Friday, September 30, 2005

Debrief: Operation Ethiopia 2005

A Month Of Miracles

Finally, it’s here. My Ethiopia update. I apologize for the long delay but hope that you will be blessed even now as you read what awesome things God has done in me (and hopefully through me) over the past months.

May was my month of miracles and it culminated in my trip to Ethiopia. In the beginning of May, my landlord/roommate told me that he was being transferred with his job and was selling the house. We all needed to be out of the house by the end of the month. This automatically created some challenges for me since I had exactly three weeks to find a new place to live, move and leave for Ethiopia. Challenging to say the least. This might not have been so difficult if I didn’t have Paddington, my dog, to find a place for as well. Not only a new house to live in that would accept a dog, but feeling comfortable enough to leave him for my ten days while I was in Ethiopia.

As always, God is incredibly faithful and by the end of the week I had interviewed with a potential living situation. As it turned out this was exactly the place God had prepared for me. I found the house on the Internet through a church website. There are three Christian women living there and they fell in love with Paddington when he accompanied me for the interview.

At the same time, one of my current roommates offered to take care of Paddington for me while I was in Ethiopia and until I could get settled in my new house. This took such a burden off of me especially since she really cared about Paddington and he liked her as well.

I was now two weeks away from leaving on my trip and I still needed about half of the funds ($1,200). I had a back up plan that would have been difficult for me financially, but I was still trusting the Lord that I was supposed to go on this trip and that all of my needs would be taken care of. With a week and a half to go, I received a financial update from the church and to my surprise, an anonymous donor had contributed $800. I was so overwhelmed at God’s goodness that I almost cried. I told a friend at work that this put me $200 short of my goal. She immediately wrote out a check totaling the $200. I was so blessed by her generosity. Two days later I received another update from the church and the same anonymous donor had given an additional $400. I was stunned. When God provides, He does so in amazing and unexpected ways. I still have no idea who the donor was but I pray God’s blessings upon them mightily. If they are reading this, know that God has used you to bless and encourage me immensely and confirm once again that He is our Jehovah Jireh (God our Provider)!

By the time I arrived at the airport to meet my team on May 23, I felt like I had already seen God’s hand touch my life and I felt that the trip to Ethiopia wasn’t the destination but simply the capstone of a month of incredible insight into the character of our Heavenly Father.


Our first full day in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was spent touring the different ministry sites of Pastor Uncle Betta and Pastor Zeb Mengistu. Pastor Uncle Betta was dear friends with my pastor’s father and the two families grew up together. The Mengistu’s are Ethiopian and spent many years in Kenya establishing an Assemblies of God church there. In recent years, they felt called to expand the church into Ethiopia and now have somewhere around 40 locations around the country with thousands of people attending the church. Ethiopia has a strong Ethiopian Orthodox tradition and the evangelical movement is regarded with suspicion. About half of the country is Muslim as well.

Nonetheless, the church is thriving and there are plans to build a huge sanctuary capable of holding ten thousand people right in the middle of Addis. It will be the largest evangelical church besides the mosques and Orthodox churches. We went onto the piece of property and gathered around Pastor Uncle Betta and we prayed for the Spirit of God to impact the nation. I felt as though I was standing on holy ground and wanted to take my shoes off and weep before the Lord. It was one of the most intense spiritual moments of my life. I saw this church and this property as a sanctuary for the lost and hurting people of Ethiopia, much as God established cities of refuge in the Old Testament when the land was being developed for the nation of Israel. This was the prayer I prayed and I am excited about seeing the reality established. We also visited the new location of the International Church that Uncle Betta’s son Zeb is establishing. There are so many miracles associated with this ministry that I don’t have the room or time to tell of all of them except to say that God is working in Ethiopia and it was awesome to see how strong His Spirit is in the land. Ethiopia is the third poorest country in the world which makes the physical needs overwhelming, but the spiritual needs are just as essential. Throughout our visit we spent much time in prayer with and for the ministry of Pastor Zeb and Uncle Betta. The blessings of heaven just poured out!

The Mercy Center

The Mercy Center is the tangible way the church is ministering to the needs of the people. Pastor Uncle Betta’s wife is in charge of the Center where women are brought in from the streets and taught practical skills such as cooking and sewing. In fact, they catered all of our meals while were there and let me tell you, I haven’t eaten such delicious food in a long time. They are incredible! Pastor Zeb’s wife Yami told me that the Ethiopians are like the Italians when it comes to food – they LOVE to eat good food. The Center also has programs for kids on Saturday, tutoring programs throughout the week, and a nursery school for the younger children. Child sponsorship is the primary means of financial support. The Center is a community where the sewing classes sew the uniforms for the children who are being tutored and the cooks provide the food for the children. The women earn a living while using their skills to improve the lives of the children. It’s a win/win for everyone and has had quite an impact on those involved. We were able to put on a program for the kids and had so much fun with the puppets, singing songs, and performing skits. Of course they loved getting the candy the best!

We also put together a program for the teenagers and myself and another teammate shared our testimonies. Many of the kids are orphans or have lost a parent from AIDS. I shared about the fact that God never leaves us or forsakes us and with the help of a translator, shared about the loss I suffered when my mom died. I shared the loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety I had felt and how God revealed himself to me so that no matter what happened in the physical world, I knew that He was always by my side and that He would always provide for me. It was so great to feel that connection and to be able to offer that promise of a brighter tomorrow because of Jesus Christ.

Our last day in Ethiopia was spent at the nursery school playing games with the children in the courtyard, giving them gifts of pencils, paints, notebooks, and little bags and praying over each of these precious little ones. The children are beautiful and it was hard not to stuff a couple of them in my suitcase.

An African Safari

We were so lucky to be able to have an African Safari experience while in Ethiopia. Talk about struggling missionaries. Addis Ababa is situated about 8,000 feet above sea level so the weather was very mild with no humidity. At night we had to wear long sleeves! When we headed out of the city a couple hundred kilometers to the lowlands and Awash National Park, the temperatures dramatically increased and we felt like we were truly in Africa. Pastor Zeb had arranged for a tour company to take care of the arrangements and when Teddy and his crew showed up in old Land Rovers and dusty trucks, we knew we were going to have a blast. On our way to the park we stopped along the side of the road for a picnic lunch and happened upon a nomadic tribesman herding his cows. He leaned against a tree with his staff dressed in a white toga like outfit and watched us. There were no problems until my two pastors decided to pretend they were on the Discovery Channel and began filming the “vicious cows”. Then the head of the tribe ran up to us wielding a machine gun and demanding payment for the pictures. Teddy paid him off with a couple birr (around a quarter or fifty cents) and we were on our way. It wasn’t very serious, but that story grew until it became our first brush with death experience.

We headed to camp which was all set up with tents and a long table set up under the acacia trees. There were baboons running wild through the camp and we had an armed guard to protect us over night from the wild life. We jumped on top of the jeeps and headed through the bush to see what we could see. We saw camels, wild boars, lots of antelope and many different kinds of birds. We saw a huge river running through a canyon all green and lush. It reminded us of the Grand Canyon and the verse where it talks about streams of living water. Pretty awesome Creator! That night around the campfire we could hear lions roaring in the distance. The next day we drove up to some hot springs heated by underground volcanic activity and enjoyed (or endured) a swim in the hot waters.

Habitat for Humanity: Ethiopia Style

Back in the city, it was time for some hard labor and we spent a day helping to build two homes for some needy women that had been identified by the local church and the Mercy Center. In Ethiopia, the majority of homes are made from mud and straw mixed together. When it dries it is as hard as a rock and provides a decent shelter even when it rains. The houses we built consisted of one room with four walls, a tin roof, wooden door, and a dirt floor. No running water, no electricity, no carpet. Pretty extreme housing. The walls are made with wooden poles in the four corners and then cross beams tied with rope and secured by one nail. Then wooden slats are roped together vertically to form the walls themselves. Meanwhile the mud and straw need to be mixed together and the only way to do that is to get dirty. So off came the shoes and squish, squish, squish we stomped our way to some building material. It made the story of the Israelites in Egypt mixing straw and mud together for bricks so much more real. It was a hard job but we had fun. Once the mud was finished, you literally throw it onto the walls which are simply the wooden slats and twine. It sticks and you smooth it down. That’s all there is to building a house in Ethiopia.

As Americans, we wanted to get the job done so we really pushed the Ethiopian workers quickly. We almost finished one entire house and the Ethiopians were really amazed because they never get a house done in one day. We were able to pray with the owners and bless them and hear how their hearts were blessed by our work. We praise God for the chance to show His love and kindness. One of my teammates and I spent some time where we were working to play with the kids that had gathered around us to watch. We sang songs and did silly dances causing much laughter all around. One little boy is called Horror by the other kids (even though that is not his real name) because they think he is ugly. We prayed over him from a distance and called out that his name should be Isaac, or laughter, because he should bring joy in the hearts of those around and in God’s heart. It was great to spread the love of God.

The End?

There were so many other stories and moments that happened over the course of the trip but I wanted to share some of the highlights and give you some insight into what happened in Ethiopia and in my heart. The trip didn’t provide the incredible rush I was expecting from traveling and being on a mission trip. But the memories I have and the people that I met and the knowledge I have of this beautiful country remind me of God’s faithfulness and love for all generations and all people. I’m not sure if I will ever go back to Ethiopia, but I am grateful for the chance I had to go and learn and bless and be blessed.

Perhaps the biggest blessing I received was during a team meeting. During the course of the trip, each night several team members would briefly share their testimony and then we would gather around and pray for them. When it was my turn, one of the girls had a picture in her mind that she spoke out. It was of a calico cat in a sailboat just sailing along perfectly content with the sun by day and the stars guiding by night. She felt silly telling me this because she thought it was really strange. During my sharing, I hadn’t mentioned anything about sailing being a part of my life, so I knew this was of God. Her interpretation of the picture was just sailing along, content. Since graduating from grad school and simply working, I have been wondering, praying, and seeking God about what is next. Am I in the right place doing the right thing? I took this word as confirmation that right now I just need to sail along, content in the knowledge that I am in the right place at the right time doing the right thing and God is guiding me by day and by night. Pretty awesome for me and I have been trying to walk in that knowledge the past few months.

Thank you for being part of my life and for your support, encouragement, and interest in me and my life. I pray that I will be an example of God’s faithfulness and grace. You, my friends and family are a huge part of ensuring that seek Him first and foremost above all else. My love to you all.