Knitting Hearts Together In Africa

I was knitting. We were knitting when we were in Ethiopia on a short-term mission trip recently, although the nine men on our team might give me a look of disbelief. Knitting in Ethiopia??

But let me tell you the story…
When we knit, we use two long pointed needles and a skein of yarn. We set about with a plan to create something useful and/or beautiful. We cast a certain number of “stitches” onto the needles and then we proceed to wrap the yarn around the needles thousands of times making a pattern to complete the work.

For a week this past February, we were knitting in a symbolic way. We were knitting hearts together. The needles are the foundation, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In February 2010, three people from Tri Lakes Chapel completed the initial cast-on stitches when they visited the church and Compassion Project in Debre Zeit and made plans for a partnership (this symbolic knitting project).

The yarn for this project is all of us: our life journeys and how they intersect with the ministry in Debre Zeit.

Each touch in the preparation and execution of Tri Lakes Chapel’s mission trips to Ethiopia is like the individual stitches that combine to knit hearts together with God and with each other.

The mission trips in 2011 and 2012 continued the pattern of knitting hearts together. Then in February 2013:

  • The touches of the doctors at medical outreach said, “You are important. We care about you. God cares about you.” The doctors prayed over and blessed the patients after treatment, before they left the clinic.
  • The touches of the teachers at the Bible training classes said, “God loves you, wants you to know Him in a deeper way, and to share your knowledge and wisdom teaching others.”
  • The touches to the young mothers with babies said, “God sees you. He loves you. He pursues a relationship with you. He will not forget you.”
  • The touches to the staff at the church and Compassion project in Debre Zeit said, “Be encouraged. We pray for you. We care about you. You are doing a good work. Be strong in Spirit.”
  • The touches to our sponsored children and visits to their homes said, “You are loved. You are worthy of spending time with. You are worthy of coming on a long journey to visit.”
  • The touches on Fun Day with TLC’s 140 sponsored children: hugs, games, laughter, stories, making hand prints, EvangiCube presentation, and eating together said, “Let’s share life and get to know one another.”
  • Lots of touches.
  • The touches of the one-gallon plastic bags filled with gifts from sponsors to their sponsored children said, “I want to share blessings with you.”
  • The touches of sponsor letters to their Compassion child/children say, “I think about you and pray for you often.”
  • The touches at Vacation Bible School and the teaching about Daniel in the lion’s den with over 150 Compassion sponsored children said, “Be strong in your faith as Daniel was strong in his faith.”
  • The touch of multiple visits and partnering in planning and building a Resource Center say, “You and your ministry are worthy of investing our time, talents and treasures. Your ministry is good!”
  • Yes, we are knitting, knitting hearts to each other and hearts to God.
  • The finished project will be a beautiful sight: the knitting of people and the “Body of Christ” separated by miles and miles into a relationship that causes our Heavenly Father to rejoice over us with singing.

2013 Ethiopia TeamThe LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

Child Survival Program (CSP) – Ethiopia 2013

cspThis story is about our time with the Compassion Child Survival Program mothers and children:

It is Tuesday morning and we spend time with the young mothers and babies who are part of the Child Survival Program at the Compassion Project. Individual sponsorship of children begins at age four. This is a “feeder program” into the individual sponsorships and draws young moms from the community providing Bible teaching, training on health and hygiene, and socialization. They meet twice a week.

Zinash oversees this ministry. She is a calm and warm single mom with a quick smile. She has an 8-year-old daughter and lives with her parents in Addis Ababa. She is in the third year, out of five, studying to become a pediatrician. So her medical training, Christian faith, and life experience make her a wonderful leader of this program!

We gather in a rectangular room with benches around the walls and a couple of long tables in the middle of the room: our TLC Ethiopia team (13), about 25 moms with their babies, and a few staff from the church.

The message I prepared for them was from Genesis 16: the story about Hagar. Hagar had no status, likely no education, not even control over her own body. When she became pregnant, she “began to despise her mistress,” so she wasn’t nice, either. Sarah cast Hagar out. But God, pursued Hagar. He found her and let her know that he saw her situation and he cared for her. Hagar named Him “the God who sees me.” God sees these young moms, too. He knows each situation. He sees their tears. He wants a personal relationship with them.

Then from Isaiah 49:15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” says the LORD. Many of the moms are nursing babies (literally and quite openly) as I am telling this story. Other babies are squirming and making the sounds of little ones worldwide! My TLC team tells me that many of the moms are focused and concentrating on what I am saying through Yoseph, my translator.

I say, “Even as your body responds when you hear your child cry from another room; just as you search and find your child in the dark when you hear him cry; your Heavenly Father sees you, hears you, and searches for you. He will not forget you!”

I end with an invitation for anyone to invite Jesus to come into her life, forgive her sins, and be LORD of her life. No one comes forward or raises her hand. But I know I delivered the message God gave me, and I know that seeds are planted. I give it all to God.

Then two mothers step forward and give personal testimonies of their faith in God and how the CSP program is helping them. We are all blessed.

We close in prayer and walk to a nearby room, called the “Chat Room.” It is about 10×10 and filled with toddlers and mamas! No furniture, but some simple toys and a couple of tricycles are there. Everyone sits on the floor: moms, toddlers, and our TLC team. Happy sounds, mostly, fill the room with the occasional holler of a child who wants his own way.

We end the morning giving little carved wooden cars that were provided by one of our TLC church members to the children. The children and the parents are thrilled! I take many pictures, and the mamas wrap their children onto their backs with shawls and walk home. God is good!

The papa above was the only male, and the mama to the right revealed that she has AIDS. She asked for prayer for the care of her little one when she passes. Please ask God to give these parents wisdom and pray that the little ones learn and believe in God at an early age.

Beza

Beza – Jay & Kimberly’s child
Home visit: Jay, Mimi, Sherri, Wondemu
2/19/13

Beza (meaning: Redemption) scrambled onto the van with her friend, Setotaw, in tow. She seems to be a leader and a very social person: very confident and outgoing. After a short ride, the van door opened and we got off. We began a short hike up a hill and between a cluster of small dwellings. Doors were open, but there were no smiling faces looking out and no children milling around.

When we rounded the corner Beza’s mother greeted us warmly. Her name is Almaz, which means “diamond” or “gem.” We stepped into their one room home, perhaps 9×9 feet. Painted mud walls with colorful wallpaper around half of the walls; dirt floor and corrugated metal roof. There was electricity; no window. A bed filled almost half of the room, with no curtain or divider. Jay sat on the bed with Beza and Setotaw. Sherri, Wondimu and Mimi squeezed onto the bench that ran the length of one wall. There was a small cupboard in one corner, and Beza’s mama began preparing coffee for us. She had popcorn and bread ready and sitting on a water container. There was a poster of Jesus on the wall.

Mama is a believing protestant, but not active in church right now. She goes to church when she can, but must accept day labor whenever she can get it. Beza is 10 years old and has a 21 year old sister (living elsewhere) and a 14 year old brother, Alameyehu. Alameyehu likes the Arsenal soccer team. He is a fine, healthy looking young man and joins us from outside.

Beza lives about 5 kilometers from the Compassion Project and either walks or gets a taxi to get there. The family has been in this home for 3 years and pay 280 birr per month for rent.

Beza, mama and brother were overjoyed upon opening the backpack gifts. They especially liked the pictures of Jay’s family. We got a video of the girls (Beza and Setotaw) singing.

Mama said that time with the Lord is what makes her heart happy. She hopes and dreams of having her own residence and business. She cannot read because she has eye problems from the smoke at her work. Her prayer request is for her children.

Beza’s prayer request is that the Lord would lighten her classes.

Jay prayed for the family. He prayed not that Beza’s classes would be lighter, but that God would help her to step up to the challenge and do well.

Simyra

Let me tell you a story….

The setting is Sunday morning worship service in the African church in Ethiopia. We are squeezed together on a bench and I am between the Moms of 2 TLC sponsored children I met earlier in the week. They are both Orthodox Christian but have come to church this morning by our invitation. A small child walks into our row and persistently makes room for herself between me and one of the mothers. We are now REALLY squeezed together! No one makes her go away. I am sure Mama is nearby, but I don’t know where.

I ask the girl, “Samish man new?” “What is your name?”

“Simyra,” she smiles back at me, her little black face glistening in the heat, her ponytail “poofs” proudly crowning her head.

“How old?” I ask.

“Arat.” “Four,” she answers.

She sits with me for the longest time. First she explores my watch. She discovers that if she presses the button, a light comes on. That little button gets pressed about 2,000 times! She eventually tires of this and discovers my fingernails. She presses my fingernails into the tips of her fingers, making indentations, looking up at me with sparkly eyes and a big grin. Soon she begins to play with the veins on the back of my hand. Interesting. Back to the watch and the amazing light.

Then I feel her reach up to this funny little patch of skin that’s begun to grow under my chin in the last couple of years… my “waddle.” She explores it with her fingertips. I have a calm smile on my face.

She is my child. She is my grandchild. She is God’s child. She is the universal child.

She is the next generation half-a-world away from my home.

She is why we reach out with Jesus’ love to the little ones and their Mamas and Papas, and tell them about Jesus. This is a good thing.

Back in the U.S.

Most of us are back in the states and are processing the amazing work God has done! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Psalm 103 (ESV) – has been singing in my head the last couple of days as I process the past 15 days. What a joy it is to sing praise to our Lord, to our Father, to the One who completes us. In the next several days, we hope to give a deeper look into the work God is doing and has done, as we process each moment of our trip. We’ll also post many photos and potentially video clips so stay tuned…

Travel

Just a quick update that the team has not had internet for the last couple of days. They are in Addis Ababa as I write this, and are packing their bags to head to the airport. Dave was apparently very sick yesterday with what they think was food poisoning, but is better today. Pray for their safety in travel as 7 team members will be boarding a plane in 4 hours to head home, 2 have already flown this morning to South Africa, and 3 more will be boarding a plane in 4 hours to Uganda.

Once they have returned and we’re able to get their blogs about the final days in country, we will post those. Also – throughout the next couple of weeks we will be able to post many more pictures as it’s much easier to load pictures when you have better internet connections!

Thank you for your prayers for the team. It has been an amazing trip and they will have so much to share!

Sunday, a Day of Rest

Sorry for the late post.  We were without internet access for the last 36 hours!  Watch for a follow-up on Monday’s activities once we’re able to get wifi again.

Today was what you might consider a day of rest for the team.  We did not have to get up early as church was scheduled for 10:00 am.  The plan was for Jay to be preaching at the main church and Brian Chu, Chad and Dave preaching at three of the sister churches in the outlying areas of the city.  So after getting to the church, getting the assigned translators and getting transportation arranged, the three preachers departed while the remainder of the team attended church with Jay.  The time of worship was tremendous and the Word of God was heard.

After church, the team spent time with the people of the church while waiting for the traveling preachers to return.  During that time, many of the team were able to interact more with their sponsored children and their families who attended the church.  Two of the traveling preachers made their way back to the rest of the group, while concern arose for the third preacher.  Many attempts to reach the interpreter by cell phone were unsuccessful and finally they took the rest of the team to one of the church leader’s home for a meal and our closing ceremony with the church.  We enjoyed a great meal and fellowship with many of the church leaders, church elders and Compassion project staff.  Finally as the meal was coming to a conclusion, the wayward preacher returned to the church and was reunited with the team.

The wayward preacher had been invited into the evangelist’s home for coffee and once going inside; found that they had prepared a full meal for him and his translator.  Needless to say, according to African time, he may have been on time, but he was late and held up the closing ceremonies.  And what a blessed closing ceremony it was.  Not quite as elaborate as the Olympics but from an emotional and relationship perspective, much more meaningful and impactful.  Gifts were presented to the team on behalf of Tri Lakes Chapel as well as a special recognition to Kevin, the only youth on the trip who had endeared himself with the children, the staff and even the leaders of the church.  Way to go Kevin!

After the closing ceremony we bid goodbye to our two doctors who were being shuttled back to Addis Ababa to catch their flights home this evening.  A few of the members of the team were feeling a bit of physical fatigue so returned to the hotel for some much needed rest while the remainder of the team returned to the church for some time of relaxation prior to meetings with the youth and several business men in the church. One of the team was going to share a challenge with the youth and a couple of the business men on the trip were going to meet with the business men in the church.

At the youth meeting there was an invitation at the end of the program where the youth were challenged with giving their whole heart to God.  A large number of the youth came forward and the other members of the team prayed over them and then we wrapped up with some praise songs together before the youth were dismissed.  During the meeting with the youth, a couple of the team members who are business owners met with several business owners within the church for just a time of sharing the struggles and lessons of running a business in a way that honors Christ.  It was a blessed time for those that attended.

We have had a very healthy trip with only a few incidents of minor sickness and a few bug and mosquito bites among the team.  Continue to pray for good health as we have a VBS program scheduled tomorrow for all of the children in the Compassion Project at the church.  In addition a few other special  meetings were scheduled at the last minute to tap into the heart and insights of the team for various special groups within the church and Compassion Project.  Pray that God will continue to use us in mighty ways for His kingdom in the few days we have left before departing in several directions for the return home.  We have so appreciated the prayers of all of you that have been monitoring our progress on the trip.  We have seen God show up in so many ways that we would still be writing for weeks to come if we tried to mention them all here.  We send our love and greetings to you back at home and are looking forward to re-entry soon.

Fun Day

Today was truly a “FUN DAY”, for everyone involved.  This was the day that all of the TLC sponsored children (around 140!) came to meet us at a Christian camp.  We had about 45 minutes to set up before the first bus load of kids arrived…smiling and eager to play.  It was wonderful to see all their smiling faces, each wearing a tshirt with their name on it, and that of their sponsored families.  It was so fun for each of us on the team to be able to meet and greet our friend’s children!!  Each member of our team wore a blue t-shirt with our names, both in English and Amharic, so the kids were able to call us by name.  They also “autographed” our shirts!

The idea was to have 4 different groups, color coded, and we would lead the kids around to different “stations” – obstacle course, story-telling, parachute, and activities such as balls, jump ropes, sack races, etc.  The group concept lasted about 20 minutes, and then it was basically a free-for-all!  It was such a joy to watch kids race around the camp, doing the activities they loved best, playing with their friends, or sometimes just holding our hands, wanting to be near us.  It was truly a day of building relationships.  Many of us experienced very shy children at our home visits, but as the day progressed, it was amazing to see them seeking us out, wanting to be near us, and having SO much fun.  And, although there was a language barrier, we were able to see their personalities come shining through.  And, it wasn’t just building relationships with our own sponsored children – it was also getting to know many of the TLC sponsored children!  What a joy it was for each one of us.  This was a day for these children to just have fun, get enough water to drink, a HUGE lunch, to get lots of love and to give it in return!  There were LOTS of kisses, hugs, and holding hands. They also learned that we come in Jesus’s name, that Jesus died for them, and that God loves them so much.  It was hard to see them leave on the buses to return home.

After leaving the camp, we had 15 minutes to try to wipe off some of the dirt of the day, then we headed back to church for a meeting with the pastor and elders.  Once again, it was so inspiring to see the relationship that has formed between TLC and this church.  As one of the elders said “it doesn’t matter that we speak a different language, or are different colors, or have a different culture – we all are one in Christ, working to further God’s kingdom!”  AMEN!  Another amazing, wonderful day!!!

Final Medical Outreach Day

Our day started with the “normal” routine – up at 5:30am, breakfast at 6, on the bus at 6:45!  This was our last day of medical outreach, and overall, it was an easier and much less dusty day!  Our bus ride was only about 30 minutes!  Once at the village, we turned onto a small dirt lane that was barely big enough for the bus.  The village looked pretty deserted, and we pulled up to a small mud church with no one around.  This was the only day that we were not greeted by a crowd.  The doctors were able to get set up in the pastor’s house without having to worry about the crowd gathering outside, which was much less stressful for them.  Only a few children ran up to join us, so our pastor finally went over to the school and convinced them to let the sick students come to see us.  In all, the doctors treated 60-70 children and adults.  They were very relieved to not have to leave with a huge crowd still waiting.  For those of us on outreach to the community, it was nice to not have to worry about crowd control and really get a chance to play with the kids and to talk with the adults.  The young men and older boys had a great game of soccer (most of the morning), while the younger ones were entertained by bubbles, songs, and of course, the ever popular beach balls!  One young man accepted Christ.  It was a very special morning!  Each outreach was so different, but wonderful in their own way, definitely blessed by God!

We actually got to eat at the restaurant at lunchtime (rather than eating snacks on the bus), and then headed out to our last home visits.  Once again, it was a blessed time with our sponsored children.  In one of the home visits, the question was asked “how has Compassion sponsorship helped your child”?  The mom responded with tears in her eyes when she said “I’m so happy that my child is sponsored – it means so much to us”.  It just reaffirmed that sponsoring a child really makes a huge difference in their lives and those of their families.  It really does affect the whole family.  The appreciation we’ve seen from the parent(s) is overwhelming.  Shanna discovered that when you compliment a mom on her earrings, she gives them to you!!!  So, in return, Shanna gave her the scarf she bought last year in Ethiopia. We have been so blessed by the Ethiopian hospitality.  Our hearts are filled to overflowing!!

The theology team is finishing their last night of training as we write this, which will be followed by a healing service at the church.  Sorry, too late for this blogger, more details later.  Tomorrow is “Fun Day” with all the TLC sponsored kids.  We can’t wait to love on them all, for you!  Please pray for endurance and a special time with the kids.

The Long and Winding Road…

The long and winding road (or was that dusty) might have been a good name for our day today.  After an early breakfast (6:00 am) and then getting on the bus, picking up additional church staff at the Kale Hewyet Church and a couple of doctors along the way, we headed out for our second medical mission outreach.  Along the way, Julie shared with us a short devotional about not over planning but making sure that we allow God to intervene in our plans and to listen for the changes He wants to make in them.

What a bus ride!  Imagine, traveling on very dry, dusty roads that at many times were only wide enough for one lane and yet experiencing two way traffic along with donkeys with their burdens, huge gravel trucks and many people along the way.  That represented the first hour and a half of our journey.  Then upon arriving at the church in the community, seeing their facility and praying, we headed out to a government facility that had a clinic close by.  Although the facilities were much better for a medical outreach, the physical needs of the people there were at times heartbreaking and overwhelming.  I think they estimated that they treated around 150 patients in just over three and a half hours.

The rest of the team had planned on interacting with the people that showed up and taking opportunities to share our faith with them but received word that the government didn’t want us to be doing anything but the medical outreach.  After a time of praying silently among ourselves, God saw fit to allow us to be able to share the gospel and to interact with the crowds that were there.  Imagine lots (don’t know how many) kids ranging from babies to into their early 20’s and many other adults milling around in dusty lot with a few shade trees and very hot conditions.  What happened?  God showed up and we had fun playing games and interacting with the kids while others took opportunities to mill around in the crowd and talk with many of the adults.

There were many opportunities to share our faith and pray miraculous healing, even though we didn’t have translators at times.  Some of the children from yesterday’s outreach walked over 4 hours from their area to this area just to see us again.  Some of the youth were learning English and were more than willing to help translate and to practice their English on us.  It was a blessed time while still faced with the extreme poverty in the area but to see the joy and hope among the people was a special time.

After a long and dusty road back to the hotel for a quick lunch and to refresh ourselves, we split up into three teams to do three additional home visits.  It was heartbreaking to hear stories of parents who are HIV positive and under treatment and yet we are able to help their child as they struggle with a future that might include fighting AIDS themselves.  In all of that, we were able to see how God is working to bring hope and salvation to these precious children.

After the home visits were completed, the majority of the team returned to the hotel for some much needed rest while a few stayed back to hold another day of theology training with about 25 students that are serving throughout the area as evangelists or are participating in the Bible School at the church.  Immediately after that was completed, we all met together at a nearby hotel for a time of food and fellowship with the leaders of the church and their pastors and steering committee.  It was a blessed time of interacting, sharing laughs as well as concerns and rejoicing in the unity we have in the body of Christ.  What a blessed day.

Tomorrow brings another full day of serving together with these precious people.  Continue to pray for strength and rest so we can continue to share the love of God with the people of the Debre Zeit region and watch God continue to show up and do miraculous things.  We could write for pages and pages about the experiences but instead encourage you to invite some of the team over when they get back and let them share their experiences at a more personal level.  God is good!!  By the way, Dave finally made it safely to join the team and had a most wonderful day.  Thanks for your prayers.