Christmas Shopping Guide - Ethiopia Edition

For several years I've made a list of great gift options that were fair trade and/or sourced from small businesses.

This year, I'm not even going to pretend I don't have a favorite gift source. It's Ethiopia. If you have a chance during your holiday shopping to send some love to that beautiful country that has part of my heart, do it.

Here's some good gift giving options:


1. Happy Car Baby Blanket, $89, from Little Gabies, purchase on Yogaso Site or Amazon.

2. Ethiopian Coffee from Story Co., $16, purchase here.

3. Ammo Bracelet, $14, from Addis Jemari, purchase here.

4. Burlap Christmas Stockings, $20, from Carry 117, purchase here.

1. Handmade Tan Korah Tote, $199, from Carry 117, purchase here.

2. Confidant Necklace, $68, from Noonday Collections, purchase here.

3. Peppermint Lip Balm, $3, from Mare Naturals, purchase here.

4. Men's Nkrumahs Brown, $220, from ENZI Footwear, purchase here.

1. White & Blue Striped Cotton Kitchen Towel, $20, from Sabahar, purchase here.

2. Eyerusalem Passport Wallet, $35, from Able, purchase here.

3. Azeb iPad Sleeve - Slate, $23, from Raven and Lily, purchase here.

4. Kyah Baby Shoes, $36, from Parker Clay, purchase here.

So there you have it! Twelve beautiful things you can gift this holiday plus show some Ethiopia love.

Happy shopping!

Still need ideas? Previous years' Christmas gift guides: 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Merry Christmas!

Need a Calendar?

Day 3: Memorial

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Yesterday I wrote about learning to water ski, as a kid, to impress my dad.  That memory popped into my head recently at the strangest moment.  I was in Washington DC for an overnight stop before flying to Ethiopia with a mission group.  We had 26 suitcases, each 50 pounds, full of supplies and donations.  We had checked them in Dallas, and we had to claim them all and take them to our hotel for the night before checking them again in the morning.  This meant we had to drag all 26 suitcases through the airport, out to the sidewalk, across traffic, and down to where the hotel shuttle would pick us up.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

As I was dragging 100 pounds and my carry-on through the airport, out the door, and across the street, the aching in my arms jogged the memory of aching arms from water skiing.

I also had a Bible story pop into my head as we crossed the street in front of the airport.  I immediately thought of the Israelites passing over the Jordan River on their way to the promise land.  God had them carry stones, one for each of the twelve tribes, and place them in pile as a memorial.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.‘ When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
— Joshua 4: 1-3, 6b-7 ESV

God wanted the Israelites to remember what God had done for them; He had brought them out of Egypt and into the promise land.

The best way to remember something is having a physical reminder and a muscle memory for that event.

Think of the way Daniel son was trained by Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, not that this is equivalent to the example out of scripture, but it is a good illustration.


Wax on, wax off.

Paint the fence.

Sand the floor.


God told them to pick up some rocks, knowing how the guys I know operate, they probably scoured the river bed and bragged who had the biggest rock to contribute to the memorial.

As they carried these big, heavy rocks, they were creating a memory.  And what they were to remember wasn’t what they had done, but what God had done.

After arriving in Ethiopia with all 26 of our heavy suitcases, I sat on my bed and thought all of this through.

I wanted to not remember that I had carried supplies for orphan care to Africa.  I wanted that muscle memory of dragging those bags halfway across the world to remind me of what God had done.

God had not only worked all of the circumstances out for good so that our orphan care trip was possible, but he was bringing my heart into a better place, a place filled with grace and freedom.  He was using my serving Him to teach me that what I could do for Him wasn’t where my security should come from.  What I could do for God shouldn’t be where my value comes from, and it was never going to make me holy in the sight of God.  I could never impress God with my proper behavior or good works.  My worth, value, and righteousness comes only from Him.

That is what He has done.

That is what we must remember.


Click to return to series table of contents.


I like to include a song with each blog post.  Why not?  Music is the best.

My Third Visit to Ethiopia

My trip to Ethiopia this July with Storytellers Missions was such a good trip.  I want to tell you about it. 

When I got home from Ethiopia mid-July, all I wanted to do was sit by the pool, watch my kids swim, and read.  Now that the kids are back in school, it seems ridiculous that I haven’t written and posted this yet.  I’ve been home for over a month, but I still want to let you in on God’s goodness that I witnessed on this trip.  I especially want those of you that prayed for me and my daughter Lucy and/or supported our trip to know how God was glorified.

This is my third summer in a row to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with AWAA Storyteller Missions.  The last two years, I have written very thoroughly about my week, including highlights of each day of the trip.  I believe doing that in this blog post would just be redundant.  There are things about my trip that don’t vary greatly from the last two years, traveling, from Amarillo to Addis was largely a similar experience.  I don’t have anything interesting to add.  Instead of giving my report in daily reflections, I’m just going to give you the most interesting observations.


1. Encouraging Reports of Domestic Adoption


This is something I observed last year, but I continued to see positive improvements in this area.  Socially, adoption has not been accepted by Ethiopian people.  That opinion is beginning to change.  America World Adoption has taken a proactive role in changing that social norm, even though it doesn’t benefit them financially at all.  In fact, one of the nannies employed by America World’s transition home was proud to share with us that she was pursuing adoption of a beautiful orphaned girl in her care as a nanny.  This sweet nanny has no children of her own, and a very modest income.  The fact that she was willing to sacrifice financially and personally to add a child to her family through adoption was really beautiful.  The ripple effects of her adoption is helping change the social norm of her country.  Please pray that adoption becomes more accepted in Ethiopia.  If children can be cared for and loved by a family in Ethiopia, that is so, so much better than a life in an orphanage.

(Photo by Traci Judd)


2.  Traveling With Adoptees


I had the great privilege of traveling with the Heckart family.  Ryan and Karmyn Heckart adopted two brothers through AWAA’s Ethiopia program two years ago.  The boys they adopted are named Jackson and James.  This was their first time traveling back to their birth country since their adoption, and getting to see their reactions to Ethiopia was worth billions to me.  Our first day at the guesthouse, they served us a very typical lunch, penne pasta with veggies (carrots, cabbage, zucchini), oil, and basil.  It was quite good, but watching James devour it was hilarious.  At one point he said, “I’ve had dreams of this pasta.”  It was adorable.  Karmyn was able to arrange visitation with the boys’ birth family.  Our fourth day there, Karmyn, the boys, and Karmyn’s other two children went to the boys’ aunt’s home.  About 15 members of their birth family came to visit, including their sister and a living grandfather.  By all reports, it was a very lovely visit that had some heart-wrenchingly touching moments as they bonded over the love that everyone had for the two boys.  Honestly, thinking of ever visiting a birth family of the child we will hopefully be allowed to adopt seems pretty scary to me.  It is not any kind of social situation I have ever been involved with, and the feelings all sound very, very big.  Hearing Karmyn talk about that meeting made me wish that I had been there.  It didn’t sound scary; it sounded precious.  We were able to take the boys’ aunt and sister out to dinner with us during the week and also have them visit our guesthouse one night.  Jackson was able to remember all of the language.  He was able to converse in Amharic with his family, the nannies at the orphanage the boys lived in, and the driver we had all week.  In fact, he made great friends with the driver, as they bonded over “the raps music” (as our diver called it.)  James, who is two years younger, could recognize some Amharic, remembered a lot of words, but he couldn’t converse at all.  He was however an excellent dancer.  Ethiopian traditional dances all include some amazing shoulder movements, and everyone was impressed with his moves.


3. The Kids Presented the Gospel


Since we had mainly children on our team, we empowered them to share the gospel on our trip.  Karmyn found a great idea of sharing major points from the creation to Jesus.  Two of the adults held a clothes line, and the 7 kids (my daughter Lucy being the oldest and 8 year old Dawson being the youngest) hung a picture on the clothes line as they shared their piece of the story.  The kids were able to share that presentation at each of the orphanages we visited, as well as the ministries Hope for Korah and Make Your Mark.  Oftentimes children are underestimated by adults.  They are not often given opportunities to share their faith or participate in ministry to others.  Since we were doing the presentation to children, I believe letting children share with children was the most powerful presentation of Jesus we could have offered.  The children were really listening as those seven children, two of which were Ethiopian, share about the story of the Bible.  Karmyn did something else really smart.  She made mini-coloring books with the pictures the kids had placed on the clothes lines.  She also added Bible verses in Amharic.  We were able to hand out hundreds of these to the children we shared with.  I am so proud of the kids.  So many adults will never have the opportunity to stand on foreign soil and proclaim Jesus to a crowd of people while having a translator share their words in a foreign language.  These kids have already done that at their age of 8 to 17.  God used them mightily.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)


4. Communion


I had the joy of taking communion at one of the churches we attended in Addis.  It was such a special moment, sharing that with believers in Ethiopia.  I will cherish that memory.


5. Small Improvements


My favorite thing about going back to the same mission field three years in a row is seeing the small improvements in the children’s lives each year.  The smallest thing can give me so much hope that the Church is making a difference for orphans and marginalized families.  The biggest improvement I saw in the large baby orphanage we visit each year was that they had new playground equipment.  That is something the kids hadn’t had before.  Honestly, the soccer ball is still their favorite form of entertainment, but it was getting a lot of use from the handful of kids who had physical disabilities.

There were also big improvements in one of my favorite ministries in Addis, Hope for Korah.  Their ministry has grown year after year, and it is obvious God is blessing their efforts.  They had a new program for families to join that included classes in money management and a group savings account to be used for business start-ups within the group.  Hope for Korah and the groups rally around each other’s entrepreneurial ideas and help make those dreams into a solid business plan.  Since jobs are so hard to come by in their tough economy, starting a business can be life-changing for a family in extreme poverty. 

The children’s ministry in Hope for Korah had grown as well.  They had Bible studies in the evening for the older children, and they had begun renting a soccer field once a week for soccer clinics that included Bible teaching.  If you don’t follow Hope for Korah on Facebook, I would encourage you to do so.  It is a very worthy cause if you are looking for a ministry in Ethiopia to support. 


6. Testimony


One of the team members from Karmyn’s church in Perryton was Justin Thompson.  Justin was able to share with about 20 older boys after our team helped with a soccer clinic at Hope for Korah.  He shared his testimony of losing his brother-in-law to suicide, his life before meeting Jesus, and how God had changed his life.  Sitting in that little room in Korah, the economically poorest community in Addis, was on of the most spiritually deep experiences I have ever had on mission.  It was clear to me that his testimony was sinking into the hearts of those boys in a deep and profound way.  The air was thick with the Holy Spirit’s movement.  I know the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and I knew in my heart that most of the boys in that room had suffered some type of deep loss in their short lives.  Hearing hope come from such pain and despair was an unbelievable experience.  Justin was not planning on coming on our trip to Ethiopia until unexpected circumstances caused him to join our team at the last minute.  I know God had Justin go to share that night, and I know his testimony was used to further the Kingdom.


7. Sponsor Family Reunion


America World Adoptions has a sponsorship program that allows about 100 families who are in danger of losing their children be supported through sponsorship.  Sponsor children are given a better chance to stay with their family as they face the difficulties of poverty.  This year we met five mothers who’s children are sponsored through this program, and we heard their stories.  Their stories were extremely hard.  All of them had lost their husbands, one because of war and the others because their husband had chosen to abandon their families.  Two of the children we met were products of rape.  They were loved and their mothers expressed that they were thankful to God to have that child.  That was a humbling story, and it was a little shocking to hear it more than once.  It was beautifully redeeming to see how much these children were loved by their mothers.  


This was the third time to get to meet sponsor families, and one of the women, "M," was a family I had visited on my first trip to Ethiopia with my friends Barry and Shelly.  We had visited her modest home two years ago and met her lovely son "S."  "S" had grown a few feet since we met him two years ago.  "M" remembered having us to visit her home, and was glad to see me.  When our visit was over, she gave me such a long, hard hug.  It was such a dear moment for me.  Pray for "M" and "S" with me.  Their small family of two has faced such hardship, but they love Jesus and they love each other.  Pray God keeps them healthy and encouraged in their faith.

(If you want to read more about first meeting "M" & "S", scroll down to "Day 8" on this link:

This year.

This year.

2 years ago.

2 years ago.


8. State of Adoptions


It was clear during my trip that less and less international adoptions are being processed from Ethiopia to any other country, including the US.  This is the first time that I did not see any adoptive families at the airport in Ethiopia.  Our agency’s transition home has downsized their property, and had very few children.  Adoptions have not stopped, but they are on a very slow trickle.  The large orphanage we have visited year after year still is busting at the seams with children, but the government has no interest in allowing a large quantity of adoptions to continue.  Ethiopia is broken into nine regions (kind of like states.)  Many of those regions have closed adoptions completely.  God keeps giving me a hope that doesn’t seem logical that we will still adopt a son, even in these dire prospects.  The logical part of my brain wants to point out the facts, but there is still a flicker of hope in my heart.  God is not finished with our adoption story.

(Photo by Traci   Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

If you'd like to read about my other visits to Ethiopia, here are links to the blog posts.


My first trip to Ethiopia.

My second trip to Ethiopia.



With my blog posts, I always like to share a song.  This song really speaks to my "try-hard, good-girl" heart.  I especially love the lyric, "I'm realizing that all my striving is just chasing wind.  But you freed me so I can just be.  Nothing to prove.  Nothing to loose."  That is a lesson I had to learn the hard way this year, and laying in my bed each night in Africa, I'm not ashamed to admit that I listened to this song on repeat.

I Know You Believe It, You Send Your Kids to Do It

#servetogrow part 6

Last week I went to serve as a counselor at children’s camp.  I was surrounded other counselors that were just kids: teens, pre-teens, and college-aged.  Today I will get on my bike to deliver lunches to children in the low-income neighborhood that I serve.  I will have a lot of help, but I probably won’t have one adult go with me.

I know you are sending your kids to serve, at missions and outreaches, because I’m serving along side them.  You send them to serve on trips and at camps.  Why do you do this?  I’ll tell you why.  You want them to grow spiritually.

You want them to experience God.  You want their minds and hearts to be changed, so they will make good decisions with their lives.

One month from now, I will be in Ethiopia with my daughter Lucy serving with Storyteller Missions, visiting a few orphanages in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  This is my third trip to Ethiopia serving with this organization.  This year it was important to me that my daughter Lucy came on this trip.  It is one of the main reasons for serving this summer.  It’s so important to me for a lot of reasons.  Lucy is seventeen, andI want Lucy to be exposed to the realities of a third-world country.  I want her to see where her future adopted brother, God willing, will come from, what his life was like before our family and the culture he will be leaving behind.  But my biggest reason I want her to go is to mature spiritually.  I want her to see prayers answered.  I want her to depend on God when she feels uncomfortable or unable to solve the unending problems children face in this country.  I want her to see people on the other side of the world worshiping and serving the same God we love and serve.

It is obvious to me that I believe that serving leads to spiritual growth because I taking my daughter to serve in hopes that she grow spiritually.  It is obvious to me that believe it too, because you are sending your kids to grow spiritually through serving.

Why wouldn’t I want those same things for my own spiritual growth?  I do, and you should too.

Even if you served at camps, missions, and trips in your formative years, you still can learn more about God.

As Christians we often talk about the abundant life we are given, but so many times I feel that it is used out of context.  God doesn’t care about your bank account.  He cares about your heart.

On Earth, there will never be a spiritual arrival point.  There isn’t a place you can get where you will know and experience everything God has to show us or our relationship being complete.  That doesn’t happen until Heaven.  While we are here, as we serve the Lord, there are endless lessons to learn about our magnificent God.

I could go to Ethiopia a million times, and that millionth time, I will learn something new about following Jesus.

Here’s the funny thing.  It isn’t about what I accomplish serving Him.  It isn’t about what I can do for Him.  It isn’t about the amount of cloth diapers I can cart in suitcases half way across the world.  It isn’t about how many children I can feed off the trailer of my bike.  God can accomplish so much more with one miracle than I could ever do with my two hands and two feet.

It isn’t about what I can do at all.

God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience.  Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth.  It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.

I’ve learned this lesson, not on my couch, not in my church pew.  I learned this lesson packing up cloth diapers and dragging them through 4 airports over 8,000 miles.  I learned this lesson pedaling my bike in 100 degree weather.

I’ve learned so many things by coming to the end of myself but never coming to an end to our God.

I can do my best to put these lessons on paper for you to read, but I think you have to go learn them yourself.

This summer, instead of just sending your kids or your youth groups to serve, get out, be obedient, and learn something.  Grow spiritually.


I like to share a song with each blog post, because music is so life-giving to me.  This is a song we sang at children's camp, and I can't get enough of it!  It's so fun!

Day 14: Ethiopia



Christmas of 2013, our dossier for our adoption had been mailed to our agency, and we were waiting for it to be translated and mailed to Ethiopia.  A few of our new adoption friends, including my Target Friend Shelly, were talking about joining one of the mission trips our agency was sending to Ethiopia in the summer.

The money was my biggest worry in signing up for the trip, but God confirmed that I should not worry.  The way this was confirmed for me was kind of funny.  We were sitting in church on Christmas Eve, and I leaned over to James before the service started and said, “Is it crazy to spend money on a mission trip when we are trying to save money for our adoption?”  That service, the preacher specifically said these words, in sermon that had really nothing to do with missions, "It is never wasted money to send someone overseas."  I knew I was suppose to go.  The next night I submitted my online application to join the mission team.

Raising money was actually pretty easy for that trip.  We did some fundraisers, and some extremely generous people donated money to help cover my cost.  I have some very sweet friends and family members.

It was my very first trip overseas, and my very first organized mission trip.  The church I attended after I became a Christian as a teenager was extremely small, there weren’t any opportunities for missions.  And the church I’ve been at my whole adult life is Citychurch.  Our motto at Citychurch is living the mission.  We treat our city as a mission, and we reach out to the neighborhoods downtown in many different ways.

It turns out missional living is good training for mission trips.  I felt right at home meeting the kids and adults we encountered that week in Ethiopia.

Before going on that trip to Ethiopia, I had always looked at the verses in the Bible about caring for the fatherless as something I was already doing.  The neighborhoods that Citychurch ministers in are full of fatherless children.  But as I met parentless children in Ethiopia, I knew I had not been fulfilling that call that every Christian is commanded to carry out of caring for the fatherless.

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
— Deuteronomy 10:18 ESV
Learn to do good! Seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
— Isaiah 1:17 ESV

Everything about that trip required faith: the fundraising, worries about flying on a plane that far, overcoming worries about the food and sanitation, overcoming worries about getting to know a whole group of ladies from North Carolina, worries about homesickness, worries about how my daughter was doing getting ready for public school without me there, and worries about how useful I would even be on the trip.

Maybe I should finally start listening to Jesus’s words about not worrying, because God was faithful on that trip.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
— Matthew 6:25 ESV
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
— Matthew 6:34 ESV

I wrote about my first week in Ethiopia extensively.  Here is the post that covers that week.

As the next summer was approaching, James and I were considering the idea that both he and I would go on the summer mission trip to Ethiopia with our adoption agency.  At this point, James had been to Africa 5 times (but never to Ethiopia), and I had been the one time.  We had never gone at the same time.

There were two things that immediately concerned me:  1.  Would our children be ok without us for almost two weeks?  2.  Would we be able to pay for the trip when it would cost double the amount of one of us going?

Going on the first trip had built my faith.  I had saw how God had provided everything physically and emotionally that I had needed to accomplish His work.

We took the leap and signed both of us up for the trip.  I’m so glad we did.  It was a little bit of a sacrifice financially for both of us to go, and being away from our kids wasn’t easy.  But it was worth it.  That trip was such an amazing time of learning about orphan care and learning about where our son would come from.

I wrote a long blog post about this week as well.  If you would like to read it, here is the link.

I would just encourage you to be open to new missions and ministries that God may want to involve you in.  I was sure that I was checking off all the boxes of commands to ministry in the Great Commission and in commands to care for the fatherless by being active in ministry at Citychurch.  God allowed me to see those commands in a new light when I was able to GO and offer love, compassion, and care for orphans on the other side of the globe from me.

Always be willing to allow God to show you His work and His commission in a fresh way.

My Second Trip to Ethiopia - Storyteller Missions

(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.

Again or New

There are two types of people in this world, the sentimental-tradition making type and the experience seeker.

The sentimental person will experience something enjoyable and immediately want to make a tradition of it.  Let’s do this again every year....until we die.

The experience seeker, like me, always wants to see and do new things.  They experience something enjoyable and they make plans to do something equally as amusing but complete new.  Because new is fun.  New builds character and widens horizons.

This is me.  I love new.

I don’t like doing things twice.  I don’t even like watching movies or tv shows more than once.  The words “series premier” always catches my ear.

Side-note: The movie that you can never watch too many times - The Jerk.  Always funny.  Every single time.

There is one area of my life that I’ve went against my natural instincts of “new.”  That area is ministry.

Ministry requires stick-to-it-ness.  I can’t speak for all ministries, but in my ministry to inner-city, consistency is a necessity.

I am constantly put in the position of representing Jesus to children who are use to being let down.  Used to being told one thing and delivered another.  Used to the feeling of disappointment from many, if not all, of the adults in their life.  I have heard children tell me promises of birthday parties when mom gets paid, promises of new bikes when the the taxes are filed, promises of gaming systems when dad gets out of jail, and promises of dad coming to visit at the end of the summer, well maybe at Christmas.  

The last thing I want to be to a child, who sees promises flop like a dead fish all the time, is someone who offers an empty promise.  If I say I’m going to do something with or for a kid at my church, I better go down trying to make it happen.

Another ministry that requires my consistency is the mission of caring for orphans in Ethiopia.  Last year I went on a mission trip to Ethiopia with our adoption agency.  

God did some pretty miraculous things through our mission team’s effort.  I am still in awe of how God moved to provide some big things for the children in a girls orphanage we visited.

Not only were we were able to take 31 suitcases full of supplies and visit 8 orphanages, we were also able to be a piece of raising enough money for all 350 girls to get a brand new mattress, a sheet, and a blanket.

The mission team that went a month before our trip had been the first mission team invited to visit the orphanage that houses hundreds of girls.  They had spotted some urgent needs that they hoped we could help with.  The two biggest needs were beds and latrines.  Around half of the girls didn’t have a bed, the girls that did have a bed were sleeping on old mattresses, some of them without bedding.  The other problem this mission team spotted was the bathroom situation.  The orphanage houses 350 girls, with only 3 toilets.  My family has 5 people and 2 toilets.  350 to 3.  5 to 2.  Those ratios are not even close.  The fact that all three of these toilets were on the fritz at the time of their visit is completely understandable.  Africa’s use of European plumbing + 350 girls?  Those toilets don’t stand a chance.  A latrine is a solution.  It is less fussy and gets the job done.

Our agency put out the word about the need for beds, and within days, money was raised for all the mattresses.

In a fish and loaves type miracle, our mission team had quite a bit of money left over at the end of our trip, and we were able to leave the money in Ethiopia for someone to be hired to construct a 3 stall latrine.

Earlier this month, I received word that the bathroom facilities had been completed, and seeing the picture of the completed brick building with a slanted roof and three baby blue doors was just beautiful.

I could say, “Well I’ve done the foreign mission trip,” or “I’ve been to Ethiopia,” or “I’ve seen the orphans.”  You might even been asking yourself, “Why is she going again?”

Let me tell you that not going again would be my human nature response.  Honestly, I’m even dreading some of the experiences I had, because they were heart wrenching.  I looked into eyes of children who are not having all their emotional and physical needs met and only had a hug to offer.  That wasn’t fun or satisfying.

But not going again is even harder to face.  Not offering those orphans my consistency seems wrong.  They don’t have parents, not even promise breaking parents.  They deserve so much more than I could ever give.  My 10 days isn’t even a blip on their existence, but it is all I have to offer.  Not putting my willingness into God’s hands and allowing Him to move and meet more needs seems selfish.  I saw so many needs.  I could list to a hundred and not be done.  I can’t imagine not trying to meet a few of those needs.

So I am doing something again.  I know God will be faithful to provide beyond my expectations.

This album released while James & I were on our honeymoon.  We hunted down a music store so we could buy it.  This Sunday was our 18th wedding anniversary.  Venture out, see the world, but always come back to the song you are singing.  That is life.  I'm glad to live it with my husband James.

Live the Mission

At Citychurch we have this saying, "You can be a missionary in your own city, and go home and sleep in your own bed at night."  You might have heard my father-in-law Don Lane say it from the pulpit or on our tv show For the Heart of the City.  He came up with all of our best sayings and truths at Citychurch.  You might of heard my pastor and brother-in-law Donnie Lane say it on the show or write it in a newsletter.

I've heard the saying countless times.  I've even repeated it to my friends countless times.  In 18 years at Citychurch, I don't think I've lived it as much as I did yesterday.  Yesterday felt so much like a mission trip, I forgot I was at home a few times.  Lying in my bed last night, I could help but smile at how much fun I had had being a missionary to my own city.

For more than 5 years now, we've been taking our Citychurch youth group out of town for a mission trip during spring break.  Our trips have taken us to a couple different areas of Houston and to McKinney, north of Dallas.  During these trips we help someone who is doing inner-city ministry to children.  Our youth know exactly what to do, because they help do the same ministry here in Amarillo all summer long and sometimes they have been the recipients of this type of ministry as children.

This year, we decided to stay in Amarillo and have our youth group help facilitate a pre-teen lead outreach week.  We have a huge pre-teen group at them moment.  We could not imagine taking them out of town or leaving them here with nothing planned for them, so we changed our plan.

Yesterday I showed up at Citychurch with James ready to do whatever they needed me to do.  I started by helping pick up pre-teen in San Jacinto, a neighborhood I haven't help with in years.  During the summer I have a neighborhood that I am the route pastor to.  My neighborhood is our smallest, but most downtown located neighborhood that we minister in.  I ride my bike to deliver lunches to about 80 kids in Mary Hazelrigg three days a week.  One day a week I drive a van and pick up kids to come to Citychurch's park for a fun morning Bible club.  On those days, sometimes I can sneak away and ride my bike alongside my husband James's bike route to North Heights.  He has the longest bike route, and I love seeing the kids and moms on his route.

Being in a neighborhood I don't usually minister to, I almost felt like I was in a different city.  We drove around picking up pre-teens and youth that were ready to help serve other kids in their own situation.

The plan for yesterday was to deliver boxes of groceries to all the children who have been actively involved in one of our afterschool Bible clubs or Sunday morning services.  The church staff had made lists of kids into routes and fixed boxes of groceries that took into account how many children were in the home.  At the last minute, they decided to take a corndog and lunch sack out to the kids too since it would be lunch time when the groceries were delivered.

As the sacks were being filled and the boxes of groceries were being loaded into trailers, we had a special treat.  Citychurch's ESL (English as a second language) class has lead Donnie to become friends with a women from Eritrea, a small African country just northeast of Ethiopia.  The Eritrean woman's name is Kidusan.  I was so excited to meet her.  She lived in Ethiopia for a while, and she knows Ahmaric.  She came to Citychurch yesterday to do a coffee ceremony for our pre-teens.  Just before we all piled on the vans to deliver groceries, the kids all gathered around Kidusan to watch her roast the coffee beans, grind them and prepare the coffee.  As they sat and ate popcorn watching the beans roast, the smell of roasting coffee beans filled the air, and I had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

The kids were so anxious to try the coffee, I didn't even try to get a cup.

When we were piling on vans to deliver, I asked Heather if I could help on her van.  It takes me a long time to get to know people.  I'm kind of shy.  Although I have know Heather for years, I feel like I've just gotten to know her recently, and she's one of my favorite people.  She had a sweet group of pre-teen girls that were lined up to help her.  Gabe and I go situated on her van, and headed out to Hamlet to deliver.  At the last minute, Heather's husband Jackie jumped in to help us too.  

Hamlet is another neighborhood that I have ministered in, but it has been years.  Most of the time we were driving around, I was kind of lost on those winding roads that all have tree related names.

We got back from delivering groceries, and Kidusan lead me into the kitchen to show me that she had made Ethiopian food.  Right there in the Citychurch kitchen, was injera bread, a red-spicy goat dish, and another yellow dish.  She showed me her spices and told me the names of the dishes, but I couldn't get them to stick in my head.  I was excited to try it.

The pre-teen kids all went across the street to the park.  Kidusan offered to make more coffee, and some of the adults gathered around to have a cup.  It was delicous.  It tasted exactly like the coffee we had at the coffee ceremonies I had in Ethiopia.

The pre-teens came back in for a early dinner, and Kidusan laid out her Ethiopian food for everyone to try.  I got a big plate full.  As I ate the food with my hands, dipping the injera bread into the stews, my hands began to get that familiar smell of Ethiopia.

I again had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

My South Sudanese friend Diana came by.  She was busy doing what she is almost always doing, helping a friend.  She and her African friend, were surprised to see African food laid out.  They were giddy as they made a plate of familiar food.

As I laid in my bed last night, I couldn't believe how much Citychurch felt so much like a mission trip to me yesterday.  Even after 18 years, there are always surprises as we meet new people and bring new children and volunteers into our ministry.

I can tell you with renewed fervor that you too can be a missionary in your own city and sleep in your own bed at night.  You too can come live the mission.

I'm excited about the bio-pic about Brian Wilson that is coming out soon.  So I was thinking about this song last night.  Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and I can't wait to see John Cusack play him on the big screen.  
Wouldn't be nice to see that movie.  See what I did there?

Uncomfortable questions

Today is James's last full day in South Sudan.  I'm so happy, so ecstatic to know I will have him home soon.  Towards the end of his mission trips, I always begin counting it down, not in days, but in how many more nights do I have to sleep without him here.  Today I only have two more Jamesless nights left.

I have two things bouncing around in my head right and I feel like they are smushing my precious brain membranes.  One thing is Africa, the things James has told me about his trip and remembering details of my trip to Ethiopia last summer.  The other thing is an essay I am writing.

I've agreed to do something that is exciting and a little bit scary.  I've registered to attend a Christian writer's conference in April.  I have butterflies even as I admit to you that I am going.  When I registered for the conference, there was a little box that said "essay contest" and I checked yes.  So now I feel like a student again working on an important class project.  I get even more butterflies just thinking about my little document sitting on my desktop.  I want it to be good.  I'm terrified to let that list of respectable authors who are the judges read something I've written.  But also, since I'm a type A first born, I want to win the contest.  But I also want to wipe off my sweaty hands, slide that document into my virtual trash can icon and just not do it.

My essay is about church unity, because that's an easy nut to crack, right?

So I have these Africa stories and church unity crashing around my little noggin and it's terrifying.

I just thought I'd share.  The end.  Goodbye.

Not really.  I'll elaborate.

Yesterday James and I talked a little about an awful thing that is still happening in South Sudan.  It is the practice of men taking more than one wife.  He has regularly encountered men on his trip that profess to be Christian that have multiple wives.

It is more than disconcerning.  Because this is how I think, I immediately try to put myself mentally in the place of one of those wives.  Heartbreak.  I imagine physically straining work of caring for my children with a detached segment of a husband.  Just plan heartbreak.

James had called me while I was at the grocery store.  Yesterday I was standing in the middle of the can soup isle wondering if I could raise an old fashioned Frankenstein-style mob, check our pitchforks because those don't fit in our carry-ons, and fill an airplane to fly over there and do something.

I pulled myself back to reality and asked James questions that I knew he couldn't answer.  "What do we do about that?"  "How can we make them know that is wrong?"  "What do those men do to fix it because they can't just pick a family to keep?"  "How do we teach the children not to grow up and do that?"

He feeds me a lot of I-don't-knows and reassures me that the director of the orphanage and school is doing his best to teach the boys not to hope for multiple wives or plan to marry more than one woman.

My mental list of thank yous to God for being born in the time and country I was born in grows increasingly longer.

How do I open a document and write about church unity after hearing about these injustices?

God, please put an end to these chains of sin that bind your people and stop these generational sins that hurt your women.  Amen.

With James in Africa, I've been thinking about my week in Ethiopia.  While I was there, I felt like everyone was segmented into three groups of people, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Protestant Christians.  In America, we are just heathens and Christians.  Why was it different there?  I don't think I met anyone who was just a good old fashioned heathen while I was there.  It felt precarious.

I immediately joined team Protestant Christian in my head.  It's obvious the Muslims were not on my team, but what about those Orthodox Christians?  I've never encountered them before.  This was a new question to me.  Where they on my team?

I'm still wrestling with this one.  It's not where my flesh wants to go, but I feel like the Holy Spirit is pushing me to team unity.  At least these questions are slightly easier than that multiple wives question.

I like everything neat, organized, boxed up, and clear.  Jimmy crickets.  Why can't everything about God be neat, organized, boxed up, and clear?

While I was in Ethiopia I listened to a few sermons by Matt Chandler at the Village church.  During a sermon titled "Eccentric and Faithful," Matt said something that I connected so so deeply that I grabbed my journal and wrote down a quote.  Here it is.

"Surely you had to know that the Word of God was going to meet you some place that made you uncomfortable.  If it didn't, it's not the Bible and He's not God.  He's the god of your imagination, the one who makes everything like you feel comfortable.  It's just not the God of the Bible.  Is this messy and dangerous? --- Like life itself." - Matt Chandler

I'm wrestling with my God.  I don't want an imaginary god.  I want the real, I Am God.  I want Him even if His work is messy.  Even if His work is dangerous.  Especially when He makes me feel uncomfortable.

Change never comes out of a place of comfort.  And change always needed in this world and in me as I strive to be more like Him.  He is not messy.  He is unchanging.

As much as I would like to think that I have all my thoughts, feelings, and other parts of my self neatly wrapped up and contained in the right places and boxes, the truth is I don't.  God isn't the mess.  I am.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."     James 1:2-18 ESV

Thanks for sticking with me even though my thoughts are about as clear as this song and the singing of Alec Ounsworth.

Why I can't imagine not going back

Last week my friend and mission trip leader for the August 2015 ACT trip Shelly Wilson posted a blog titled "Why I'm Going Back."  She explained all the reasons why she felt that God wanted her to go on another mission trip to Ethiopia this summer, even though she, her husband, and her daughter had gone to Ethiopia last summer.

It was great blog post, and you should totally read it.

This weekend I filled out my application to be on her mission team in August.  One of the questions was "Describe why you want to visit the orphans?" and I answered, "I can't imagine not going back."

There are two reason I feel going back isn't even an option for me.  One is that my future son is only a drop in the bucket of the orphan crisis.

I've heard this phrase a lot when I tell people that we are on the list to adopt from Ethiopia.

"You are going to change that kid's whole future."

It's true, and I get goosebumps thinking about what God (not I) am doing in our son's life.

But the fact is that their are millions of orphans in the world that will never get the chance to be adopted.  If you go with the most conservative number, 17.8 million children have lost both their mother and father.  The amount of children that have been adopted in the last decade through international adoption is around 178,000 adoptions.  If you make that into a ratio, it means that less than 1% of those orphans are adopted into a family.

More than 99% of the world's orphans will never be adopted.

Knowing that fact, I can't help but do all the big and little things God sets before me to care for orphans that will never be adopted.

Honestly, I saw needs in the orphanages that were not being met.  I will continue to try to help meet those needs until I hear an audible voice of God telling me to stop.

It is clear to me from God's word that continuing to try to meet the needs of those parentless children is what we as Christians are suppose to be doing.

The second reason I can't imagine not going back is the book of Acts.  If you haven't got out your Bible and read through Acts lately, do it.  Do it, and ask yourself it the early church reminds you of your body of believers.  Most likely you will see some things you and your church are getting right, but you will also be convicted of some things your church is missing the mark on.

Specifically Acts 4:32-37 where it describes the early church sharing their earthy possessions until "there was not a needy person among them" has really opened some serious debate in my head and made my heart so sensitive to the needs of other believers.

On our trip we met the most beautiful, sweet, Christian family.  This family was only a mom and her son, Samuel.  They were both HIV+ and living in a 100 square feet home of corrugated metal and cardboard.  Knowing that this family and I were part of the same Bride of Christ broke my heart in a way that I cannot explain.  This woman was dealing with a serious illness, depression, raising a teenage son with a serious illness, and she was doing it all with less earthly possessions than my 4 year old.

I knew God was taking care of her, and I knew the hope of Jesus was more real to her than most Christians.  But now that I had meet this family, these believers in His church, I knew I was responsible to now live my life like I knew about them, no longer in ignorance of their existence.

Faces are covered out of respect for privacy.
If there is anything I can do to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ in Ethiopia, I feel I have the responsibility to do it.  Visiting them is encouragement.  Praying for them is encouragement.  Giving is encouragement.  Our mission trip in August will allow me to do all three of these things.

Now that I've told you why I can't imagine not going back to Ethiopia again this August, think about if you can image going.  We have 6 people who have signed up for this trip, and I know God has a few more He is calling to go along with us.  Let me know if that might be you.

I hope I can be the kind of friend you call when the rice is running thin.