(18 min. to read)
To begin, I want to tell you a few things about Ethiopia, and why orphan care trips are necessary. 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 is that Ethiopia has some great Italian food. We had some amazing pizza while 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 us to do just that.
Day One (Wednesday):
4am: The six Amarillo team members loaded in a suburban with a trailer and left Amarillo headed for Dallas. It was a mostly quiet ride as we all tried to catch a little more sleep (except for our driver and leader Barry.) The sunrise, as we drove, was beautiful. We parked the truck and trailer at a Embassy Hotel reserved spot. Then we made the shuttle driver’s day by giving him 10 large suitcases, 4 small suitcases, and 4 duffles to load.
We arrived at DFW, and had a small time of prayer as the man at the ticket counter couldn’t find one of our tickets. The prayer worked, and our tickets were printed.
Next we played the scale game. The 12 large bags had to be between the weights of 49 and 50.5 lbs. Shelly had just about thrown her arms out of socket weighing the bags with a travel scale at home all week long trying to get them to exactly 50 lbs. each. The airport scales are always just a little different than the home version. I’m convinced this game would be amazing on The Price is Right. Guess which bag is over 50.5 lbs. Now shuffle donated soap, pencils, and underwear until every bag works. And you win!
In all of the shuffling, a bag of school supplies was put into my small carry-on suitcase. As I was putting all my stuff on the conveyer belt and taking off my shoes at security, I looked at the poster with a big “NO” sign over items, including scissors. My brain went “ding.” That bag had 6 pairs of scissors in it. We quickly pulled them out, and Shelly dumped the kid scissors in the trash just in time for me to avoid a complete and embarrassing search.
Next, I paid $5 for a fruit cup at the airport Starbucks, and it was time to fly to Washington DC.
At Dulles, we gathered our 18 bags, and grabbed another shuttle to the hotel we would stay at for the night. It was nice to get a good nights rest before our long flight the next day.
Day Two (Thursday):
Hotel breakfast, another shuttle ride with 18 bags, printing boarding passes at the counter, and then our favorite game. Come On Down!
This time on the scale game, the rules have changed. Ethiopian Airlines wants every bag to weigh between 54-55 lbs. You’d think, “Oh. No problem. Yesterday they all weighed under 50.5 lbs.” But, no. We’ve added some new rules to our little game. We are now going to weigh all your little suitcases and backpacks too. They have to weigh under 35 lbs. combined. What? We’ve never played this way before. So we shifted donated soap, school supplies, granola, and underwear until the lady at the counter gave up. I’m not sure who won that one.
I have to be honest and tell you that I never let the lady at the counter weigh my backpack. I’m no fool. I could see the other line right next to us with Ethiopians flying to Ethiopia checking in. They weren’t weighing any of those ladies’ purses. How is my little Patagonia any different?
On the way to security, we met Beth, our team member from Virginia. After we got through security, we met Mariah, our last team member, a North Carolinan.
We boarded the plane to the weird pan flute music they play, I guess to get you in the African mood. And we were off.
Day Three (Friday):
As our plane descended into the Addis Ababa early that morning, out our small plane window, I could see the lush greenery and patches of deep, fertile brown, plowed into triangle plots. The fog hung thick over the green hills and mountains.
Coming off the plane, we waited in two incredibly slow lines for visa stickers and arrival stamps. Then we gathered our bags, one last time. But like wet Gremlins, (I watched that on the plane, so just humor me. Let me start again.) But like wet Gremlins, they had multiplied. Since we added two more to the team, we now had 14 large suitcases, 6 small suitcases, and 4 duffles, which is 24 total bags together.
Israel, AWAA’s Head of Children’s Affairs in Ethiopia, was at the doors to welcome us. We wheeled our bags down to the vans, and the guest house driver and director transported us to the guest house.
After lunch, we went to tour Roberta Coffee. We were led on the tour by Roberto.
His father had named the company after him. The place was load and chaotic, but it smelled fantastic. There were barefoot men carrying 50 lb. burlap bags on their shoulders as they ran them to fill the backend of a pickup. There were women in a circle inspecting beans. There was a machine cleaning and sorting the green coffee beans. The American in me wanted to ask where the workers’ hard hats and earplugs were, but I didn’t want to get laughed at.
Roberto showed us the difference between the coffee that was exported and the coffee that was kept to sell in Ethiopian cafes. All of the best looking, bigger beans were prepared for export. It was a reminder of the pillaging for Africa’s resources by more powerful countries that existed during diamond mining, the early years of oil drilling, and the evil slave trade. In a way, Africa’s best is still being taken. I hope that civility rules and Africa is getting a fair payment for those goods.
We went down some rickety stairs to a room that was the heart of the operation. It was the roasting room. The steam, the smell, the bags of roasted goodness, they were all beautiful.
Roberto told us that his father’s dream and his dream is to help improve the life of the farmer. He said that a farmer yields the equivalent of .03 cents for every kilogram bag of coffee beans. That kilogram bag of coffee can make quite a few $4 lattes in the States. He said if he can raise the yield for famers just a little, say .05 cents for every kilogram bag, then it could change the life of an Ethiopian farmer living in rural Ethiopia. His family can afford things like school for their children and basic needs.
I was encouraged to continue to buy Fair Trade certified Ethiopian coffee. It is making a difference in families lives.
Roberto coffee will soon be available for purchase online on this website. I would recommend it after drinking a gorgeous macchiato at Roberta’s Cafe, and I’m drinking a cup of Roberta coffee as I write this. Yum.
Day Four (Saturday):
We spent most of Saturday at America World’s Transition Home. We played with the older children, bouncing balloons around the courtyard, throwing frisbees, and kicking balls.
We also met some local families in the America World Sponsorship program. I love that America World not only helps with orphan care and adoption, they also have a ministry of orphan prevention.
They have a sponsorship program to help families that are in need of a little help to support in caring for a child because of poverty. There are 107 families in the sponsorship program, and today at the transition home, we were able to meet four of those families. The situations that caused the child to be at risk of becoming an orphan were all unique, but there was a commonality of love, pride, and true affection from the caregiver accompanying the child to the meeting.
We met a grandmother who works hard selling bread and goods to provide a home for her 8 year old granddaughter, an aunt who is caring for her hospitalized brother's 11 year old son, a grandfather with an exceptionally bright 9 year old grandson, and a soft spoken mother who became a single because of her 12 year old son's medical hardships.
The families were so gracious to share their stories with us and answer all of our questions that were translated to them.
We were excited to provide each of the families with a gift bag of goodies (clothes, crayons, coloring books, vitamins, toothbrush & paste, small toys, and a soccer ball.) We also bought them macaroni, and large bag of teff, which is a grain used in making injera bread, at the market.
The families were grateful for the gifts. The mothers might have been happy to receive the grain, but I could tell the twelve year old boy was excited about the soccer ball. He kept taking it out of the bag and squeezing it and putting it back in the bag with a light in his eyes.
If you ever wonder if God orchestrates details that we cannot anticipate, a little black sweater told me the answer is yes. The 8 year old girl had come to meet us in a beautiful black and white polka dot dress. She was just beautiful with two short pony tail braids. In her goodie bag that we had thrown together on the fly, there was this fancy, long button up, black sweater jacket that, not only fit her perfectly, but matched her sweet little polka dot dress. The beaming on her face and her grandmother’s face was precious.
As we said our goodbyes, the rain began to pour down. It is rainy season after all. We volunteered our van to drive all of the families home before taking us back to the guest house.
While we were waiting for the van, I was able to ask about “E”, a boy we had met on our trip last year. He was a sweet 6 year old that we had given Starbursts to at the government orphanage at the beginning of the week, and on our last day we had met again at America World’s Transition Home. He had been transferred there to be considered for adoption. He had ran up to us, and said, “I know you. You gave me yellow candy.”
“E” had not been put up for adoption. AWAA had done the research to find out if his story of abandonment was true, and they had found his mother. He had ended up at the government orphanage because of a neglectful stepfather. His mother was having a hard time finding work, so she had temporarily gone to the United Arab Emirates to work as a housekeeper. While she was gone, the stepfather had put “E” on the street to beg, and he was taken to the orphanage. His mother had returned to Ethiopia.
I was glad to hear that “E” had been reunited with his mother, but his family situation sounded very tumultuous.
Please pray for “E”. AWAA has placed his family on the sponsorship program. If you are interested in helping a family like “E”’s or the families we met, please check out AWAA’s sponsorship program.
Day Five (Sunday):
Sunday morning we had the privilege of attending Beza International Church. The worship was fantastic, and the sermon was interesting and inspiring. My favorite part of the experience was standing side by side with hundreds of Africans, knowing that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and we together are all part of THE church and HIS bride.
Beza has two Sunday services, an Amharic service and an English service. They also have a youth group that was impressive. Their young people had outreach planned for the next weekend called Grand Friday Night Fire, they were producing a magazine called The Youth Mag, and they were selling t-shirts after service. You always know a church is thriving when their young people are engaged and doing ministry.
After the service, we went to have cheeseburgers at a ultra-modern decorated restaurant called Sishus. It had a rustic, exposed design that made me feel like I was in Austin or Portland instead of a foreign country.
In the same parking lot was a cute ice cream stand with covered patio seating. It was called Embwa (which is how Ethiopians say the sound a cow makes.) The ice cream was gourmet, and James was so happy to have it, he was nearly dancing.
Day Five (Monday):
Little sleeper pj legs hanging down through the metal crib bars and swinging was the first thing I saw when I entered the baby room. When his little eyes met mine, he threw up his hands into the universal signal for, "pick me up." I gladly obliged, and when I got him to giggle, I knew my job was done.
The orphanage nannies called his name, and my new little friend jumped up and down in my arms. This little guy was one highlight of my day and an occupant of the second room of the tour of a very large orphanage that we took this afternoon.
We spent time with the babies, special needs children, temporary care children, toddlers, and 5 to 7 year olds.
The toddlers were especially glad to have new playmates to engage with. They seemed to be very fascinated with my husband's watch. Anything can become a toy when resources are short.
As we were leaving, I was thrilled to see that the older kids had made a craft with volunteers from Beza church's youth group! Local volunteers is a big key to providing enhanced care to such a large amount of young children. The group had made watches out of toilet paper rolls and construction paper. It's likely they have had their watch inspected by a curious playmate too.
Our team was glad to have spent the afternoon showing love and care for the children. I pray that we were salt to everyone we encountered from the newborn babies to the orphanage director.
The much appreciated supplies we were able to donate included cloth diapers, disposable diapers, formula, vitamins, a few toys, disposable gloves, and some yoga balls to use with the special needs children.
That morning our team had toured a very different facility.
The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital performs surgeries and treats women who have damaged bladders and other internal organs during obstructed childbirth.
When an obstructed fistula happens to a birthing women in the rural areas of Ethiopia, the child can remain stuck in the birth canal for up to 8 days. 99% of the babies become stillborn when this occurs.
Our team toured the beautiful grounds of the hospital. The hospital performs several types of surgeries on the thousands of women who are treated free of charge each year. The grounds included rehabilitation and physical therapy rooms, education space, midwife training classrooms, and facilities to provide c-sections to women who had recovered from fistulas surgeries.
The philosophy of the hospital was to provide a wholistic approach in their patient care. They educated the women patients on medical and educational basics. They also taught how to make hand made items to the recovering women and provided a shop to sell their handiworks to visitors. This opportunity to earn a little money does wonders to boost the self esteem of the recovering women.
Our team eagerly spent our funds of personal Birr in the small shop.
As we finished up our tour, we were surprised to hear that Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who founded the hospital in 1975, was 91 and still living on the hospital grounds. Ethiopia had awarded her an honorary citizenship.
It isn't any wonder why she fell in love with is beautiful, warm, and generous country. It is a blessing God has allowed her to significantly alter millions of women's lives over the last 4 decades.
The hospital operates completely on donations. If you would like to donate or learn more about the Addis Ababa Hospital, visit their website.
Day Six (Tuesday):
Tuesday morning we were able to visit the older girl orphanage that we had helped provided mattresses to the year before. It was nice to see the 350 mattresses set up in their dorms. I spotted some of the sheets that Suzanne Ward and I had spent days hunting down at numerous Wal-Marts the year before. Buying 300 sheets was a little crazy.
We were also able to see the latrine & shower house we left money to have built last year.
The girls were fun to talk to. James and I spent about 45 minutes folding paper airplanes with them, and then I drew pictures in my journal with them.
Our team was able to leave funds to have a concrete platform poured next to the area where the washing is done. It has a lot of rocks that can be dangerous at night. They also had a need for more storage for some of the bunkhouses. Right now several girls don’t have anywhere to keep their clothes. They have just been putting them under their mattress. They will be able to put some wardrobes on the concrete foundation.
Tuesday afternoon we visited a small private orphanage. We had a great time holding babies & blowing bubbles for them.
We also spent some time playing outside with the older children. This included music, frisbee, soccer, basketball, and drawing with chalk.
Day Seven (Wednesday):
I think this was my favorite day of our trip. We spent the whole day at a very small private orphanage. They only had about 20 kids. We played all morning, helped serve them lunch, and played again all afternoon.
They loved all the goodies we had: kazoos, hot wheels, soccer balls, frisbees, musical instruments, and paper airplanes.
Helping with their lunch was such a fun experience. We were able to watch their cook in the shed like kitchen making injera and wot. She even gave us a little injera lesson and let Shelly pour one on the grill. Her injera turned out pretty great for her first try. We handed out plates, bread, and cups of water. Then we dished out the wot and tomatoes. Before they ate, the oldest teen boy led the whole group of kids in a prayer thanking God for the food in English and Amharic.
Wednesday night our missionary friends Jacob and Tess Rodriguez were able to join us for dinner at the guest house. They were serving traditional Ethiopian food and coffee, ceremony style. I have to say that I’ve had lots of opportunities to have Duro Wot in the last few years, but the dish served that night was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Jacob and Tess are just starting their ministry in Addis. They are SIM missionaries. Jacob has been hired to teach theology, and Tess is going to language school. They brought their adorable toddler son Oscar to dinner, and we made friends over the popcorn bowl. I am so appreciative that they came and spent an evening with us.
Day Eight (Thursday):
Thursday morning was a lot of fun. We got up a little early and helped serve breakfast to the children at Hope for Korah's Berta Breakfast Program.
Korah is the neighborhood of Addis that is positioned next to the city's garbage dump. A community of people make this neighborhood their home because of the low cost and proximity to the dump to search for usable and salable items.
180 children come to the Hope for Korah compound for breakfast 5 days a week.
Women were busy grilling pancakes made from Berta, a grain with added protein and vitamins, and heating tea. I jumped in a grabbed the tea kettle, and they put me to work filling little red cups.
That ministry felt so natural and homey to me, maybe because it is so much like what my church Citychurch does all summer long, feeding children in low-income neighborhoods of my city.
A volunteer was teaching English classes in a classroom set up in the children's compound. He was a Christian man, and he had a heart to serve. His goal in teaching the children was to hopefully give them a marketable skill, but also to teach them to read so that they will be able to read Scripture for themselves.
After the kids were fed, and we spent some time letting the children practice their English with us, we went down the road to Hope for Korah's Income Generating Compound. Women from the community are given the opportunity to make crafts that they can sell and generate income to support their families. Most of the craft supplies are donated, and women are rewarded for good workmanship. The IG Compound also houses a free daycare for young children that belong to the women working in the program.
We were able to shop and purchase goods made by the women, and then they welcomed us with a coffee ceremony. A translator helped us communicate with the women while we drank our coffee.
The last Hope for Korah compound we visited was the Elders Home for Lepers Compound. It was a beautiful time of honoring the Godly men who were gracious enough to invite us into our home and complement us for visiting them. James shared a scripture reading with them. He read Psalms 23 in English as Israel read it aloud in Amharic. Israel closed our visit in a very beautiful Amharic prayer. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.
We ate a quick lunch, and then spent the afternoon visiting another small orphanage. We arrived to a circle of chairs, all filled with well behaved children sitting in anticipation of our visit. There was another coffee ceremony being prepared.
The children had prepared songs to sing for us. They performed, we clapped, and then something terrifying happened. They turned to us and asked us to perform for them. It was then that I was so happy God had answered my speaker prayer.
You know how you always forget something when packing for a trip, no matter how hard you try? James had forgotten his speaker. He had sat it out on our counter to charge, and when we left our house at 4am, the little speaker stayed at home. Half way to Dallas, James informed me that he had forgotten his speaker. We were counting on having a small speaker to play music for us when we were playing with the kids. I began to pray that God would put an electronics store next to one of our gates at the airport so we could buy a small speaker. God answered my prayer. Right across from our gate at Dulles airport was a Brookstone. James bought a great little rechargeable speaker.
James turned on the speaker, and the eight of us stood, sang, and did hand motions along to Father Abraham and This Little Light of Mine. We may not have impressed anyone, but we might have been slightly entertaining.
Day Nine (Friday):
Our last full day of ministry in Ethiopia, we spent our day at the AWAA transition home. We played with the older kids, spent time with the special needs children, and we made paper mobiles for the special needs room. Since the week was over, we also were able to leave the speaker James bought at the airport for the nannies in the special needs room to use. They had a battery operated speaker, but the batteries drained too quickly to keep them stocked. The rechargeable speaker would work great for them. Many of the special needs children really respond to music.
Friday night we ate out at a cultural restaurant. They served traditional Ethiopian food and had a stage with musical entertainment all night long. Many of the performances incorporated tribal traditions and dances.
Day Ten (Saturday):
Our flight was not until late that night. We had time to visit a museum, do some quick shopping for friends back home, and pack our bags to go.
Traveling home is never as exciting as the travel towards a new adventure. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to be thankful for no delayed flights and no lost bags. Traveling from Saturday night to Sunday night was quite a long time to travel. Once we had flown our three flights to Dallas, we still had to drive home from Dallas to Amarillo. I don’t know how Barry was able to keep awake during that drive, but he did it. I am thankful.
I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to serve on this trip. It was so educational for me to go back to the same spot, and learn even deeper lessons about short-term missions, Ethiopia, and the way God is working in our world.
**A note about pictures: All the really good pictures were taken by my talented husband James Lane. He's the best. Also, I don't feel comfortable posting faces 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.
This is the CD that our driver played on loop. Close your eyes, groove out, and you can just imagine driving through the city.