"May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace as you trust in him." Romans 15:13

Friday, May 31, 2013

Jemo Trip 2013, Meeting our Sponsor Son and Daughter

Chad and I waited all week to meet the kids we sponsor.
Joshua had chosen our sponsor daughter, Serawit, on the week of our Jemo project launch.  Once he saw her - her knew.  She was THE one we were to sponsor.  I had sent her a couple of short notes, but I had not been the stellar sponsor that I now vow to become.  Seeing how much the kids value the sponsor relationship has changed EVERYTHING for me.
Just a few weeks before the trip, we added a little boy to our family.  His original sponsor had changed their mind, and we snatched him right up.  Ayelu is roughly Joshua's age and his deep, shy, sad eyes stole my heart in a glance.  Because our sponsorship started so close to when we traveled, I had never introduced our family to him at all.
 These next two photos are a great example of how crazy things were when we were with the kids.  Seeing hundreds of new faces was FUN!  It was also overwhelming.  It was hard to focus on the individual child, when there were just so many children to focus on!
Both of the above photos were taken the day we arrived.  In both photos, Ayelu - our sponsor son, is within four kids of me.  I had NO idea!  After we left that day I commented that I may have caught a glimpse of our little guy, but I was not sure.
In truth, I had been playing near him the whole time!
One thing that was different about the kids at Jemo than the kids at BCC is that the younger kids were not attention seeking.  At BCC, the littlest kids are often the first to ask you to play or do "tricks" so you will notice them.  This was NOT the case at Jemo.  The littlest kids were very shy and tentative.  It was the school-age kids that LOVED our attention.
After being at Jemo on Saturday,Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and STILL not finding our sponsor kids, we were very excited for Wednesday!  Because on Wednesday all the kids would have nametags, making them easy to spot!
I was the one to put the nametags on the children as they entered the church on Wednesday, so I knew right away that our kids were there.  It was not possible to introduce myself at that time, it was just too busy.  So I spent the morning spying on the kids.  I was trying no to creep them out as I "stalked" them.  I can tell from the photos taken that day that Chad was doing the same thing!
Late in the afternoon the time finally came to introduce ourselves when we were called up to give our kids their gifts.
Ayelu was first.
(Poor little guy!  I think we overwhelmed him! Receiving his first gift AND meeting three smiling Americans all at the same time had to feel over the top!)
Chad and Sam (translator extraordinaire) are showing Ayelu our photo, trying to explain that it is us!
Look at those sweet, sad eyes checking me out.
And here he is - trying to follow all the instructions being thrown at him.
Hold the photo on your tummy.
Look at the camera.
Smile! (sakoo in Amharic)
I bet he was SO relieved to be able to rejoin the other kids!
Serawit was much more comfortable with us.
I think/hope she had seen our photo before. However, since I did not pick her out of the crowd based on the photo I had received of her, I would not be surprised if she was unable to recognize us as well.
Irregardless, she was older.
She also had more time to watch the process than Ayelu did.
Both things made our introduction less overwhelming for her than it was for our boy.
 (Funny thing - I bought Jamison the same shirt as she is wearing.  He is wearing it today!)
Serawit told us that she is 8 years old.
She was quiet but not scared, responsive and interested but not attention seeking.
I think she was genuinely intrigued with meeting us.
I caught her peaking at me with curiosity off and on.
(I love that she is sitting next to my bro, Desaleng.)
Ayelu did the same.
He just seemed so sweet and fragile.
I wanted to scoop him up on my lap and hold him close.
I snapped his photo and smiled instead.
I am sure he is glad that was my choice!
Over the next day and a half (the remaining time we had at Jemo), both of our kids warmed up to us.  They looked for us , seeking us with their eyes often.  When we smiled and waved in return, they responded with little smiles - the secret kind.  The kind that says, I know I am special to you.
Ayelu brought Chad the picture he colored, seeking his approval.
He smiled broadly when Chad told him it was "KONJO!" and patted him warmly on the back.
Serawit did the same.
She is not an "in your face" kind of girl, much like my Brenna.
She appreciated when we noticed her.
She had her eyes on us often and gave us big, shy smiles when we caught her eye.

She seemed to like it when I chose to sit by her.
(Though she looks terrified here.  She did not seem that way, I promise!)
Meeting our kids was not the instant connection that we had had with Desaleng.  And that is OK!  Meeting our kids felt more like the beginning of a relationship - tentative, testing, polite, curious.
Meeting our kids made them real.
Really, really real.
I wonder what Serawit loves. Her names means army.  I wonder what battles she has already won in her life.  I wonder what battles she has lost. I wonder what makes her giggle.
I wonder if she loves school.  I wonder which compound she lives in.
I wonder how many people share her bed.
I wonder if/how often she goes to bed hungry.
I sent her a photo of us all together this week.
I hope it makes her smile.
It made me smile!
And sweet Ayelu -

Oh, how I wished I had a new outfit for him.
His clothes were in terrible condition, which made me wonder if the reason his eyes are so sad is that his life is very hard?  Does he have enough food?  Does he get enough rest?   Does he ever giggle?
I sent him a photo of us all together too.
I told him that every time I see it, I pray for him.
And I do.
So sponsors, as you may have guessed, the interactions we had with our sponsored sons and daughters was just as varied as the children are.  I highly encourage you to travel with a team someday and meet your children.  I highly encourage you to have few expectations for that meeting!  Some relationships will be instantly deep and personal.  Other relationships will be more tentative.  No matter what, seeing your children will change how you think about them, pray for them, and interact with them once you return home. 
Sometimes it is hard to remember that the photo you have tucked into some spot in your home is not just a photo, but a living, breathing child.  It is hard to believe that those kids are truly benefiting from that $34 that is automatically withdrawn from your account each month.  Rest assured, the children are real.   They are beautiful.  They are benefiting from your sponsorship immensely.  They, along with their parent,s are grateful and hopeful because of this program.  God is using you.  He is being glorified in this.

(Many of you have been asking when the next trip will be.  We may have those dates as soon as next week!)
Tomorrow I will share about our final day at Jemo.
And then I am going back. . . I wish!
I had hoped to leave Ethiopia feeling closure.  I had hoped that being there would end my longing to be there, at least for a time.  Traveling there is costly.  It is exhausting.  It is inconvenient - leaving 5 kids and 2 jobs to go is nearly impossible.  So, I had hoped that when I returned I would feel called to stay home for many years, supporting this project and others stateside.
My wish was not granted.
I loved being in Ethiopia more this time than last, for so many reasons. In all honesty, I was scheming about how and when I would return even before the jet lag was gone. 
So the cycle continues! 
My heart remains in two places - here and there.
And I continue to seek God's plan for if and when He will send me back to Ethiopia again.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trip to Jemo 2013 - Day 6, Sponsor Gifts Shared!

Wednesday, after lunch, was THE moment we had been waiting for. . .
We were really excited to deliver the gifts that the sponsors had sent to the children.  Our team had decided ahead of time what could go into the gifts.  Because the rainy season is soon approaching, we chose blankets to be the main part of the gift.  We also enclosed a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of soap, a headwrap style headband for the girls and a matchbox car for the boys.  Lastly, but we were to discover MOST IMPORTANTLY, we asked sponsors to send a photo of themselves for the child and a short letter/note.
We took great care in packaging these gifts.  I am so thankful for the team of people that came to my office and helped me!  Because of our careful method, I never once doubted that all the children had a gift!  Several times as we were handing them out people came to me and said, "I can't find a gift for ______" but I never had one moment of concern.  I knew that we had a gift for each and every child!
Distribution of the gifts was a long process.  There were 150 kids and each waited fairly patiently for their turn.  The procedure was simple and organized - thanks to Helina!
The child's name was called and they came up to get their gift.  Then they waited to open it with the next available translator.  We had three translators.  Along side each translator was a BCC team member.  There was also a photographer assigned to each station.  The child came up and the team member helped them open their gift.  We usually found the toy car for the boys, which they received with wide grins!  We "crowned" the girls with their headwraps, deeming them "konjo!" (beautiful)  Then we found the photo of their sponsor.
The photo was their favorite part!  Seriously!  If the sponsor did not include a photo the kids were so disappointed!  I had made photo cards for each gift that did not include a personal photo.  The "generic" photo was of all the Life Club kids at our church.  It was accepted, but not with the joy that the personal photos of sponsors were. 
We then read the child the letter from their sponsor.  They were translated line by line by our amazing translators.  The kids loved that.  They listened carefully, smiling and nodding in response to the words.
We then took a photo of each child.  We made sure to get the photo of their sponsor in the shot, too.  When sponsors were present, they gave their child the gift they had prepared for him/her.  Similarly, if someone close to the sponsor was there we made sure that person gave the gift.  (For example, I was called up to give the gift to Dawit, the child my cousin sand her family sponsor.)
But - enough words, take a peak at the joy!
 We had been asked to capture a smile from this little guy!
We succeeded!

 Family united!
Oh, my!  She was a c.u.t.i.e p.i.e!
I was amazed at how the kids did not rip into their gifts.  I was told that by the end, they were peaking though!  My kids would not have made it nearly as long, however!
 You can see how intrigued the children were with their sponsor's photos!
I can not stress enough how they long to know you!
It is really cool!

 Crowning another Konjo girl
 Look at how she beamed!
 Here I am introducing Dawit to my cousin's family.
He liked the drawing you sent Abby!
 This is one of my favorite photos of the day.
Both adults and kids had fun!
He has the same look as my kids get when I make a joke.  A polite grin!  At least the translator laughed!
 This little guy, Sophie, was on all our publications telling about Jemo.
It was cool to give him his gift, since I had worked with his photo so much!

 These two were too cute not to include in this post!
 Here is my mom reading Desaleng his long awaited letter!
Think he liked it?
(I just love him!)
 She had waited and waited for her turn.
 Before leaving for Jemo, I had promised her sponsor I would find her and hug her.
Here is proof that I did just that!
(It was so cool how God worked out these gifts.  I did not read letters all day, but in the time I did, God sent most of the kids whose sponsors had asked me to check up on them.  It was really precious!)

 Evidence that the crowd was getting a little rowdy waiting!
This young man is sponsored by good friends of Chad.
He was so pleased with his new blanket!
Chad was so pleased to meet him!
 Although this photo is not very good, this was the FUNNIEST moment of the day.
After all the children had received their gifts, Fikre started talking to them.  Fikre is an excellent teacher.  He spoke with the children often, giving instructions in Amharic.  I could not understand what he was saying, so I allowed myself to tune him out for a moment and took a moment to collect my thoughts.  Suddenly I notice that the room had become absolutely silent.
I glanced at Fikre and noticed that he had begun to show the children how to brush their teeth.  From their reaction there was no doubt that they had never witnessed this before.  Their mouths were wide open as they stared in amazement at Fikre brushing his teeth.  When he spit out the toothpaste foam, they giggled in amazement.
It was really something!  I have no doubt they all went home and tried out this new skill!

After that, they headed home.  They had their gifts securely stowed in the backpacks they had made earlier in the day. 
The HopeChest staff made sure that each child had someone older waiting to walk them home, ensuring they and their gifts made it safely to their destination.
Sponsors - thank you for loving these children and sending them gifts.  For many of the children, it was the first gift they had ever received.
And if you did not send a gift, do not feel guilty!  We made sure that we had a gift for every child.  NO one was left out!  However, please send your child a photo.  I promised them I would ask and ask and ask until they all received one!
Tomorrow, I will tell you about meeting our sponsored son and daughter!
My family just keeps growing and growing.
That makes my heart happy!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Trip to Jemo 2013 - Day 6 - Activity Stations

Day 6 was to be our biggest "Kid Ministry" Day.  We were planning on having the children divided into four groups, and those groups would rotate through four different stations.  Being the structure-lover that I am, it was the day I was most looking forward to!

The first step was to call all the sponsored children into the church and get them nametags.  This was a much easier process than it had been the day before.  I think the word was out - sponsored children only - and the rest of the community was very kind and accepting of that.  People gathered in the Jemo compound and watched the children playing, but with smiles and laughter and understanding.  Our sleepless, prayer-filled night was answered by a smooth, pleasant day.

Praise God!

 Here is Marta, our translator for the day, explaining what was going to happen to the waiting families.  We hired 4 translators to be part of this day, so that each activity station would have a translator.  It was worth every penny!
 We were all really excited to get nametags on the children.  We had all been searching for certain children, and it was hard to locate them without nametags!  Mike finally found his sponsor brother, and he happily snapped a photo for his mom to enjoy!
 I had spent A LOT of time on nametags.  They had the child's name - large font for the first name which can be posted online, small font for the father's name which is more private.  I also added their ID number, for our reference, and their age.  The other feature that I added was the sponsor's name.  I am so glad that I did!  (Thanks Ingrid!)  Every time I looked at a child, I thought of their sponsor family.  It was SO helpful!
 After all the kids were welcomed inside, Colin lead us in worship.
After worship the children were broken into four groups.
Bible Story
Sponsor Gift Creation
Some members of our team stayed with a group of children all day, traveling with them from station to station.  Others were station leaders.  They were the teachers/directors of each station.  Additionally, we had a translator with each station.  It worked very, very well.

 Sponsors, here is a sneak peak at your gift from your child.
Donna, Sierra, and Grant did an amazing job helping the children create!
We will get them sent your way sometime in June.
 Troy lead the game station.
He did an amazing job!  The kids laughed and played with glee.
 There were a few children that stayed to watch.  By then end of the morning, they were serving as helpers which was a great way for us to be able to include them.
 Chantalle and Kristen had planned the craft station.
Chantalle found backpacks that the children could color on.  They enjoyed the project, and in the end had a useful bag to bring home with them.  It was a stellar idea!
 Bob was Troy's right hand man.  His kindness and encouragement were contagious.  Even the most hesitant child would play with Bob.
 The children loved creating.  Simple things like markers and crayons are not every day possessions.  They worked diligently and with big smiles on their faces.  I was also amazed at their patience.  They took turns nicely.  They rarely fought over a certain color marker.  As long as they had one to use, they were satisfied.

 Mid-morning the sheep slaughter began.
The children did not even notice.
 They were having too much fun!
 I love Jim.  He always had the kids doing the craziest things - like "the Birdman."  Yet, he managed to keep the kids focused and on task.  He has some great skills!
 This little sweety, Beza, is our youngest sponsored child.
She did a wonderful job with these stations, having no problems keeping up with the older kids!
 Grant asked for a nametag made with Amharic script.
He was such a good helper!
 Our word of the day was "self" which meant "line up."
 All of the men took the day off from fencing to be with the children.
I was so glad they did.
Their enthusiasm, energy, and presence were invaluable.
 Ashlee taught the Bible Story.
Being in Ethiopia with Ashlee was a dream come true for me.  I had long dreamed of watching her teach children there.  She did an amazing job of teaching the children the story of the Good Shepherd.
We broke from stations about noon.
We served the children buns, bananas, and soda.
Little did they know that after their lunch, they would receive gifts!
I will save that story for tomorrow.
If you are planning a trip similar to this one, here are some tips I would be happy to share:
1. The kids will be able to wait much longer than American kids.
2. They will be happy with simple things.  We gave each child 2 crayons, and they were thrilled. So - keep things as simple as possible. 
3. Spend the extra money on translators if you can.  It was so helpful!
4. The children will not need much space to sit or work in.  They are comfortable being much closer together when they work and listen than American kids. The small ratios of children to adults that we strive for is not necessary.
5. Use nametags is at all possible.  Adding the sponsor's name was really helpful.  If you plan to group the children, I would have 2 people greeting the kids at the door.  One with a nametag, the other with a sticker to put on the nametag that tells the which group they belong to.  At Jemo we had many children come and go at different times (it is a drop in center, so this may not be as applicable at other care points).  If I had pre-grouped the kids, my groups would have been really out of balance.  Grouping as the kids came in was the quickest and easiest.
6. Plan useful crafts when possible.
7. Use Bible stories that have manipulates and use few words. This was very helpful with translation.
8. Do not give the children game supplies for free play, they will slowly disappear unless their is an adult explaining that they have to be turned back in.  I do not think we had any children purposely stealing.  They just did not know when we gave them things to play with if they were theirs to keep or just to use.
9. Having some adults travel with a group and some stay in the stations worked well.  Some adults knew which children should be in which group and who would need help, others knew the activity well.  It was a great balance.
10. Have at least one adult "float."  The floater can snap photos, help with bathroom breaks, bring water to fading adults, retrieve extra supplies, etc...
11. Pack wipes, lots of wipes.  And bandaids.  And gloves. And tissues.
12. Be prepared for things to change!  Roll with them!  It is just part of the adventure.
13. Have fun!  Joy is contagious.  It is a great thing to spread!
I'd love your tips, too!  Feel free to share!