Sunday, January 31, 2010

Engaging with the Divine

Jan 10

Yesterday, we took a tour of the hospital (pictured above) and went hiking at Crater Lake. The hospital was cool, and we even walked into rooms were patients were staying/recovering. We walked to the KG (kindergarten) compound, and Dr. Tyner gave us the tour. It was really nice. The classrooms have a lot of material resources for the teacher to use with the kids. After that we headed back for some free time and then lunch.

After lunch, we headed out with some of the older house boys and the other volunteers to hike Crater Lake. The drive took about 45 minutes (plus a lot of will power to get the bus up some loose gravel hills), but it was an enjoyable ride. My roommate and I had a really good conversation and got to know each other on a little bit deeper level.

The hike was beautiful, although the interesting thing about it was that we constantly had an entourage of village children following us around and even acting as our guides. We meant to bring a big bag of candy to hand out to them, but we forgot it and felt really bad about forgetting it. They were really helpful to us, especially when a big group of us headed down the path of doom down to the bottom of the crater. We had to hike down (or slide down) a treacherous loose gravel path to get to the bottom. We pulled at branches as we got stuck in the butt and sought to find our footing on large fixed rocks. Reaching the bottom was really neat because we were able to touch the water that was so far from us when we stood at the top of the crater, but it took a really long time to get there. Going back up was significantly less slippery, although one of our girls had a scary spill, and we were all struggling to breathe as dust flew up around us and stuck in our teeth. It was a great challenge, though.

We stopped in Butajira on the way back, and someone picked up a case of Cokes for us to drink at dinner, which was such a treat. After dinner, we had our meeting and then most of the group went star gazing out at the basketball court. That was a genuine time of team bonding where we let loose, joked, and laughed together.

When I came back, I had a great conversation with two of my tukol-mates about some competitive issues that had taken place the day we had all been playing with the house kids on the playground. As a team, we were able to talk about these issues tonight at our team meeting/devos. I prayed a lot about what I was going to share, and I really feel like God led me in preparing for it today.

Today was a great day-- we attended church and were able to see a passionate people worship fully and invite the Spirit of God to dwell there. I felt very comfortable and welcome. Some of the people in the church took the initiative to help translate the sermon for us. I took the opportunity to really pray and worship our most powerful God. The Ethiopians give God the glory and praise He deserves. Prayer is central to their service along with music (worship). They even sing some of their prayers. I love that Jesus, Hallelujah, and Amen are all universal church words. I was able to hear those words spoken in the service, and I even took advantage of the worship times by humming the melodies, clapping the beats, and swaying to the music. I whispered my prayers and spoke "amen" alongside the Ethiopians, which was a powerful experience.

I took time today to play music, pray, write Joe a letter (today is our one year anniversary), and pray and prepare for the team devotional. Today was also a play-study day with the house kids. I learned a few more names today: Snafikish (another extremely beautiful girl), Shobeza, Medihin, Mulubrahan, Armani, Solomon (pictured below with Armani), Werkanesh, and many others. I love being able to continually build up relationships with those kids. I will miss them.

Tonight we met with our prayer partners and teaching partners to prepare our hearts and minds for our full week of teaching this coming week. My prayer is for peace and flexibility.

House Kids

Jan 9

Yesterday was a wonderful day for interacting with the house kids. The morning was teaching prep time and free time for reading, journaling, etc. I took that time (after prepping with James, my teaching partner) to read the textbook, "There's No Me Without You," and study Amharic a little bit. Then after lunch and after our group prep time (and a little nap), I went down to the playground to play and interact with the house kids that were down there. I played volleyball, basketball, and jumped rope. I got to know some of the girls a lot better and a few of the boys. Lemlem, Senite, Sahi (Sun), Jijertu (Jiji), Tesfahonne (Tesfa), Natenael (pictured), Ashenofi (Ashu), Desta, Yerusalem (Yerus), and some others whose names have escaped me. I really connected with two individuals today, specifically Jiji and Ashu.

Jiji is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. She is slightly hesitant around our team, although on the basketball court she was bossing some younger girls around a little bit. I saw her and another girl arguing in a game of Around the World (or something similar). I got to know her a little bit better when I approached her, asked her name, and told her she has a very beautiful voice. She was the worship leader for the children during the Christmas service, and she sang with the purist tone I have heard since we've been here. All of the children have beautiful voices and are very talented in music.I found out more about Jiji as she asked me about my family and we talked about school, sports, and other things. She was my right hand girl for the afternoon.

Another student who I talked to was Ashu. He is 16 and in 8th grade and speaks very clear English (Jiji is 12 and in grade 6). Ashu played basketball with us, which was my introduction to him, but later he approached me and told me he has always wanted to learn guitar. I was simply ecstatic and told him I would love to teach him sometime. I told him that there is an extra guitar in the dining hall and that we could maybe use it. I hope that none of this seemed like a promise to him so that if it doesn't end up happening he doesn't feel betrayed. I need to check with Randall (one of our team leaders and a Project Mercy employee) if that one on one time between genders would be culturally inappropriate. I also hope that it is possible for me to take time out of our schedule to teach him. We talked more about his family-- he has 2 sisters and 3 brothers, and his family mostly lives in Addis. His sisters are both married, one living in Addis and the other living near Yetebon in Butajira. Some of his siblings attended school at Project Mercy in the past, and he has been here for five years.

After dinner we had our team meeting and we sat and talked for a little while in our tukol. Someone came in and mentioned a star walk, and we ended up gathering as a big group to go lay under the stars. We walked from the main part of the compound, past the grove of trees (I love the word grove by the's just cool! haha), and into a dark, hilly field where we settled on a grassy knoll and scoped out the sky. I talked with Randall on the way out about the possible role of music education could have at Project Mercy because of how talented the children are in music and because of Ashenofi's interest in learning guitar and learning more about music. He said he would have to talk to the headmaster, Ato Getachew, about what that would look like. He said that I might have to teach a lower elementary English class alongside music classes. I would really love to see myself having that kind of role here, if God wills it.

I am feeling much more comfortable with the culture and the people around the compound than I did on the first day. Even though I still feel like I don't know much about the culture, I feel like I am not afraid to engage and learn (at least not as afraid as I was the first day we were here). I'm sure by the end of the trip I will feel much more comfortable, at least on the compound. I feel like the culture outside the compound is much different, and going into town, further away from the compound, it gets even more different. I feel like if I stayed here long-term I would feel more comfortable with those outside cultures than I will in my time here. This is understandable, and I am okay with it.

Christmas in January

Jan 7

Today was another busy day for the Taylor Lighthouse team in Ethiopia. We attended and "performed" for the Christmas morning service; we took a tour of the compound with Deme (Marta and Deme are the founders of Project Mercy) and heard about Project Mercy's history a little bit; we performed a 4pm music and drama program for the house kids (the kids who live at Project Mercy); we walked around the outside of the compound, up to the hospital to find kids who were playing gana (a game played only on Christmas); we came back for dinner and went caroling after our team time together.

After these past few days, I have played more guitar in a small amount of time than I EVER have. It's great practice for me, but sometimes I feel like my guitar skills are lacking. Yesterday, Julie, Heidi, and I tried to find as much time to practice as possible because we knew we should prepare something for the services today. We practiced in the morning before lunch, in the afternoon before dinner, and in the evening after dinner. I also played for one of our dramas since our CD player is in one of the missing bags. We performed it for the morning service, practice before the 4pm service, during the 4pm service, and after dinner. So much more playing than I normally do! It's just crazy to me, but I'm glad for all the opportunities. I was really nervous for the morning service (and a little for the 4pm service), but both went really smoothly. Praise God for that definitely.

Hearing Deme speak today and experiencing the tour with him was really a privilege and a blessing for me. I love the passion he has for Project Mercy and the ministry God is doing through it. It really is amazing to me how clearly God's hand has been in the history of this place and its purposes. God has brought along the right people with the right passions and needs at the right time, and it is truly a blessing for me to see that. I feel really passionate about the ways that Project Mercy is ministering to the community at large by helping provide small business and other job opportunities, growing food for the people of Ethiopia, bringing in children of all backgrounds (mostly poor and rural) to be educated in nice quality facilities, providing skill building opportunities for men and women alike, finding sustainable ways of living to teach to the Ethiopians in the community (tukol design, growing crops, water sources), and empowering the community so that they can take ownership of the things that are happening instead of it being solely a Project Mercy project or idea. This is similar to what my church back home is seeking to do in their community as well, and I hope I can learn some things from this experience to bring back home with me.

This is one of the gardens on the compound in which they grow food not only to feed those who live on the compound but also to feed people outside the compound and sell to people so they can take it to market and make a profit. They also use some non native foods to make the food more marketable, and they use agricultural techniques that are new to the people to teach them how to better grow their own crops.

Talking to children outside of the compound today was a really good thing for me and also and eye-opening experience for me to better understand how the culture views us as white Americans. I got to know a few girls pretty well just from putting myself out there a little bit. I got to know names, grades, and ages, but the most fun part was being able to make fun of them and tease them a little after they made fun of me for not speaking Amharic or knowing what they were saying. I caught on, though, and it was really cool and unique to be able to engage with them in that way. The language barrier works in humor's favor. Some boys came up to me and were teasing me and being rambunctious, and the girls that I was with defended me and told me to ignore them. It was cute, and I felt like that was an indicator of some small trust or personal connection that we were able to develop in that short time of speaking only a few English phrases to one another (name, age, grade). They also taught me a little Amharic (or tried to teach me), which I also thought was cool. After we visited those kids, we came back for dinner.

I am really that we are able to eat with other American volunteers. It is really fun to be able to glean their knowledge of this place, the culture, and the school style. What is even cooler is getting to know their stories and how similar and different they are from our own life stories.

Being able to experience a Christmas service in Amharic was also really neat, especially because the children had taken on the responsibility of planning and participating in the majority of the worship part of the service. They were so cute and such a blessing. They put on a little Christmas pageant-- it was fun to see them do their kid thing, messing up some transitions and stuff. The congregation would laugh just like we would if our American kids were putting on a kids program that had some natural hesitations and missed cues in it. It reminded me that people are people and that children are children no matter where you are in the world. That moment was one where I felt connected to the people, sort of like I was in on the joke for once.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Jan 6

I am definitely a big picture person, which is one of the things that brought me here. Now that I am here, however, I should focus on the smaller things because that's where I have been called and that's where I am needed. I am really excited to take each day as is comes now that I am here and beginning to feel more settled. Today, things are feeling much more hopeful. Dembelle and Birhanne took Julie and I around the compound a little bit, which really helped me feel more comfortable being here. They showed us the house kids' dormitory, the gardens, the sports fields, the basket-weaving building, the stables (they were milking a cow-- an unusual sight in Ethiopia because their cows are so malnourished), the bead-making studio. We were privileged to talk with these girls to get to know them and Project Mercy better. We watched Dembelle make a beautiful heart bead, and both she and Birhanne talked to us about their favorite subjects and other school-related things. Birhanne is a teacher and is finishing up her 12th grade studies in Chemistry. I had a harder time understading Dembelle's English, but I believe she has already taken the National exam, not passed, and continues to work at Project Mercy, making beads, working in the kitchen, and teaching other women to makes beads.

Dembelle was very captivating to me. She liked the garden a lot and even picked some of the fruits to show us (not really allowed). Birhanne did most of the talking and even relayed some of what Dembelle was saying to us, but I spent more time with Dembelle and talking with her. They are both very delightful girls, and I am very excited to get to know others as well. I am extremely grateful overall to be here, and I will continue to trust in the Lord's strength and find hope in His purpose for our time here.

Switching Gears

Hello everyone! I am back from my African adventure, and have lived to tell about it, avoiding the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down the day before our flight.

I thought that since we had very limited communication with anyone back home that it would be cool for you all to read some blogs about my time there. I would love to share stories with you all, and I think writing them out is the best way for me to communicate them to so many people in so many places. A big thanks and shout out to all who wrote me very encouraging notes and emails before I left. It really helped me prepare my heart for a month of service in another country. SO THANK YOU ALL for your support!!!

I wrote in a journal pretty much daily while we there except on the days that I was sick. (More about that later.) Here's my first entry dated January 5, 2010:

The past 2 hours have been extremely overwhelming, especially since the plane landed, we drove through Addis, and then drove about 3-4 hours to get to Project Mercy. Addis was a very intimidating place for me. The store fronts look very different from the vague expectations I held in my mind before we got there. The people dress differently in a large spectrum, some looking more normal to me than others. The language has a beautiful flowing sound to it, but I am overwhelmed by not being ale to understand anyone.

I am generally on who comprehends things through observation, but observing the culture so far has led me to little understanding. I have never interacted with a non-Western culture before and have only spent 10 days in a country that doesn't speak English fluently, so engaging with the culture of Ethiopia is going to have to come in a different way than engaging with other cultures, and I know this is a huge adjustment for me. Hopefully the adjustment can happen quickly as I spend more time exploring the compound and getting to know the children.

When we arrived in the country, I arrived having formed many ideals while preparing for this trip. When I saw Addis ad observed all the towns we passed while driving down to Project Mercy, I felt very hopeless. I had come in thinking that I would be able to connect immediately with the culture and that my lifestyle as one who (compared to other Americans) relies little upon material goods and luxuries would be somewhat similar to the lifestyle of the Ethiopians. When I saw the city and the countryside, my mindset changed because I better understood that I am in a completely different culture, and the only way I can come to feel connected to it is by intentionally engaging with it, as I stated earlier.

Another ideal with which I came in was that I would connect so quickly and easily with the culture and the people that I would want to stay here and serve long-term with Project Mercy. I really respect everything I have learned about the ministry of Project Mercy, and I feel like I could work to promote that ministry, but once we drove through Addi and the small towns and villages, I felt as though I might not be able to help out at all, and that staying here long-term is not even in the picture.

I feel that my presence in Ethiopia (and the presence of Americans/white people in general) is viewed in a fairly negative way, like some are suspicious, and that made me feel very uncomfortable as we drove through the city. We stopped to pick up water in Addis, and there were some older teenagers (maybe in their twenties) who were watching our bus full of ferengis (foreigners) and talking about us. I made eye contact with them and observed them. They saw my large bottle of water and said something. I saw the word "wuha" (the Amharic word for water), and I showed them my bottle in response and mouthed "wuha." They saw me, and with seemingly smug looks on their faces proceeded to mock me/us. I was very confused because I had no idea what they were saying, but whatever it was, they seemed unhappy that we were there.

Throughout our drive to Project Mercy from the airport, people would give a mixture of looks when they saw our bus. Some were happy and waved (mostly children), others gave no response, and others had angry faces and seemed to mutter angry words. One thing that comforts me in all this, though, is that we are working with an Ethiopian missionary organization founded and run by Ethiopians. The last thing I want to promote is the "white Americans coming to save the day" mentality.

I want my heart to be in a place of humility in knowing that I am but a small part of a big thing and that I am here to serve Ethiopia and not to bring along my big ideas (and ideals) to a country that I know hardly anything about and have little connection or experience with. I want to come and help move Ethiopia in a stable direction with what little gifts I can offer. I want to promote what is best for Ethiopia. I want to understand what is best for Ethiopia, what direction the people desire to move, what economic and political things are best for Ethiopia so that I can help promote those things.

Right now, as I serve at Project Mercy teaching English, I believe that (in the context of the world right now) helping children/people in Ethiopia to learn English is one of the primary ways to strengthen a country and help promote its future. I am glad and thankful that I can be a part of an organization that wants to better the country and strengthen the people here. I feel that God has a hand in the work Marta and Deme are doing to aid their country and to promote its role in the world.