Friday, September 30, 2011

Ethiopia Mission Day #7

Today we were in Shone Ethiopia. The rest of the story is coming soon but until then enjoy an amazing video.

Ethiopia Mission Day #4

Today we took a break from our work and went on a trip to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. The team discussed it and we all decided that we really wanted our good friend Fikre to join us on the trip. We got him an airplane ticket and made plans for him to join us. Fikre was so excited about the trip. He has read all about Lalibela but has never had an opportunity to go and visit. Lalibela is one of the most holy places in Ethiopia second only to Axum. Axum is where the Ark of the Covenant is supposed to have been lost. It was taken from Jurusalem to Ethiopia by the legendary son of King Solomon and Queen Sheiba. During a time of conflict with Muslims the ark was transported around to different churches to ensure its safety. It is believed based on symbology found in the Church of Mary at Lalibela that it was kept there for some time before being returned to Axum.

We were up and ready to leave the guest house by 5 AM in order to make our 7 AM flight to Lalibela. We had a brief layover in Bah Hadir before arriving in Lalibela at around 9:15 AM. Our guide, Halie Mariam (aka Mario) was there waiting to greet us. Our visit to Lalibela happened to coincide with a religious holiday for the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. The holiday is called the Lost Cross. They celebrate with a ceremony that includes a large fire. Mario had decorated the floor of the van with herbal grasses and flowers that smelled amazing. We loaded up in the van and drove the 25 kilometers between the airport and the town of Lalibela. The airport is located this far away because it is the first patch of flat ground that is big enough to allow for a runway. Between the airport and the town of Lalibela you gain around 2,500 feet in elevation. The views are unbelievable and the terrain is green with all the rain that has fallen over their rainy season.

We arrived at the Mountain View hotel around 9:50 AM, checked in and then proceeded directly to the stone churches of Lalibela. There are hardly words to describe the effort that went into planning and building these churches that are literally carved downwardly into the rock of the mountain. There are two sets of churches in addition to a single church by itself called St. George's church. The lower set of churches represent the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They are arranged in a crucifix patter with a head church, heart church (Church of Mary), two arm churches and a feet church. The upper set of churches represent heaven. The final church that is set apart from the other two groups was the last church built and is the masterpiece of King Lalibela's creation. This church was dedicated to St. George and it reflects the experience gained while building all of the other churches. We toured the lower set of churches before lunch and then returned to the hotel for a two hour lunch break. The churches close for two hours to allow for lunch and prayer services. We returned to the tour the upper set of churches and St. George's church at 2 PM. When we were finished with the tour we attended part of the Lost Cross ceremony. It rained during the ceremony so many of the people dispersed to find shelter. When the rain stopped we walked around town and visited various places including a honey wine bar where we partook in the local culture. FYI… The honey wine is potent! Around 7 PM we headed back to our hotel for dinner. The chef at the hotel had talked to us at lunch and had planned on preparing a special Jamaican dish for us for dinner. We enjoyed a Jamaican chicken stew for dinner and discussed our experiences over the past several days. A few of us went back out after dinner to explore more of the town. We met some kids on the way home and ended up partaking in a festival dance around a fire to celebrate the Lost Cross holiday. It was certainly an experience to remember.

Ethiopia Mission Day #3

Today was truly awesome!!! We went back to Greenlight after a quick stop at Ethiopian Airlines to finalize plans for our friend Fikre to join us in Lalibela tomorrow. Fikre has never flown before and he is really excited about going to Lalibela. We were all so happy to be able to include Fikre on this special trip tomorrow.

At Greenlight today we got to do some amazing things with the kids. We started the day off by giving them new soccer balls and playing a pickup game with them inside the church tent. They had a blast and there were soccer balls flying everywhere. We followed up the soccer with some american football in the street. Some of the older kids took to Football quite well and were throwing and catching some great passes. We went shopping for paint brushes and a bucket and started painting the inside of the new kitchen building. They use oil based paint here and they thinned the paint with Kerosene so needless to say we had to rotate quite frequently to get fresh air. I think we collectively lost about a billion brain cells to paint fumes. Pete had his tunes pumping and we were slinging paint everywhere.

After we were finished painting we took a walk down to the village where many of the kids live. We were able to visit the homes of several of the kids. On the way there the kids held our hands and led us on the mile or so walk to their villages. Jim got to visit Leul's house and see his grandparents and aunts. I was able to visit our sponsor child Hannah's house and meet her sister. Hannah took a liking to John and didn't let him out of her sight. It was a very moving experience to see how proud these kids were to show us where they lived and I think the pictures of their homes will speak for themselves (when I have an internet connection that will allow me to upload them). I personally was so humbled and moved to see how happy these kids are given their circumstances. It really shows you that happiness is not found in the material things that so frequently dominate our lives. After about a half hour in their village we headed back quickly to avoid a rain shower that was closing in our us.

When we got back to Greenlight we broke out the crates of care packages and shoes. The kids were so excited to receive the care packages that many of you so thoughtfully packed for them. We hung out for a hour or more while they ate candy, tried on clothes and traded items back and forth. They ran around the church and it was so heart warming to see the joy on their faces. After we finished we had another coffee ceremony which is such a huge part of Ethiopian culture. They spend about 1 hour preparing the coffee and the popcorn and then everyone sits around and talks for another hour. We all commented on how we wished that we had something like this back in American that united everyone and provided a way for people to really connect and share time together.

After the coffee ceremony we took a tour of the women's project that Asrat and his wife Amy created. These women spend their days creating spices and necklaces that are shipped over to American and sold. The funds come back to their community and are used to pay the women wages that help them support their families. It is really a wonderful opportunity for these women and their families. After buying some Berbere and Chile spices we headed back to meet some friends at Kaldis for an afternoon Machiatto. Kaldis is basically an exact replica of Starbucks and they are located all over the city just like Starbucks back home. On the way to Kalidis we stopped off in an open field where we went for the past two days to eat the lunch that the guest house packed for us. There was a group of kids who shepherd the animals in the field who shared our lunch with us each day. We dropped of a new soccer ball for them and then continued on our way. At Kaldis we met the Ethiopian In-Country HopeChest Director and the private investigator that is going to help us find out more information about Gigi and Eli. Pete and I were so moved by what this man had to say. He has helped many families find out more information about their adopted children. We are sending him the information that we have on the kids and he is going to investigate and find out any additional information that he can. He is confident that he will be able to reveal new information for us. On Wednesday he and Fikre are going to go back to the site where Eli was found and they are going to try and locate the young man that left Eli on the path. I am so excited to possible find out more information about Eli's biological family.

After our meeting at Kaldis we came back to the Ethiopian Guest House and had pizza for dinner and got packed up for our trip to Lalibela tomorrow. Please pray for a safe trip tomorrow and some rest and relaxation before our next trip to Southern Ethiopia on Wednesday through Friday. We will be visiting Look Development in Adama on Wednesday and then on to Look Development in Shone for Thursday and Friday. With any luck when we return on Friday the private investigator may have some new information for us.

Everyone is doing great and we are really excited about the rest of the trip and the kids that we will meet. There are over 200 kids at the care point / orphanage in Shone. We may not be able to post as regularly once we leave Addis but we will update everyone as soon as possible. Thanks again for the prayers and support. We are truly blessed to be on this trip and everyone is in awe of the things that we have seen and experienced.

P.S. - I didn't mention it during the blog yesterday but we actually witnessed something very amazing. A very distraught mother arrived at church late on Sunday carrying her tiny baby who was dropped and was not responding or breathing. Asrat held the baby and prayed over her and she became responsive again after a few minutes. He explained that when he took her from her mother's arms her legs were cold and she appeared lifeless. As he prayed over her she began to warm and she opened her eyes. It was an unbelievable thing to witness and we didn't fully understand what was going on until he explained it to us later that day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ethiopia Mission Day #2

Today was an event filled day. We had breakfast around 6 AM local time and headed off around 7:30 AM. Our first destination was Arada sub city in Addas Ababa. I looked back at a picture we had taken of the school that was next to where Eli was found and was able to get the name of the school. With the help of our friend Fikre and some locals in the area we were able to locate the school and the location where Eli was found. This time it was not pouring rain and I was able to talk to several of the locals. We talked to a couple of kids that remembered what had happened and they went and got two adults who provided us with great information. One lady who lived right next to the school remembered exactly what had happened. She told us that she and others had seen a young man leave Eli on the path. The police were called and when they arrived they pointed out the young man and he was detained by the police. The lady was there and heard the young man tell the police that Eli's biological mother had left him alone with Eli andy that he could not take care of him so he left him on the path. She told us that she thinks she knows where the young man lives. Andrea and Pete Kidd passed along the name of a private investigator in Ethiopia that I am going to meet with this week and enlist his help to find the young man. There should be a police report and he will try to find that so that we can get a name. If we are able to find this young man we may be able to find out information about where Eli came from. I am so excited to be able to find out information to tell Eli when he is older. I am also excited to let them know that Eli is doing well. Please pray that this new information would lead to us finding out about Eli's biological parents.

We left Arada sub city and headed to Greenlight Ministry around 10 AM. We attended church for two hours and then spent the rest of the afternoon building concrete floors for the three rooms of the new kitchen. Just as we were about done it poured raining and we retreated indoors for a coffee ceremony. The coffee we drank was so strong that I am wondering if I will ever be able to fall asleep again. We left Greenlight around 5 PM and headed back to the Ethiopia guesthouse to freshen up and head to dinner. We went to dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant where we feasted on Anjera and all sorts of Ethiopian food. We were entertained with traditional dancing and a few of us actually got to join in on the dancing fun. Now we are back at the Ethiopian guest house and everyone is journaling and getting ready to go to bed. Overall this was a great day and we got to spend some time with a handful of the kids from Greenlight. The kids are so cute. There was one little girl name Deborah that I want to bring home. She sat next to me during the church service and she kept looking over and smiling at me the whole time. Jim got to meet his sponsor child Laul and he hung out with Jim for the entire church service.

Tomorrow we will go back to Greenlight and we will paint the inside and outside of the new kitchen and help with installing the cabinets, sink and countertops. We will also get to see all of the kids and give them the care packages and gifts that many of you sent over. I will take pictures and video for everyone to see. Asrat, who is the leader of the Greenlight ministry, has invited us over to his house for lunch next Saturday. He is such a wonderful and godly man and we have discussed him coming to America next year to help us with our annual fundraiser. Thanks again for all the prayers and support. Everyone is doing well and we are excited about the rest of the mission trip and the work we will be doing and the relationships that we are building. Praise God for this awesome opportunity.