

Cathy, Jay and Kimberly met with a few staff members of the church to discuss more about the leadership, evangelism and administration of MKC. We walked away with some valuable ideas / concepts of how they do ministry and their vision to further God’s Kingdom.

This afternoon we had the opportunity to have more home visits. Elaine, Melisa & Payton, Darcie, Shanna & Isabella got to visit their children’s family and home. One got to hear about their sponsored child’s mom coming to the Lord in the last year, another was discovered to live in a child-run home, meaning no parents are in this house. Continue to pray for these families, and these children. God has a plan and a purpose for each of their lives, and He allows us to get a glimpse into what He is doing.

A Day of Rest – February 26

This morning we had the privilege of sleeping in. Elaine blessed us with her devotional and reminded us that God rested on the 7th day and that today on our trip is our 7th day. It was a perfect day to re-energize and be prepared to finish strong. We then prepared our greeting from Tri-Lakes Chapel as well as a couple of songs to share with the Mehale Ketema Church this morning.

Being a part of their worship was simply inspiring. We did not need to know the words to feel the Spirit moving. Our interpreters would give us the theme of the message along with Scripture references so we could follow along. It was beautiful to see that the children were welcome to wander the church service throughout and visit different individuals. Some chose to sit with us, others sat by the front door, while others would wander up to get a close look at the choir singing.

One of the highlights was seeing several of our sponsored kids and their families come to church as we had invited them to join us this day. One sponsored child in our group has been invited to church 3 times by us personally in home visits and because they have a different religion the answer has always been a resolute no. Friday in this home visit we asked them to come to church and mom said yes, she promised to come this time. During the church service she came up to let us know that she was there! We promptly made room for her and let her join us. It was her first time ever to attend the church and she has 2 children in the sponsor program. She has been invited to church continuously for over a decade. This truly is about relationship.

After the service we had a leisurely lunch at a lakeside resort and then returned to our hotel to rest and prepare for our VBS day tomorrow. Thank you all for your prayers, support and personal letters. We will treasure them forever.

Fun Day – February 25

On Saturday we awoke with anticipation and an expectation at the end of the day we would be very tired! 120+ children and 14 of us! :)

What a day! It was exhilarating and chaotic. We believe it is a day the children will long remember as well as the team. Most of the team agreed near the end of the day was one of our biggest highlights as we got to spend individual time with our sponsored children and those of our friends at TLC.

Sherry had the incredible opportunity to have her ‘home visits’ at the Fun Day event with 3 boys she sponsors who live outside of our project but in Ethiopia. This is a day she will cherish forever.

In the evening as we shared our highs and lows of the day, we noticed there were very few lows to even mention. We believe these pictures will speak more loudly then any words we can say on the experiences we each had today.

Two Souls Saved! – February 24

Today is unique! It has never occurred before and it will never be repeated. At midnight it will end, quietly, suddenly, totally. Forever. But the hours between now and then are opportunities with eternal possibilities – Charles Swindoll

What a humbling morning we had. We spent time with 2 pastors/evangelists sharing their testimonies. They have experienced persecution, imprisonment, they were released from witchcraft, they have refused to give into the pressures, refused to deny their faith, they were ostrasized from family. Through years of extreme poverty, they waited on God’s timing as to where He would lead them to serve Him. And doors opened. Doors opened and their lives were changed through relationships with other believers, to bring them to full time service. It’s amazing how one person can change another’s life. God indeed does have a plan and purpose for each person – and we are called to reach out.Their quiet humility touched us all.

Today we had a chance to visit Loren and Jay & Kimberly’s other sponsored children, along with Diana & Kelsea’s sponsored child. We all continue to be changed, we are humbled by the resilience of the Ethiopian people who are in dire poverty. Some of our experiences bring joy and hope to us as we see these children and their families, while others wrench the heart at the despair in their circumstances.

Our afternoon was one of expectation. We had the opportunity to go out to one of our sister churches in the countryside and evangelize. Some of the team stayed at the mud church and played with the children. The word to describe this time… FUN!

The remaining team members split into 3 groups with a translator for each and walked the fields into the community to share the Good News. And the Good News was indeed shared! One group met a young mom and her baby who had backslidden in her faith because her family drew her away from the church. We encouraged her in her faith and we offered to give her a Bible. We asked her to read the Gospel of John and to be an encouragement to her family. We also met an elderly lady with her son who knew about God but didn’t think that having a personal relationship was practical. We gave her the illustration that she could have a relationship with Jesus Christ, just as she does with her own son. We asked her boldly to make a decision to follow Christ – but she was reluctant. We encouraged her to reach out to the community church when she is ready to accept Him.

The final group had the opportunity to see 2 lives come to the Lord. He truly paves the way ahead of us. As we talked with these 2 teenage boys, and shared about Christ, they were open and you could see the intensity in their eyes. As we asked if they wanted to accept Him as Lord and Savior and make a commitment to walk with Him throughout life one boy was eager while the other was still a little unsure.

At this time, 2 other teenage boys walked over, and you could sense the spiritual warfare taking place. They came with almost a mocking spirit but were ‘open’ to have us Americans talk with them. Taadu (the boy who was eager to accept Christ), moved from them and placed himself between those of us who were sharing the Good News. We shared the Gospel message again and asked if they were open to receive Christ, and at this point they left. We then turned back to these 2 original boys and asked again if they were ready to accept Christ. They were both now ready.

Their sincere hearts were open and they prayed to receive Christ as their Savior, and have given their contact information to the local congregation to be discipled. 2 congregation members came around just at this time and talked with them further while we went on.

Praise the Lord! God is good. We came to be used by God, not with any agenda, but to just share His love.

Children-Children-Children – February 23

What a meaningful personal time of worship we had this morning which Darcie led. She gave an overview of our VBS theme that we will be sharing with the kids on Monday, the Ultimate Gift.

We arrived at our project and graciously were given an overview of the Child Survival Program (CSP) and then were led to a room with mothers and babies of all ages, the room was approximately 12×16 with about 15-20 moms and their babies, and our team. After an initial awkwardness, hearts were opened. We spent such great time playing and loving on the babies. Kimberly brought bubbles, which the children were in awe of. Kelsea jumped in picking up the babies and holding as many babies as she could. Diana enthralled the kids with her camera.

During this wonderful morning we broke into a few groups – Darcie, Elaine, Joy and Kimberly met with the CSP moms. The four of us were able to share a little with the moms regarding their child’s development, how as moms we need to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs, along with how to ‘train up our children in the way they should go’. For those of us that were here before, we were encouraged to see the growth of mother-child interaction since our last visit. We also were excited to hear the reports that of the 50 moms that have been through the program, 15 of them have come to know the Lord as their Savior.

Another group of 3 including Jay, Loren and Cathy went to meet with the pastors, elders and other staff members for a time of “Experiential Sharing on Spiritual Leadership”. We were able to share the mission and vision of Tri-Lakes Chapel and hear about the mission and vision of Mehale Ketema Kale Hiwot Church. They have passion and a strong vision for the ministry God has placed before them. We each discussed challenges, cultural differences, experiences and methods of evangelism & outreach within our communities. What a great time of sharing together and an encouraging time of partnership growth.

The remaining 7 ladies were able to continue to stay and love on the babies! The 3 girls in our group had such an incredible time as they bonded not only with the babies but also with a few other children from the program that came in throughout the day.

After a lunch gathering with some staff members, we came back to the church and split into groups to do home visits. We visited 4 children that are sponsored by those of us on the team. Today we got to visit one of Loren’s, Darcie’s, Jay & Kimberly’s children as well as Cathy’s child. These visits are impactful and full of emotion.  Each of these stories are special, precious and personal.

What a full day. As we go throughout the day, you see everyone enjoying all that we are doing, taking in each moment. At the end of the day, we close with a much needed ‘highs and lows’ time, a time for us all to process. There is so much to process and you realize at the end how very full the day has been, how much your mind has had to take in, and how much your heart has been touched, or sweetly broken, or stirred.  Each evening ends with tears of joy, tears of inspiration, and tears of sadness as we discuss all that God is doing.

As you pray for us, pray that we will press on, that our hearts and eyes will continue to be open to all that we see, and that lives will be impacted.

Tomorrow we have another full day. We will hear from the pastors/evangelists their testimonies, we will have more home visits and then in the afternoon we will be doing street evangelism with one of their sister churches in the countryside.

We are so thankful for you all, those who encourage us and pray for us on the other side of the world!

Wednesday in Addis & Debre Zeit – February 22

Our first day has come and gone and we are so grateful for this time here. We had a great visit at the Compassion Int’l Ethiopia office and were able to see the scope of what ET Compassion does.

For those on the team who have never been here the drive in another country has been fascinating – beautiful countryside, congested crazy traffic with goats, bulls, burrows, people and vehicles flooding the roads.

We arrived early in the afternoon and checked into our hotel and then got to meet our partner church. The church and Compassion program surprised us with many children there ready to greet us with hugs and kisses. The image of these beautiful children has been etched on each of our hearts. A few of the team members were able to see their sponsored children amongst the other children. This time with the children became a high point for everyone on the team.

The church then had a welcome ceremony for us – with introductions of staff, and our team, and then a few children performed a song and dance. After saying goodbye to the children we met with the pastors, evangelists and workers at the project – complete with a coffee ceremony, cutting of himbasha bread, and fresh roasted popcorn. How nice to see our partnering ministry leaders and to reconnect.

Throughout our time in country each evening we have a time of worship together and a time of reflections on the highs and lows of the day. What a powerful time to sit and hear each others hearts and thoughts from what we have seen. We’ll leave you with a few highlights from team members:

Lows – seeing the street children, parents without hope and beggars, those who truly suffer from the effects of poverty

Highs – seeing the faces of these children, hugging and loving on them, seeing our team finally here in Ethiopia after our 6 months of preparation.

We are here to be God’s hands and feet, and to have His eyes for what He sees.

In Ethiopia

Praise the Lord! We are in Addis Ababa – all flight connections went smooth, each team member is doing well, and all of our luggage arrived.

We leave in 5 minutes to begin our day. Pray that we would all have God’s eyes to see all that He has in store for us today. This is a big day for the team as we will experience and see so much. Pray that we would be able to process all that we see.

Heading to Germany

Leaving Chicago. Team is doing well. Excited, and seeking some rest on this flight.