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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.jenniferllane.com/heswithus/2014/09/my-week-in-ethiopia.html)
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.
If you'd like to read about my other visits to Ethiopia, here are links to the blog posts.
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.