Click here to read our adoption story from the beginning.

My Week in Ethiopia

**A note about pictures: I don't feel comfortable posting photos of the children we visited on any website or social media, so I don't have any of those here. They don't have parents to protect their privacy, so I feel it's my responsibility to do that. Some orphanages did not allow photos at all and the orphanages that did allow photos expected us to be responsible with when and where we used those photos. I did make a DVD slide show to share with my church family and supporters, if you would like a copy, please email me.

To start off with, I want to tell you a few things about Ethiopia, and why I even went on this trip. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized by any other country. Ethiopians are very proud of that fact, and the result is that they have held onto their culture very well. Ethiopia did have an occupation of Italy from 1936 to 1941, and they fought a war to keep Italy from taking control of their government. The result of that occupation that is actually quite good, is that Ethiopia has some great Italian food. We had some amazing pizza the last night we were there. Ethiopia is twice the size of Texas, and they have 91 million people. The city we visited was the capital, Addis Ababa, and they have about 4 million people. Of those 91 million, 4.3 million of them are orphans (meaning they have lost a mother or a father or both.) That means 5% of the total population is an orphan. 2.4 million of those children have lost their mother (and 500,000 of those losses were caused by AIDS.) Of the 4.3 million, 600,000 of them are double orphans (meaning they have lost both their mother and their father.) There are many other reasons a child could end up in an orphanage. Children are abandoned everyday because their family cannot feed and care for that child due to poverty, sickness, or other reasons. Many children are abandoned when their surviving parent remarries, and the new parent does not want to care for the children from the previous marriage. Only 0.002% of these orphans will ever be adopted.  International adoption is not making a dent in caring for the 147 million orphans worldwide. Our call to care for the orphan as Christians (James 1:27, 1 John 3:16-18, Deut. 14:28-29, Deut. 24:17-22) will need to be met in other ways besides international adoption.  This trip was an opportunity for me to do just that.

Day One (Saturday):

We arrived in Addis. As soon as you walk off the plane and smell the spices in the air, and you know that that you are in Africa. Our group was made up of 4 Texans and 8 North Carolinians. The Texans included the Wilson family, Barry, Shelly and 12 year old Libby, and me. The North Carolinians included Cindy (our brave leader), Kesha, Courtney, Janelle, Suzanne, Angie, and Keri. If you noticed, Barry was the only guy name in that list. Barry braved it out with 11 females. There's an extra crown for him in Heaven. The 12 of us were able to bring 31 suitcases full of supplies for the orphanages we would visit. Getting all of those bags off the conveyer belt and onto carts (we had about 7 or 8 of them) and outside to the vans was nothing short of a circus.

The drive from the airport to the guesthouse seemed surreal. I listed some of the things I saw on the drive in my journal: donkeys, a mom sitting on the side of the busy street with her two young children and nursing her baby, small children darting to cross the busy street in traffic on their own, cattle - some in the middle of the road, small feed lots full of goats, a "tent" made out of tarps with a woman and toddler inside, lots and lots of small businesses, boys selling shoe shines on almost every corner, fruit stands, trucks full of fruit, homemade wheelbarrows full of fruit, barber shops, people selling sugarcane.


Day Two (Sunday): We had the blessing of going to church at the International Evangelical Church. The church was had many races of people there. The worship team had Americans, Africans, and Asians leading. The pastor, Dr. Mesghina Medhin, was from Eritrea, which is a small country northeast of Ethiopia. His sermon about Barnabas the encourager and his personal testimony were both such a blessing to me.

After church, we visited Kaldi's Coffee for lunch. I had the most amazing Macchiato. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, so it was no surprise that their coffee was topnotch. According to popular legend, Kaldi was the name of the Ethiopian goatherd who was responsible for discovering the coffee plant. The Kaldi's also served really great french fries, even though I don't eat fries much at home, it was comforting to eat something so American.

Israel, AWAA's Investigation and Referral Coordinator, was our guide for all of our outings in Ethiopia. I really enjoyed getting to know her better at Kaldi's that afternoon. She has an amazing testimony and incredible life. She was a sponsored child through Compassion International all the way through college, and she is such an example of how that program can help people become a success and more importantly come to know Jesus. Throughout the week, I watched her time and time again defend her faith and live out the calling that God has put on her life. If you don't sponsor a child through Compassion, go to their website and start one now.

Day Three (Monday):

Finally it was our first day of visiting orphanages. We visited 2 orphanages on Monday. Orphanage #1 was a private orphanage, and probably the best orphanage we visited. Their children were well cared for. The first thing they did was take us into visit the babies. It was heaven. We got to sit and hold babies for about an hour. I could have stayed all day. It was quite crowded with over thirty babies, a few nannies, and the 12 of us in the small playroom. They were so precious, and I will never forget how they really hugged me tight when I held them. The older children were also very sweet, and we had a great time playing games and music with them. They had a great basketball court and playground to play on. Angie is a music teacher, so we brought 100 instruments (sticks, bells, and shakers) as an activity to share with all the children we visited throughout the week.

The second orphanage we visited, orphanage #2, was also a private orphanage, but it was smaller than the first orphanage. The children had prepared a few songs to sing for us, and we really enjoyed their sweet little voices. We played our music instruments with them, and they had so much fun. One girl shared her tribal dance with us, and it was quite impressive.

Day Four (Tuesday):

Visiting the transition home was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  Our agency has a home where they bring children to get them ready to be matched with a family.  The children live at the transition home while they go through court and until they are finally taken home by their new parents.  They have a child psychologist and pediatrician on staff to get the children ready mentally and physically to be adopted.  They also verify that the children's stories match up with what is on their paperwork and help the child deal with the trauma that they have faced in their short lives.

One of the things Shelly and Cindy did before we left was collect care packages and photo releases from adoptive families that have already been matched with children at the transition home.  We were able to deliver gallon sized gifts to the children from their parents.  That was a blast.  It was so fun watching them open their package.  It usually had photos, small toys, and gum.  The other children stood around giggling as the package was opened.  The children were so quick to share their new goodies.  The gum spread like wildfire through the transition home.

It was also a privilege to take photos of those children for their parents at home.  I think we had 10 kids to take photos and videos of while we were there.  That was a little hectic, but I knew how much those moms and dads would treasure getting extra photos of their children.  I was thrilled to minister to those adoptive families in that way.

The transition home treated us to a coffee ceremony.  I'm serious that Ethiopia is serious about their coffee.  They have a tradition of welcoming guests with a coffee ceremony.  The coffee is prepared in a jebena (traditional coffee pot) on a small stove of coals.  There is this mix of spices that is placed on the coals like incense.  The coffee is served with a nice set of coffee cups, fresh bread, and popcorn.  It's like nothing I have ever experienced.

It was also an Orthodox holiday called Buhu that day.  There is a tradition on that day that boys go door to door with, walking sticks rhythmically pounding on the ground, singing the song Hoya Hoye, which praises the home owner and asks for bread.  The homeowner then gives the boys bread or in modern times - money.  This scenario had played out at our guest house gate that morning, and it was acted out by the children at the transition home during our coffee ceremony.  It made me wish America had more fun, sing-song, non-commerical traditions like this one.

After lunch we headed off to Orphanage #4 to meet "Rachel."  Here is a link to my post about Rachel.

For dinner that night, we had a night out to a touristy Ethiopian restaurant.  The food was delicious and the entertainment was really fun, but it was clearly the type of restaurant that out-of-towners were brought to.  There was a table of French people next to us and a table of Chinese businessmen behind us.  We have a restaurant like this where I live called The Big Texan.  I've only ate there once in the 18 years I've lived in Amarillo, and it was because I was drug there by a group of out-of-towners.  So we ate at The Big Texan of Ethiopia.  I'll admit it.  I had fun.  Here's a little video I made of the restaurant.

Day Five (Wednesday):

After having a great day on Tuesday, Wednesday was tough day for me.

We visited orphanage #5, a government orphanage for younger children.  They did not allow any photos at the government orphanage.  We took the largest portion of our supplies to orphanage #5.  We also used some of our money to buy them formula and diapers at the Safeway Supermarket.  The biggest highlight was getting to hand out candies and a few crocheted frisbees to the 6 and 7 year old children playing outside.  They were so excited about the candy.

Orphanage #6 was a private orphanage, and they had only a few children.  We visited it just to advocate for one of the children of off the waiting child list that was living at that orphanage.  It was a short visit, but we did get to see a few babies that had just been brought to private orphanage #6 from the government orphanage #5.  They were in a room by themselves, and they looked happy to be in a quiet spot.

After we visited the two orphanages for the day, we had a special treat of visiting the Hope for Korah ministry.  Korah is a neighborhood of homes that built up so that they could be close to the garbage dumps of the city.  The people live close to the garbage dump so that they can pilfer for things to reuse and sell.  As we drove through the village, many of the people along the streets were working, cooking, and selling things.  It was late afternoon and many people were heading home for the day.  We were greeted with many friendly shouts of the Amharic word for foreigner.  "For-en-j!" "For-en-j!"

We visited Hope for Korah's Income Generation Compound.  It is a clean place for women to come and work making crafts to sell.  The supplies for the crafts are provided by donors and the women's children are cared for in a free daycare.  It was the end of their work day.  They all greeted us very so warmly with hugs and kisses.  Many of them were sewing toy balls.  There was a small shop where we could purchase items made by the women.  I gladly bought a few items, and I was happy to buy one of the toy balls that we had seen the women sewing.  As we shopped, one of the highlights of my trip happened.  After days of visiting children with no mothers, no families, we had the joy of seeing a group of well cared for children come down from daycare to join their mothers to go home.  Babies and toddlers were strapped on their momma's backs, kids were greeted with hugs and kisses, and hands were held as they headed out the gate with their mothers.  It was beautiful.

Next, we visited another ministry of Hope for Korah, the Elders' Home for Lepers.  I never though I would get a chance in my lifetime to meet a leper.  I was honestly excited.  The home housed 8 older men, and a few of them were home to meet us.  They seemed happy to have visitors.  They sang songs for us, and we prayed for them in English and Amharic.  They had a pet goat and little garden out front to keep them busy.

What I found in Korah was joy, joy in work, joy in the families, joy from the lepers, joy from The Lord.  It was such a blessing to me to see that side of Ethiopia.

Day Six (Thursday):

As we were planning our mission trip, we knew that another mission team would visit Ethiopia about a month before our trip with AWAA ACT.  We knew that they would be visiting many of the orphanages we would visit on our trip.  We were anxious to hear their report of what they encountered on their trip so we could meet the needs that they saw and were not able to meet.  One of the needs they presented to us was the need for mattresses at orphanage #7, the older girl government orphanage (they house girls between the ages of 8 and 16.)  They reported that there were almost 400 girls at the orphanage and that only around half of them had mattresses.  With not much time before our trip, we decided to take on the challenge of purchasing 350 mattresses for orphanage #7.  After pricing the mattresses, we realized we had only two thirds of the funds we would need to purchase those mattresses.  AWAA agreed to help get the word out that we needed more money to provide this basic need for the girls at orphanage #7.  They posted blog posts, sent out emails, and made promotional videos to share on social media.  Our team and the mission team who had just returned from Ethiopia worked together to get the word out.

$45 = 1 mattress

Two weeks before leaving for our trip, we got the word that we had raised more than enough money to cover the purchase of the 350 mattresses for orphanage #7.  We were all so grateful for God's provision.  Our team had been gathering blankets all along to take to Ethiopia, and we were only 50 short of having 350 blankets to take with us.  A plan was made to purchase the 50 blankets we needed, and we turned our attention to sheets.  We only had about 30 sheets packed so far.  I knew that God would not provide 350 mattresses and 350 blankets only to not provide 350 sheets for these sweet Ethiopian orphans that he obviously loved.  We were two weeks away, most of our supply suitcases were already full, all of our teams money was tied up for mattresses or travel expenses, and figuring out how to get 350 sheets to Ethiopia was honestly not an easy puzzle to solve.  My church, Citychurch, stepped up to the plate and provided the funds needed to purchase the sheets.  Sheets are heavy, and each of our suitcases could not exceed 50 lbs.  Our team decided to only take a bottom, fitted sheet for each girl.  I bought 100 fitted sheets at 4 Walmarts here in Amarillo, and Suzanne in North Carolina visited every Walmart she could drive to until she had found enough sheets to meet our 350 sheet goal.  It was a little like an Amazing Race task, but we gathered the sheets and got them packed.

You can imagine that we were excited that Thursday in Ethiopia to see the 350 mattresses delivered to the girls at orphanage #7.  That morning, we loaded the suitcases full of sheets and blankets in and on top of our vans, and drove to the orphanage.  I know this is an obvious statement, but 350 girls is a lot of girls.  There were 12 of us and 350 of them.  We were mobbed like the Beatles in 1964.  It wasn't just crazy, it was out of control.  They were so excited about us being there.  After 30 minutes or so, things calmed down enough for us to take a tour of the orphanage.  After the tour, we saw two trucks pull in loaded down with mattresses.  It was a sight I will never forget.  In case you don't know, our God is awesome.

The last orphanage we visited, orphanage #8, was a small, private orphanage.  They had a few children, and we were excited to see a few more babies had been transferred there from the government baby orphanage #5.  Their director was very informative, and we were glad to sit down and talk with him about his orphanage and Ethiopia.  He was pleased to tell us that his ministry was having some success with an inner-country adoption program.  Adopting a child into your family is not a popular thing to do in Ethiopia.  Many people are hoping to change that along with opinions about adoption in the country of Ethiopia.  It would be a very wonderful thing for more Ethiopian families to adopt the thousands and thousands of children that are being raised in orphanages in Ethiopia.  I was happy to hear that he had 22 families who had just completed training and were being matched with orphans in south Ethiopia.

Our adoption agency, AWAA, also promotes inner-country adoption.  They have a large billboard in Addis that promotes adoption among Ethiopian families.  AWAA also provides assistance for adoptions within Ethiopia for no cost to Ethiopian families.

After our visit with the director of orphanage #8, we went into the courtyard to play with the older children and hand out balloons.  When it was time to leave, I looked back at those children playing with balloons, and I couldn't believe all of our orphanage visits were over.  The week had flew by and we were all done with visiting orphans.  It had been tiring, difficult at times, but an amazing experience I would never forget.

Day Seven (Friday):

On Friday, we visited Entoto Mountain, a small museum sharing some of Ethiopia's history, the very first Christian Orthodox Church, and the historical emperor's home.  The scenery was beautiful, and I longed to leave the city and see the beautiful countryside of Ethiopia.  Maybe someday I will be able to make that journey.

We also visited some shops that were not much more than tarps in row, the "post office" shopping center of Addis, and a delicious pizza restaurant with a brick oven.  Do you want to know what the biggest surprise of my trip was?  I found salsa.  My family knows that I eat salsa more than any other food.  It's my go-to snack, and I go to it almost every day.  If you cut me, I bleed salsa.  I never thought I would find it in Ethiopia, but I did.  And it was good.

Day Eight (Saturday):

Saturday morning began our last day in Ethiopia. We all had a mixture of feelings of happiness to be heading home to our families and sadness over leaving the city of Addis that we have grown so fond of. Our day started out with a quick trip to the music store. Our driver Solomon has been playing us an Amharic praise CD all week. A few of us have fallen in love with some of the songs while riding in his van. The store turned out to be a small Christian bookstore. As we purchased the CD's, felt very good to support a Christian business in Ethiopia.

The store also had Christian books in Amharic. I was immediately drawn to some illustrated children's Bible stories. Since they were only 23 Birr a piece, the equivalent to around $1, I decided to buy four to give away to children during the day.

Our next stop was the AWAA Transition Home to drop of a few more donations. We were excited to find that 4 children had just been transferred into the home from a government orphanage that we had visited earlier in the week. Three of the children were tiny babies. We took turns peeking in on the sweet sleeping babies. The fourth child was a 6 year old boy. He was so happy to tell us that he remembered us giving him candy at the other orphanage. It was so nice to see children moving another step closer to adoption. It was also nice to hear that we had made at least a small impact in his life by visiting his orphanage.

Barry and Shelly's son Grady only asked for one souvenir from Ethiopia. He asked for a piece of bamboo. While we were near the stores, Shelly decided to quickly look to see if she could find some. The rest of us waited in the car and spent our time saying no to the many, many street vendors that approached our van window asking, "You want?" Shannon spotted a boy walking down the street carrying what she thought was bamboo. She stuck her head out of the window and yelled, "Hey, we want." It turns out it was sugarcane. One of the veteran street vendor boys heard us say we were actually interested in purchasing bamboo. He disappeared and returned only a few moments latter with an 8 ft., freshly pulled stock of bamboo. After we finished laughing at his tenacity, Barry and the driver negotiated a price and asked him if he would be able to cut the stock smaller. He disappeared again, and this time he returned with a machete knife. We all had a good laugh again. Barry finally found shopping he enjoyed, shopping involving machetes, resourceful street vendors, and car side service. We were all glad that Grady would get the small piece of Ethiopia he wanted.

Next we were off to complete our main mission for the day, visiting sponsored children in their homes. AWAA has a sponsorship program for 107 children in Addis Abba. The children are high risk families referred to them by the government. The sponsored families receive 360 Birr per month ($18 US dollars.) The only stipulation is that families put 100 Birr of this money into a savings account for the child's future needs. We had seen so much of the city in the past week, but I was really excited to see where people lived, to see what a home in Addis would look like.

Our mission team split into two groups, and each group would visit 3 families each. On our way to our first home, I asked permission to give away the children's Bible story books that I had purchased that morning. I was given permission to give them to families that were Protestant.

The first and third homes we visited were both young girls who were orphaned but being raised by extended family. Both of the homes were Orthodox Christians, so I was not able to give a book to the children.

The second home visit was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The home was about 100 square feet constructed of corrugated metal and cardboard. The sponsored child was a 12 year old boy who lived there with his mother. The mother warmly invited us in to her home and quickly offered us coffee. We insisted that we had just ate and would not be able to stay long. She repeatedly offered us coffee and tea. She was just so hospitable to us. We were told that both the boy and his mother were HIV positive, and the mother was battling depression. She was very proud of her savings account for her son that included the money from his sponsorship. She passed around the bank register for all of us to see. We began to chat with the family. We asked if they were getting all the medicine they needed; they were. We asked what subject he enjoyed in school; he likes English. We asked what he wanted to be when he grew up; he wants to be an artist, more specifically an author. We finally asked if they went to church, and they proudly told us that they were Protestant. It dawned on me that I was going to to be able to give the children's books to this young man who dreams of being an author. Then the mother told is something I will never forget, she told us that she was happy to have us visit. She said, "You are the only one's who have come here to see us." I felt so completely filled with joy and sadness at the same time. Joy that we were able to visit this family and bless this young man with children's books. Sorrow for the struggle that this family faced with their medical problems, stigma they face having HIV and depression, trying to keep feed and warm in their metal and cardboard home. But I also felt joy that they knew Jesus, that they will one day be free from these Earthly struggles in Our Father's House. As we left I knew I had been blessed by our visit exponentially more that the family could have ever been. We said our goodbyes with hugs and Ethiopian style three kisses on alternating cheeks. As we drove away, I realized that God had orchestrated our seemingly random events that day to bless that boy who loves stories and books with books that he could call his own. That family may not have had visitors, but God is watching, God knows their struggles, their needs, and their desires. He loves and cares for them. What a hope we have in Jesus!

"The Lord is near all who call out to Him, all who call out to Him with integrity.
 He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him." Psalm 145:18-19a

If you would like to sponsor a child through America World, you can help a vulnerable family - like Samuel's family - remain with their parent or extended family and keep that child out of an orphanage.  Here is the link to AWAA's sponsorship program.

If you've read this whole, crazy long blog post, then you probably need to go to Ethiopia on a mission trip.  Here is the link to AWAA's ACT missions.  It is a trip you won't regret!
Four Texans glad to be back in Amarillo.