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Grand Rapids, MI


Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Compassion

Poverty, Absence, and Riches

Tom Elenbaas

Yesterday, I visited the home of a family in a poor village on the edges of Managua, Nicaragua. This family works in the fields picking the peanuts by hand out of the dirt not picked up by the machines. Depending on the number of peanuts harvested, they can possibly earn up to $2/ day to live on. This places them among some of the poorest of the poor, what would be known by experts as “extreme poverty.”

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Rural Child Survival Program


Compassion’s mission is releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. What makes Compassion unique is that they are focused directly on child development and they work exclusively with and through the local church. In fact, they have 4 C’s – Christ-Centered, Church-based, Child Development focused, and Committed to Integrity. These are not just words on a page, but we were able to see first hand what this means. Our trip today was to a Child Survival Program (CSP). CSP’s are focused on mothers and children from birth to age three. The goals include reducing infant mortality, child health, and parenting skills. They do this through medical screening, hygiene materials, clothing support, food support, help with developing an Income Generating Activity, preparing mothers spiritually, play programs, skill and literacy training, and more. We visited the village of Waajjira Ganda Saadamoo where Compassion has partnered a church in a CSP called the Sadamo Guenet Church. There we were met by amazing little children who greeted us with roses. We spent a lot of time with the children, holding them and loving on them. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful and beautiful these children are.  It was a true joy to be with them.

There we also met Athema – the Project Director, who shared with us the impact the CPS is having on children here. In the three years since this program began, 59 children and 58 mothers have been cared for, and from the 58 mothers, 27 have also received Jesus as their Lord and Savior. (Make that 28… one gave her life to Jesus with our team today… more on that later!) There are currently 36 children and 35 moms in the program.  The Team Lead – A’sena-ketch (my phonetic spelling) is a trained nurse who grew up in the village as a Compassion Sponsored Child who then was educated at a local college and is now working with mothers through the CSP. A’sena-ketch does home visits to just over 30 mothers and babies to help them be better moms through in home training and health care. These mothers also come together in the church compound for what was described as a kind of MOPS program in which mothers gather, share with one another, and let their kids play together. Here there is a playroom, a playground, and on the compound is also a library, a social worker, the church, a wood-shop, and classrooms for Sunday school. 

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Addis Ababa Day 1


We began the day on a bus ride through the city of Addis Ababa. If you have never been to a city like this in a 3rd world country, there’s nothing like it. In the midst of the city, the traffic is congested and there are no stop signs or lights, so everyone drives completely aware of everyone around them. The navigate through the language of car horn and movement, and each driver seems to know which vehicles they can cut in front of and which to let pass. The streets are lined with people at just over 8am. Long lines of people waiting for public transit can be seen wrapping around corners. The cobblers are out shining and fixing shoes – one of the “meanest” or lowest jobs in the city. We see men dressed in blue camouflage carrying guns and people hanging onto the back of cars and trucks sailing by – no regard for seatbelts here. The air is warm and thick with a scent that a friend described as a combination of campfire, diesel and spices. That about says it. The buildings are constructed of various materials – from concrete bricks and slabs to sides of shipping containers to long branches tied together to grass to a kind of plaster made, I think, with grasses. We see long grasses bundled together – I think for fire. Everything is for sale on the street. I see a man walking by who is missing an arm, and a woman with her child asking for help. We learn about “chat,” a kind of chewable plant stimulant that has a drug affect which is legal to sell and to which many people are addicted.  We see stacks of bananas and mangos for sale, a man selling corn, and street vendors galore. I wish I had pictures of these things, but they’re hard to take while driving. 

As we head out of town, we see the rolling hills and beautiful landscape of the Ethiopian countryside. Child shepherds walk the sides of the roads herding goats and cows. Someone next to me spots what we think is a baboon. Increasingly the homes are made of thatched grasses and branches. We see large greenhouses where we find out later many of the locals work growing fresh flowers that are mostly exported to Europe.  This is an amazing country, rich in culture and abuzz with activity. The people are beautiful and very nice, the men walk around with an arm around one another, I would almost dare say that all the people we have met are “sweet.” 

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Grand Rapids -> Washington -> Frankfurt -> Addis Ababa


My wife Trista, TJ Cumings, Mark Pellingra, and I are all sitting in the Frankfurt airport awaiting our connecting flight to Awassa. We just spent about 9 hours flying over the Atlantic from Washington, DC. You can see some of my pictures from the flight here and the airport here in Frankfurt.

We’re excited anticipating connecting with other Compassion International Staff and people from churches around the country as we visit Addis Ababa and Awassa in Ethiopia. We’ll be visiting the Compassion country office in Ethiopia, Child Development Programs, see Child Survival programs in progress, Complimentary Interventions, and visit our partner church – the Mulu Wongel Church in Awassa. 

What I’m most excited about it meeting Mekdes and Zenabu – the two kids we sponsor, and Ashenafi – who is sponsored by South Harbor Kids. I’ve got a bunch of soccer balls  and team jerseys (thanks Hudsonville High Athletic program) and hope to possibly get a game going.

Please pray for us as we enter one of the poorest countries in the world and meet some of the most amazing people in the world, particularly children who are so deeply loved by their heavenly Father.

We don’t know what our connectivity will be in Ethiopia, but if we have it, I’ll try to share some of our journey here.

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