Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ekubo Ministries

The following is a guest post from one of our team members, Lexie Thomas:

Where to even begin?

Waking up this morning in this beautiful country we’ve come to call home for a bit; home, because this place and this people and this joy has stolen our whole heart.

And it’s only day two.

We traveled again to Ekubo ministries to start off the day with devotions with the staff. George, the leader of the village and this ministry led us in studying James chapter 1. What conviction for followers of Christ, but especially when you have much and are sitting next to one of God’s children who has very, very little.

Really, nothing at all.

The day was filled with absolute joy. We shared music and puppets with the kids. We served their breakfast and got to interact with them over their meal. We jumped rope, played games, sang songs, taught dances, practiced English and gave hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

And we loved.

We are in the rainy season here in Uganda and got to experience our first large shower this afternoon. And when you’re from the desert, this is a pretty big deal.

After coming home to probably our best dinner here yet (did I mention that I am LOVING the food!) we debriefed a bit as a team. And once again, I was amazed at how the Lord has tied our hearts together so tightly, both before and thus far in our trip. He is certainly up to some very significant things in our lives and we have all come here expecting to know how He plans to use us here, and later.

God is good and He always proves Himself faithful.

If you think of it, would you pray for us?

Pray that the Lord would make it clear how to use the resources we have; here and when we get home. Pray for health, safety, and the ability to clearly communicate the love of God to those we meet. Pray for Ekubo ministries (www.ekuboministries.com). For their staff and families, for the children, for a roof for their clinic, for the completion of the baby’s cottage, for the sponsorship of the many children who go without education and food. They need your prayers because they have many needs.

And consider your own heart. Pray about how the Lord is directing yours to care for the widow and the orphan in distress (James 1:27) and to actually care about the least of these. This looks differently for everyone, but actually doing something is not an option.

We are commanded to care.

If you care for a reference for that last statement, open the dusty book on your nightstand and let God change your heart for the things of His. Because your life and my life are a mist and when I stand before the Lord I want to hear a few things from Him and to know without a doubt that I poured myself out for the things that matter.

For the things that are eternal.

Because either way, we’ll have spent our lives for something. And these kids and these people and your family and your crazy neighbor and everyone in between, they are eternal.

What are you spending your life for?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to help imprisoned children

Yesterday I told you about our visit to the imprisoned children in the Ugandan remand homes.

Did you know that many of the children in the remand homes have done nothing wrong? They are there due to neglect, abuse, or orphaned and left on the streets. Sometimes there parents send them to the streets to beg and they are picked up by the police to clean the streets. Sixty Feet tries to reunite the children with their families when possible. What about the rest of them that have done nothing wrong, but have no place to go? What about the youngest and most vulnerable children?

Yes, there are orphanages in Uganda, but did you know they won't take children from the remand homes? Some wonderful families will take them in, but it is very much frowned upon. Dan & Shelly Owens of Sixty Feet found a pastor willing to look after their two children from a remand home until their adoption of them was final. The church supporting the pastor ordered him, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of the children. The church told them they simply could not stay. Orphans, yes. The dirty, dangerous, sickly children from M, no. “Return those children to M, immediately” were the instructions. They refused. They stood up to their church, to the white, American-born senior pastor, to all the elders and said “no way.” We will not leave these children as orphans. We will not return them to M. “Then you stand to lose everything,” said their church. "Either the children go -- or you go. You will lose your home, your job, your income. This will cost you everything." (full story here.)

Sixty Feet has been able to remove some of the older children and place them with Cornerstone Development, but there simply isn't enough room for them all.

So how can you help? Sixty Feet had a BIG DREAM to build a children's home to take in the most vulnerable, most desperate children at M1 and the other facilities didn’t have to be there. Recently, several incredible donors have stepped forward to offer a whopping $60,000 as a matching gift in order to make this dream a reality. Yes, that was not a typo and you read it correctly. Every dollar raised between today and December 31, 2011 – up to $60,000 – will be matched, dollar for dollar!

To donate to this amazing cause, to have your donation matched dollar for dollar, and to make a big difference this Christmas, click HERE

Can you please -
Pray for these children!
Come to a showing of Sixty Feet's film Bereaved to learn more!
Share their story with your friends! 
Give even the smallest amount and it will be matched!
Consider coming with us October 2012 on a two week trip to show God's love to these children!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Imprisoned Children

Where to start? I've been putting off this post for too long not knowing exactly what to say. In July we visited two remand homes in Kampala, Uganda through the ministry of Sixty Feet. Sixty Feet is working to improve conditions in the government fun facilities by providing clean water, electricity, better food, mattresses, and most importantly the hope only Christ can provide. Their mission statement is to bring hope and restoration to the imprisoned children of Africa in Jesus' name.

I first learned about Sixty Feet in March when I was able to view their film, Bereaved, at a friend's church. I was heartbroken for the children and wanted so badly to go show them God's love! I met Dan Owens of Sixty Feet and told him about our upcoming trip to Uganda with Visiting Orphans and how much we would love to visit. He said they were planning to meet with Visiting Orphans about a possible partnership. Then a few months later I saw a video of another Visiting Orphans team singing to boys at one of the remand homes. I told our trip leader how much I would love to visit and then it showed up on our itinerary!!

The day of our visit there was a miscommunication and we were not able to go. It was our 13th wedding anniversary and I was really looking forward to visiting the remand homes (sounds crazy, I know). Little did I know God had other plans. Moses, the in-country director of Sixty Feet, was able to visit us that evening after dinner to give his testimony tell us all about the ministry. It was late, but I clung onto every word. As he was leaving we asked our team leader if there was any way a few of us could go visit the next day. She ran out to Moses' van to ask. He said he had room for 9 and would pick us up in the morning! The rest of the team would visit the other mission scheduled that day.

Moses is an amazing man! He had a hard life growing up and was a street kid for a while until missionaries helped him get into school. Now he helps others in similar situations. "My ultimate desire is that God always should use me to enable children of such background as mine to achieve greater things even more than I have achieved, and also help them forgive their past and lead their lives as God truly desires of Us." He works tirelessly on behalf of these children to give them a second chance. He visits each center weekly. He cares for their well being while at the remand homes and tries to either reunite them with family or find somewhere else for them to live when they get out.

We first visited M2. It is a remand home for children 12-18 years old who have been convicted of a crime. Their crimes range from petty theft all the way to murder. 165 kids all in a place designed for 50. When we arrived all the kids (majority older boys) were seated in one room. Becca brought her guitar and we sang a few songs, taught them one, and they sang us a song. Then we sat down and talked to a few of them and heard their stories. One boy needed money so he could use the phone to call his parents because they had no idea he was in there. Another boys employer had accused him of stealing so they didn't have to pay him for his hard work. Some were there because there caregivers sent them.

They gave us a tour of the facility and we ended in the girl's dorm. Our group consisted of 8 females and 1 male. The prison consisted of approximately 15 females and 150 males. Naturally we stayed with the girls and visited with them for a while. There I found Lori* tucked away in a bed in the corner very ill. She had a fever and had been sick for two and a half weeks with who knows what. They were giving her malaria medication, but she was still sick. Later someone told me they suspect she had typhoid. I spent time talking to her, praying, and trying my best to encourage her. I had no experience encouraging someone very ill.... and in prison... and in Africa. Oh I've prayed with people in an American hospital bed, but this was so much different. I asked the Lord right words. Taking a cue from Becca I saw Lori had a Bible and asked her what her favorite passage was. Her Bible was in Lugandan, but she translated the first few verses of Psalm 63:

1 You, God, are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
  I thirst for you,
   my whole being longs for you,
  in a dry and parched land
   where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
   and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
   my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
   and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

WOW! I told her to keep praying the Psalms and hide God's word in her heart. She was in a pretty desperate situation with little hope, but God had not forgotten about her and loves her dearly.

Since Bill and I were leading this small team and it was sort of fly by the seat of our pants I wanted to go check in with Bill who was in another part of the prison. Lori was so desperate for a friend and did not want me to leave. She clung to my hand even though I assured her I would soon return. I came back with a few suckers and her mood improved though I could not get her to smile. Finally I figured out that she was ticklish and got to see her beautiful smile. I will never forget her & pray for her often!

We left M2 and drove a short distance to M3. It is a remand home for children 8 and under. When we visited there were approximately 175 children with only 3 staff. We were unable to take pictures at this facility. The children here are babies found in trash cans, children abandoned on the street, children whose parents are in jail, and children with handicaps. Some children may have become separated from there parents on a busy street and lost. They now reside here until their parents can pick them up - if they ever find out they are there. There is a local television station that has pictures of the children hoping their parents will see and come pick them up. Unfortunately many of their parents do not have televisions.

photo courtesy of Daily Monitor
These children desperately need love and attention that the staff simply cannot provide. Some cried out for attention while others had internalized their cries long ago because they were not being heard. Some were completely numb. One little boy walked around in his own world not even realizing we were there. I reached out to another boy to hold his hand and he grabbed my forearm and ran his hand back and forth very intensely. It was as if he had been starved of human touch and no one had offered any.

The living conditions are not ideal. They put themselves to sleep on the concrete floor. For the past year there was only one light in the whole place. Many children are young and not potty trained. They walk around with only a shirt and no shorts or underwear. Praise the Lord for Sixty Feet and the funds they have been able to raise! They recently delivered mattresses for them to sleep on! There was an electrician installing lights when we visited! We were able to bring a huge tote of cloth diapers donated by some wonderful new friends.

Please pray for these beautiful children that God loves so dearly! They need food, love and attention. Pray for the staff of Sixty Feet both here and in-country! Shortly after their first visit to M1, they found out their were more of these facilities around Uganda. They have since found 7. Moses and the other in-country staff visit all these children weekly & share the gospel. It is exhausting work both physically and mentally.

How can you help? More on that tomorrow!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Africa Trip Day 1: The Road to Canaan

The first three days of our trip were spent at Canaan Children's Home in Buziika which is a few miles south of Jinja, Uganda. Pastor Isaac and his wife Rebecca started this home back in 1996. However, the real start of the story came years earlier. Left for dead in a mass grave by soldiers during the reign of Idi Amin, Pastor Isaac heard these words: "Isaac, I have saved your life so that you may save the lives of my fatherless children... Isaac, I will be the father of those children through you." I encourage you to read his full testimony to see how the Lord used tragedy to start something incredible.

Loading our luggage at the airport. Forty-eight 50lb bags!
Of course the airport is not right next to Buziika. We landed at Entebbe around 1 PM. We got our passports stamped and we found our drivers and loaded up the luggage. I think just about everyone on the team had brought two 50lb suitcases full of donations. If you plan to travel on missions work a piece of advice: bring more cash and less stuff. Buying in country is possible so you can still help people and stimulate the economy at the same time. Besides, luggage is a pain normally. We thanked God numerous times that no one in our group lost any luggage.

The kids had just finished school so they still had on uniforms.
After loading the truck we all piled into Canaan Childrens Home bus for the 3+ hour drive to Jinja. That includes driving through the "parking lot" of Kampala. We tried to look out the windows but after being awake about a day and a half at this point I kept nodding off.

When we did begin approaching Canaan's the children knew we were coming and started running after our bus. At this point the magnitude of being in Africa hit me. I had tears in my eyes watching these happy children crowd around as we got off the bus just waiting to talk. Despite having been awake for nearly 40 hours, I was flooded with adrenaline. I had read blogs and books about Africa. But these little hands in my hands were not just words on paper. It was just like holding my own little boys hands. I soon realized I would rarley not be holding someones hand, regardless if it was a 3 year old little girl or a 17 year old boy. The kids at Canaan's are well cared for but they still crave relationship and human touch. And why not? God created us that way!

Sarah has some new friends!
We started to unload the luggage and the kids insisted on helping. I am not joking when I say they made it look easy to sling around 50lb bags. So once the bags were in our rooms we asked if it would be OK to give the kids some soccer balls. We pumped six up and took them out to the main yard. We got to kick the soccer balls around and hang out talking until it got dark. The kids and our team had a blast.

We finally ate some dinner (everything we had at Canaan's was delicious) and crashed for the night. Since Sarah and I were the only married couple we got our own room!
A few of the children I can not wait to see again!
That first day was a whirlwind because of all the travel but one thing was very clear to me: the children and staff were ecstatic that we had come to visit and love them. What I had not expected was to BE loved so much. Many of these children have been orphaned by terrible violence, HIV, addicitions, and despair. Most of these children have only a few articles of clothing and almost no personal possessions. They are better provided for than many Ugandans but by our cultures standards they have almost nothing. And yet they have joy that I rarely see in America. They freely give what little they have to friends and even strangers. More on that in a future post.

Building relationships with these children is a vital piece of short term missions. We heard many times on our trip how important it was that people from half way around the world came to their home and showed them love. That is why Visiting Orphans works with the same in country missions to send teams all year long. That is why so many team members return on future trips. That is why Sarah and I will return again. You just can not walk away from meeting these joyful children and adults and not yearn to see them again. And from what we have been told, the SECOND time you come back the kids trust that you really do care for them! I can not wait to walk back into the courtyard at Canaan's and see my friends again!

P.S. This was just my second blog post. I will get better :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Missions Council

This last Saturday at our church's Missions Council meeting Bill & I had the opportunity to quickly share about our trip. There is no way to summarize the trip in just 15 minutes. We decided to talk about what has been on our hearts since we visited: the children's "remand homes" in Uganda and the ministry of Sixty Feet. We were short on time and I hadn't done any form of public speaking in a while so I was a little nervous, but managed to get it out.

Here is what we shared:
"This summer Bill & I were able to visit Uganda & Ethiopia for two weeks with Visiting Orphans. We fell in love with both countries but particularly the children's remand homes in Uganda & the ministry of Sixty Feet.

We saw extreme poverty everywhere & it was very humbling. We were continually served by those we came to serve. They were so happy we could come that they gave us their best.

One thing we didn't expect to see was they had JOY despite their desperate situations! All the children we met were being ministered to. They knew Christ and clung to His promises! They don't have all the stuff we have that gets in our way and each day is a blessing. I met Lori* at M2 and saw she had a Bible. I asked her what her favorite passage was and she told me Psalm 63:
1 You, God, are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
   my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
   where there is no water.
 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
   and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
   my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
   and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
   with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
 6 On my bed I remember you;
   I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
   I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
   your right hand upholds me.
 9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
   they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
   and become food for jackals.
 11 But the king will rejoice in God;
   all who swear by God will glory in him,
   while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Verse 1 catches my breath every time & tears well up. I can't read it without seeing her lying in bed too weak to get up from being ill for a few weeks from who knows what. "I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." I hugged her and prayed for her healing. I assured her that even though we cannot understand this season of life, that the Lord has a beautiful plan for her life. There is very little hope for the children at M, but they have hope in Jesus!

So if they're already hearing about the love of Christ, you may ask what the point is of our short term visit. Since I came back I have discovered there is some controversy about whether short term missions are even worth it. I say YES! The Bible tells us in James 1:27 that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world." There are many other verses that tell us to care for the fatherless. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus tells us "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." I go because the Bible tells me to!

These children are starving for physical touch; for someone to hold them.
They desperately want to know they are loved. A heartfelt "Nkwagala Nyo" (I love you) brings the biggest smile to their face.
They need to know they have worth in this world.
They need to be encouraged to achieve their dreams and dream big.
They need to be told they are loved no matter what and that above all God loves them.
Normally these assurances would come from a parent, but in their absence, we can deliver them.

We don't go to tour the slums, feel bad, take a few pics & check it off our bucket list. We go to pour out God's love on these children!

The general population of the M are children found on the street and taken there by police. Some are orphaned, some have families that sent them to beg, some left their abusive families, some just wandered away and got lost, while others are serving time for a crime. Moses, the in country director for Sixty Feet, is working tirelessly on behalf of these children to give them a second chance. He visits each center weekly. He cares for their well being while at M and tries to either reunite them with family or find somewhere else for them to live when they get out.

I am a very visual person so rather than talk about M, I'd rather just show you some video. These are videos from Sixty Feet's website."

to enlarge click the arrows to the right of HD

*name changed for security reasons

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Trip Summary: Uganda / Ethiopia July 2011

Bernard, James, Frank, & Gideon at Canaan Children's Home
Here's a summary of our trip. 
We'll blog more about each ministry shortly.

Thursday July 14
Our super early flight from Indianapolis to DC left at 6am. We met the rest of our Visiting Orphans team at the Dulles Airport then left for Africa at noon. It was a long flight and I slept a lot. Bill, however, was enthralled by the touch screen monitors each passenger had on Ethiopian Airlines' new 777. He doesn't sleep well on planes so he watched plenty of movies, played solitaire, sudoku, etc.

Friday July 15
We land in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to change planes and then onto Entebbe, Uganda. We retrieved all of our luggage (yay! every piece made it!), loaded it onto a truck and piled into a separate van to drive about 3 hours to Jinja. We wanted to take in Uganda and look out the window the whole drive, but after a very long day of travel I think everyone in the bus nodded off. We pulled up to Canaan Children's Home where lots of children ran to the bus and greeted us. We spent the evening playing with the kids and making new friends. I connected with James, a sweet 9 year old. Bill started talking to some of the older boys who don't get much attention.

Saturday July 16
After breakfast we drove down the road to Amazima Ministries started by Katie Davis (check out her blog here). We played with the kids on their new enormous playground, worshiped with them and helped serve them lunch. We got to meet Katie Davis and she spent time talking with us and sharing her story. That evening we took a boat ride from Lake Victoria to the source of the Nile River and had dinner at a local resort.

Sunday July 17
Sunday morning at Canaan we broke up into groups and had Sunday School lessons for different age groups. Our group learned about creation and we made lion masks. The kids had a lot of fun. Then the adults went to worship. After lots of singing we sat down to hear Pastor Isaac's message. He went off on us fat, lazy, privileged Americans and all of our luxuries. He said how we have so much stuff. It was a little comical at first, but then I'm thinking, "Ok I get it! You can stop beating us over the head!" Then he went on to say how special we all were because we left all of that comfort to come visit them for 2 weeks. They really appreciate our visits and the love we pour out on the children.

After church and lunch, we spent a while organizing all of our donations. Whew! We each had two 50 lb bags and most of it was donations. We’ve since decided that less is more. We’d rather take money to spend in-country for donations or for multiple teams to save toward a larger item that the orphanages really need. It was a pain to haul all that luggage around between two countries and then get taxed on our donations in Ethiopia on top of that.

We spent the rest of the day playing with the kids and buying magazine bead necklaces that they helped to make. They were so excited to see us buy some of their handiwork!

Monday July 18
Yay! Our 13th Anniversary and we’re in Uganda to love on the fatherless! We drove into Jinja to do a little shopping. We bought some drums for our boys and cool paintings for our walls. Then off we went to Kampala to love the children in prisons through the ministry of Sixty Feet.
Or so we thought. Our driver took us to M2 instead of M1 (we can’t name the prisons to protect the children). Since we weren’t able to be there without Moses, the in-country director of Sixty Feet, we had to leave and check into the guest house. My heart sank because I really wanted to visit these children!

Pastor Samuel from Return Ministries Uganda was able to come by for dinner and share his testimony afterward. Then Moses of Sixty Feet came by to share his. I hung onto every word! I was so heartbroken for these children!

Tuesday July 19
Through divine appointment 9 of us were able to fit in Moses’ van and visit M2 & M3 while the rest of the team went to Return Ministries. For Bill and I it was the day that opened our eyes and hit us the hardest. We are forever changed.

M2 is a prison for 12-18 year olds. Yes, I said a children’s prison. Their crimes range from petty theft all the way to murder. 165 kids all in a place designed for 50. M3 is a government ran home for discarded children 8 and under. These are babies found in trash cans, children abandoned on the street, children whose parents are in jail, and children with handicaps. M3 has 175 kids with only 3 staff. We were shocked at the conditions. We will focus on Sixty Feet in a future post. They are doing amazing work.

Wednesday July 20
The whole team heads to Return Ministries to lead VBS and serve lunch. I’ll admit that after seeing the kids in prison the previous day, my heart was not into serving the kids at Return. Though they still had very little, they had so much more, in comparison. I prayed for the Lord to give me an attitude adjustment and then this sweet girl, Samalie came over and sat next to me. She was such a sweetheart and such a blessing! We were friends the rest of the day.

That afternoon we said goodbye to Uganda and boarded a plane to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. What a crazy learning experience trying to get all our luggage/donations into the country! Despite all our puppy dog faces and arguing our team had to pay over a $100 in taxes and leave a duffle bag full of Ugandan necklaces at the airport until we returned to leave the country. We met up with the drivers and translators for the week. They got us to guest house safely.

Thursday July 21
The team headed to Korah where we spent the day learning about Project 61 ministries (this was started by a past VO team member, Summer Yates). We met the minister of Great Hope Church who partners with P61. Our team broke into groups and did VBS with the kids. One group each did crafts, singing, and Bible stories. Then we were given the privilege of serving injera and wot to the kids and also some of the local lepers. The latter were unable to really feed themselves due to the ravaging effect of leprosy prior to modern medicines.

After we finished with lunch we broke into smaller teams for home visits. We visited a woman who was suffering from TB and HIV while trying to find ways to feed her two children. We prayed with her for health and that someone would sponsor her two children. We then walked through Korah to the Alert hospital which serves the Korah community and has free medicine for HIV and TB. The lepers at the hospital make textiles and rugs to sell to visitors.

After leaving the Alert hospital we stopped to do some quick shopping and buy some Ethiopian coffee. Everyone raved about how good it was & Sarah bought a bunch for herself & friends back home.

Friday July 22
The team packed luggage into the vans because we were changing guest houses. After we were all checked in we spent the rest of the day at Restoration Orphanage. This is an orphanage that recently moved from Korah to a better area in Addis Abbaba. The orphanage was in good shape and had quite a few staff to help with the roughly 45 babies and children. But we found out that was not the case just a few months ago. A transformation had occurred in large part because of the efforts of Ashli York and Ordinary Hero. They had cleaned the facility and helped get clothes, toys, and formula for the orphanage.

In the evening we had a traditional Ethiopian dinner. We have both had the cuisine before but it was a new taste for most of the team. We enjoyed delicious food while performers were on stage in traditional costume singing and dancing. The evening was capped off with a coffee ceremony in which Bill drank his first ever whole cup.

Saturday July 23
The team spent the day at an America World Adoption Transitional Home painting a mural and loving on the kids. Some team members walked a few blocks down the road to a second AWA Home and helped with laundry and disinfecting baby toys. All of the children at these sights are in the process of being adopted. Our mural was on a wall in the courtyard and featured a big tree, flowers, and butterflies. Because the paint had to dry we knew we would be coming back to finish in a few days so the drivers helped us hang a tarp above the mural (it was the rainy season). The drivers and translators were awesome the whole week and took great care of us.

Sunday July 24
We headed to Beza International for their 11AM service. On the drive we went right past the actual garbage dump that people in Korah dig through to find food and items they can sell. Even at a distance we could see people on top of the garbage everywhere. We did not get to see the dump in person on Thursday so this was our first time observing what happens there every day.

The service at Beza was in English and the worship was awesome. After church we ate lunch at the guest house and then drove to Entoto Mountain. This is just outside Addis and the change from urban clutter to wide open beautiful mountainside was amazing. We toured a very old Greek Orthodox church and just had a chance to breathe in God's creation (and clean air, Addis does not seem to have any emissions laws).

After we drove back down the mountain the team grabbed dinner at a restaraunt featuring ... American food. We were the only two that still grabbed Ethiopian food :)

Monday July 25
A day to follow up on loose ends! We returned to AWA and some team members finished the mural while others just hung out with the kids. Then we hopped in the vans and returned to Restoration with some additional donations and baby formula. We found out that they only had enough for the next meal and really do see God's provision as often formula arrives right as it is needed. We had a little time to play with the kids and then we headed back to Project 61 in Korah.

We had baby formula to donate to P61 as well. While stopping at P61 we were able to walk next door and see Mission Ethiopia. They teach local women how to make clay beads for necklaces and bracelets. The women form the beads and fire them. The income they earn allows them to feed their families and send their children to school. It was great to see the happiness on many of the woman's faces.

To finish this night off the guest house provided a traditional coffee ceremony after dinner. Then Mission Ethiopia held a "bead party" at the guest house so everyone could make custom jewelry by stringing the beads they selected. During the bead party we learned more about what Mission Ethiopia plans to do in Korah.

Tuesday July 26
Our last day in Africa. The morning started with a visit to the Fistula Hospital in Addis. A great documentary was made about this hospital called "A Walk to Beautiful." Our team had assembled 150 gift bags that would be given to the women at the hospital. The property was beautiful and the work they do is incredibly life changing.

Once we finished our tour of the hospital we grabbed lunch at Kaldi's. They tried to get a franchise deal with a certain American coffee chain I typically call Fourbucks and were denied. So they just made awesome coffee and food restaurants anyway that are very similar but different.

The team headed back to the guest house to grab dinner and showers before our long trip home. We headed to the airport where to our surprise the bag full of necklaces was waiting. We departed Addis Ababa at 10:15 PM for the States.

Wednesday July 27
The flight arrived at Dulles at 8:40 AM. We did the customs thing and then had to recheck our luggage. Since we had one of the first flights out we said our goodbyes and headed to our departure gate. We took off from Dulles and arrived in Indianapolis at 2 PM. We were met by our two little boys and other family in the airport and had a great time of reunion! Then a short drive home and back in our house.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Advance

We spent the weekend at Visiting Orphans leadership training titled: The Advance. Sarah and I were able to meet many incredible leaders who are sold out to reaching orphans and widows around the world. They are living out James 1:27 and we are humble to be a small part of it!

One of the VO staff members recommended calling it The Advance rather than Leadership Retreat because nothing about VO is retreating. I thought that was a great way of describing the mission. As we drove home today I was thinking about the meaning of the word Advance.

Advance often means moving forward towards a goal in the face of opposition. That opposition takes many forms. Friends and family question why you are wasting money on a short term trip and if it is really wise or safe to travel to another country. Raising funds and attracting team members can be a daunting task. Moving outside of your comfortable surroundings and into sometimes shocking situations causes doubts. Even people you thought supported you can turn their backs.

Many other things can thwart our Advance than what is listed above. How can we, by ourselves, advance in the face of these obstacles? If this were a military campaign the answer would be easy. You can not. A soldier is never meant to work as an individual. There are no victorious battle plans that read PFC Smith will advance to the enemy line and decisively engage the enemy division.

We were not meant to Advance by ourselves either. We have the mightiest force ever known at our disposal. The Creator himself!

Don't be afraid, for I am with you.
   Don't be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
   I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
                                 -Isaiah 41:10 NLT

The Lord is my light and salvation
   so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
   so why should I tremble?
                                 -Psalm 27:1 NLT

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves.
Instead you recieved God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.
Now we call him, "Abba, Father."
                                 -Romans 8:15 NLT

(That last verse really hits home with me. I am adopted and my Dad loved me and protected me without ever thinking that I was not his biological child. How much more powerful is God's perfect love for his children?) 

The other meaning of Advance I thought about was the term used financially. An advance of funds with the expectation of being repaid. Now this might sound like I am about to advocate works based salvation. Not the case at all.

What I was thinking was Visiting Orphans teams go pour out love on orphans and widows. Why? Speaking for myself, it was not because I am an unselfish person who puts others before me. I went because I love the God who sent his Son to earth to die for me! Jesus was The Advance. He who was perfect died so that a broken world could be reconciled with God. Payment was made in full!

So when my Savior says to go and care for orphans and widows how else can I respond?