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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Unpacking Our Journey: Protected

 When I was awakened on Tuesday morning I felt so much anticipation.  There was so much I was expecting for the day ahead.  I was going to meet Biniam!  I was going to be in a village.  See a rural school.  And I was really, really hoping we would also have time to tour Soddo Christian Hospital.  From what I had read, it was a facility that would inspire Sierra greatly.

I dressed and packed quickly, anxious to get on with the day.

The kids and I were ready early so we snapped a couple of pictures before heading to breakfast.
 These three were so much fun together.
 We ate breakfast indoors - away from the monkeys!
 Beginning my day with coffee so lovely I am compelled to photograph it is such a joy.

What could be better than pretty coffee?

We paused in front of the lake for a couple more photos before checking out of the hotel.

 Tsige is one of the most photogenic people I have ever met.  Her joy and good-natured personality shine through completely in each photo taken.
 We checked out of the hotel, and waited in Yilkal's van for the project staff to arrive and guide us to the Care Point.  A monkey sat curiously on the hood of the vehicle right next to ours.  We had the window open, and I was not completely convinced that he was not going to jump on board.  You could say he kept me on my toes!
How amazing is this bird?  God is so creative!

This monkey actually stayed in his tree!
I enjoyed him much more in this location!

At this point in the morning, everything changed.

Yilkal, our driver, hesitantly explained that he had heard there was some tribal fighting on the road between Hawassa and Soddo.  He did not think it would be possible for us to continue to our destination.  I was truly in shock.  I had never, ever considered such a thing.  I know many people who have traveled in that area, and I had never heard of anyone being turned back.  Although my heart was breaking, it was also peaceful.  I told him immediately, "If it is not safe.  We can not go."

We waited anxiously for Thomas, from CHC, and Mebratu, from FOVC, to join us and help us make the decision.  They had not heard about the problems when Yilkal called them, but they began making calls to see if what Yilkal had heard was true.

When they arrived, we all decided that it would be unwise for us to continue.

Mebratu, who knows Biniam, said to me, "You read his letters?  He always say, when you come?"

I told him repeatedly that Biniam's letters were the reason that we were there.  I kept appologizing and asking him to please explain everything to Biniam.  Please, please tell him that we tried.  I begged.

We took a photo as proof we were there.

We exchanged a bit of small talk, and then we all climbed into the van together.  Rather than heading to the village, we headed to the office.  On the way there Mebratu said, "Biniam and his friends will be so sad.  They are waiting for you right now.  They know you come."

Sierra looked at me and as our eyes met, I knew we were both about 2 seconds away from an ugly cry.  I took a deep breath and whispered, "I know.  I know.  It is just so sad."

When the van stopped outside of the guys' office, the air on the street was charged.  It felt tight and unwelcoming.  We quickly unloaded Biniam's things, carried them up to the office, and explained each item.  I had a full tote of school supplies, which Mebratu happily received on behalf of the teachers and children.  (If you donated materials, I am sorry I do not have the photos and information I promised.  Ugh!  It was a sad day.)  I also had a photo book, a letter, and a backpack full of personal items for Biniam along with a big bag of teff and a jug of oil for his family.  Mebratu promised to deliver all of the items.  At one point he asked if I would come again.  I told him honestly, "If the Lord allows, I will return.  I save for three years to come here.  I am not sure if/when I will return."

We gave hugs and handshakes, then quickly filed back into the van.

In that moment, I know the peace and protection of the Lord was covering us completely.  My entire reason for the entire trip had just "gone south" and I was OK.  Sad, but OK.  Additionally, we knew danger lingered near - but we were not terrified.  We were aware, but we were OK.

We quickly headed back onto the same highway we had just traveled the day before.  

The evidence that "something" was going on soon became clear.  While driving we ran into somewhere around 6 military checkpoints.  At each of these stops, entire buses were being unloaded.  All bags were being searched.  People were standing in line waiting for clearance.  But - at each and every stop, we were simply waved through.

In this case, racial profiling worked in our favor.  The suspects were local rather than Western, so we were allowed quick clearance.

We drove quickly and quietly.

After a small eternity - or about 2.5 hours, Yilkal suggested we stop for lunch.  He said were now "safe."  And explained that he had been too nervous to eat breakfast.  Poor man.  He was so nervous about my reaction to this crummy news that he could not even eat.

We told him for the 50th time how thankful we were that God had used him to protect us.
And then we told him about 50 more times.

We later learned that the road between Hawassa and Shashamene (sp?) was closed for several days, just hours after we had driven on it.  Had we not left when Yilkal suggested, we would have been stuck somewhere.  We would have had to reschedule our flights.  Depending on where we got stuck, we could have been in danger.  Surely, God was watching over us.

I am still in awe of it all.

Let me reassure you all - we were never in danger.  We WERE near danger.  God kept us from harm and fear.  He was and is so good.

Let me also pause to be honest, I am really sad that I was not able to meet Biniam.  I am also a bit angry.  Biniam, of all the children we sponsor, does not have a momma.  She died when he was young.  I just so longed to love on him as only a momma can for a few hours.  He is also at a Care Point that does not receive frequent visitors.  Our coming would have been such fun for all the children.  It just really stinks.

I did receive these photos this last week.  I am so thankful to see he received his gifts.

 These shoes were a last minute addition.  Thanks Kristen!  I sure hope they fit.  
 The sweatshirt was once Jamison's.
It might be silly, but it makes my heart happy to think of Biniam wearing something I have washed and lovingly folded for my older son.
Biniam is 16.
One of the things we purchased for him was a Bible that is in English and Amharic.

My heart hopes that some way, some how these mere gifts allow him to feel loved and encouraged.  I was not able to hug his neck or pray over his home, yet I trust the Lord to fill each gap.
I also pray with my whole heart that these gifts make his life just a little bit easier.  Times are hard always.  This current drought makes them harder still.  May the Lord of hope be with you, my precious Biniam.  May He fill you fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him.

My friends, thank you for covering us with your prayers.
I had asked that you pray that we would do as much or as little as the Lord allowed on this particular day. He closed many doors - and I give Him praise and glory for that.  I do not understand His timing - but I am so very thankful for his protection.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Unpacking our Journey: Traveling South to Hawassa

I received a letter last fall that cemented the urgency of this trip.  It was from Biniam, the young man we have sponsored for five years, who resides in the Southern part of Ethiopia.  He asked, yet again, "When will you come?"  Though it is not the first time Biniam had asked this same question, when I read it my heart snapped and I decided that we would travel to see him ASAP.  He WAS the reason we were traveling.  The rest was icing on the cake.

(Now, don't get me wrong.  I was longing to see the five children we sponsor in Addis at Jemo Care Point, but since some member of my family had seen them each year that we have sponsored them, I did not feel as urgent about seeing them again.)

Monday morning we packed small bags and loaded into the van for the journey I had been waiting years to take!  I was on my way to meet Biniam.  I was also on my way to see the countryside in which my son, my Joshua Gebeyehe, had been born.  We would be close enough to his village that my friend Kristen suspected I could easily find his family, if I so chose.  I had NO plans to find his family.  While I long to know more, my son does not.  He has asked me emphatically NOT to locate his family of origin.  He may only be eight - but it is still his choice to make.  I will respect his wishes and trust his judgement.  Still, knowing I would be SO close made filled my heart with delight.

The drive was not what I expected.

First, the road was quite nice.

Second, coming from a rural state, I expected long stretches of nothing but plains.  Quiet stretches with few homes and fewer people.  I was totally incorrect.  There were people everywhere.  A dirt path spiraled next to the highway.  On it there was constant traffic.

Want to road trip with me?  Imagine yourself in the backseat of a van, bouncing along the rough highway with the warm Ethiopian breeze blowing in your hair.  Be prepared to brake often to avoid livestock on the road.  Brace yourself for the constant speeding up and slowing down as the van swerves along passing slower moving vehicles and dodging potholes.  But most of all, enjoy the view!

 The first 50 KM we took a newly completed freeway.  It put many of our roads to shame.

 THIS is the Ethiopia of my dreams.

I'm not a big city girl.  This rural rush is the Ethiopia I long to belong in.
 Onion harvest
 Seriously, look at the size of those birds!!!! They appear taller than the children!
 Homes varied.  Some were made of mud and straw like you see above.  Others were the stick and thatch tukuls I think of when I imagine Africa.

 Under every big, beautiful, shady tree there was either livestock or people, or both.

 We saw at least three herds of camels.
 This is a termite mound.

 There was a power line running along the highway.  My guess is that most homes had access to power.  Water is another story.

Also notice that even in the country small groups of homes are fenced in one way or another.  Most of the time vegetation was used, often cactus.

 "Roll the windows down, turn the radio up, let the wind blow through your hair"
 I was shocked by the number of livestock we saw on and near the highway.

I suspect they were searching for water.  Almost every riverbed we passed was completely dry.  The only green we saw were the leaves on the trees.  The drought is severe.

 It is so very dry and dessert-like that we saw several dirt devils.

It is a sad sight, that will only get worse in the coming days.

 Here you can see the cactus fence fairly well.

It is so very beautiful to me.

How I wish I could just fit in for a few days and experience life here.  I am sure the difficulty would un-do me, but I wish it all the same.

We arrived in Hawassa in under four hours!  We checked into our hotel and began exploring.  Our hotel, The Lewi, was located right on Lake Hawassa.  It was a beautiful, modern, pristine tropical-feeling oasis. 
 It felt SO good to be out of the van and the city and in the quiet sunshine of the lake resort.
 Lunch on the patio was first on our agenda.
 It did not take long for the monkeys to join us.

I am NOT a critter fan.  I did not enjoy the monkeys prowling around begging for a treat.

 I will be the first to admit that they are cute - but I prefer them in cages.

 The man feeding the large black monkey was the "monkey chaser."  He kept chasing the monkeys away from the tables while people ate.  And then he would take a break to feed one. . .

job security?!?
 Look at that cute little baby face!
After lunch we headed out on the lake.  I am a water lover.  I was very excited to be on the water in the sunshine.  
 My precious Kristen.  The only downside to a week and a half away together is that I miss you so much now.  Love you, my friend.
 The boat we took on the lake.
 Those life jackets were FAR from US Coast Guard approved - but we made it home safely!
 It was a very calm day.
I adore how the reflections came through in many of these photos.

 The edges of the lake were brimming with life.  Some people were swimming.  Some were bathing.  Some were washing clothes.  Some were watering livestock.   Some were on a post Valentine date, right Grant?!?  Some were fishing.  It was really neat to observe all the life around us.  And everyone smiled and waved at us as we floated by.

 We had hoped to see hippos, but this baby alligator was about the only sea creature we caught a glimpse of.  Oh well, maybe there will be a next time?

 The kids pointed out this soccer field located lakeside.  We had a good giggle over all the livestock taking part in practice!

 I loved watching the fishermen.  Some had platforms like the one above made of boards and barrels.

 I am so thankful for the clean, plentiful, running water I have in my home.  My life is SO much easier because of it.
 Most of the fishermen were more like fisherboys.  And they had platforms of woven reeds that they stood or sat on while fishing.

 We were lucky enough to watch two young fishermen catch fish.  We cheered and yelled "Go Bez!"  (Good job!) and they were so pleased!  It was a highlight for me.  Joshua would love to fish that way.

 These men were fishing with a net.  I imagine it is similar technology to the fishing it describes in the Bible.
 Tsige and Grant sharing a secret.
 Sisters and friends, what a blessing.

 After the wonderful ride on the lake, the kids took a quick swim.
 The pool area was beautiful and relaxing.  But a shower was calling my name.  I headed back to our room and enjoyed a long, hot shower.

We enjoyed a sunset, lakeside dinner.  Minus the cats prowling around, it was perfectly serene.  Thanks to the drought there are no mosquitoes, so the cool night air was peaceful and calm.

We headed back to our rooms fairly early, excited about the day ahead!