Walking to church was like torture, like we were walking to a funeral of someone very close to us. The funeral of our experience. I really wish we could have just packed up and left in the morning and not have drawn out the process any longer than that. We went to church, though, and it is always such a blessing to be involved in the Amharic worship services. The people that worship there belong to a spiritually fervent community who truly seeks to praise God and continually seek him. I have loved the moments where I can enter into prayer in my own language and in my own heart while at the same time, those around me are praying and singing in a language foreign to me, yet God hears us all. I have also loved the moments when I am able to pick out the melodies of their songs and hum along (or even sing along if I can recognize some of the words). The church services are very special.
Today, the kids were all writing us goodbye notes during church (or we were writing what they were telling us to write), and after we performed the congregation prayed for . Some of our team members lost their composure completely and wept before the body of people in front of us. When the kids saw us getting emotional, they started to realize what was happening and also began to weep. We left before the service ended. We tried to slip out, but as the last of us were leaving, some of the kids began to follow us with tears streaming down their faces. Up until that point, I had managed to hold back tears in this very emotional situation, but when I saw that even the smallest children knew what was happening and were crying, and then that some of the older kids who had managed to maintain their composure so far were also weeping and following us, that is when I lost it, too.
When I was walking out of the sanctuary , Jiji handed me a note she had written to me, and I was so touched. I didn't want to read until I got back, as not to draw out our goodbye, but when we were walking I back on the road, I turned and saw that she, too, was following us and began to weep. I tried to just keep walking to discourage her from following. Tesfu, one of our littlest guys, started running to catch up with one of our girls who had built a strong bond with him. I had to stop and catch up with Jiji. I welled up with tears and called her name. The only thing I could say to her was, "You weren't supposed to follow!" I saw she was crying, too, and held her hand (Ethiopian sign of friendship) as we walked and wept together silently the whole way back to the compound.
Heidi and Tesfu
When we reached the dining hall and were saying our last goodbyes, I made sure to tell Jiji that she is so beautiful and smart and to never forget it. She hugged me tight and wept more heavily. At that moment, the memory of our first meeting flooded into my brain-- she had told me I looked like her mother. It is such an honor for someone to bestow that kind of comparison upon you, especially such a beautiful, talented girl on the other side of the world with whom you never knew you would connect so deeply. I am pretty sure I learned that her mother had died, and I wanted to just take her home with me. I will never, ever forget her.
I had to leave her and the other children that had followed us back who were also crying and lovingly clinging to our team members because I knew it had to end at some point. I went into the commons rooms and as I wept harder than I had the whole trip, I watched out the window as a few girls lingered back, wiping tears and snotty noses and giving big hugs. It was heartbreaking.
After lunch the rest of the church returned, mostly made up of the older kids and young adults. I knew I had to say goodbye to Dembelle, Birhanne, Ahsenofi, Lemlem, and Alemnesh. For the first time, I saw Dembelle and Birhanne cry-- that was extremely hard for me. I was very blessed when, after saying goodbye with a hug and an encouragement to practice guitar, Ahsenofi presented me with a bracelet that he had made for me. The boy is definitely one of the coolest kids I have ever met, like if I was 16 again, I definitely would have had a major crush on him. I know he will do so well in the world and hopefully will be given the opportunity to come to the US for college someday. His English is one of the best I head all trip. I pray those things for him.
Teammates and Ashenofi
I am just extremely grateful for the time that we spent loving those kids and them loving us back. Seeing the love of God move through people and relationships like that is really amazingly moving. Most of the kids hardly spoke English, yet strong, presonal bonds were formed through actions of love and care. That is how the ministry at Project Mercy works, though-- there is no outright, direct evangelistic proclamation of the Gospel message, preaching (except very much so at church), or Bible-thumping at Project Mercy. Christ's love is evident through people and their actions and words. That gives God all the glory and the power in moving in that way. With Project Mercy being situated in a Muslim community, showing the love of God creates the relationships and the opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel. American evangelism could learn a HUGE lesson from these people. It's so beautiful!
Lynne and friends