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Grand Rapids, MI

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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Compassion International

Home Visit 2

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We visited another home in what is considered a neighborhood in the slums near the International Lutheran Church.  Here, we were blessed to be with a new friend, Kurt, from North Dakota who would meet his sponsored child. His mother lives here in her home in the slums for about 6 Birr a month (about $.32 a month). Her home is about 5 feet wide and about 12 feet long, with the last 3-4 feet covered by a curtain with two small bunks built into the wall. The wall is made of sticks, mud, and dung and then painted. As we spoke with her, she made us traditional Ethiopian Coffee through what is known as a coffee ceremony where they roast the coffee beans over a charcoal fire, then hand pound them with a large mortar and pestle, and then heat water to pour through the beans which go through a small horse-hair filter and then are poured in small porcelain espresso cups. I’m amazed she’s doing this for us because the cost of this to her is probably a month’s rent. It is her gift to us.

This house is built on what she calls the river. It backs up to the area behind the bunk beds. It is, in actuality, the river of sewage that runs through these slums. There are no “toilets,” per se, but only holes in the ground that drain into this troughs that run along the roads. When the rainy season comes (which lasts 2-3 months), the “river” backs up into her home and fills the floor with sewage. There is no place to go.

Both of her sons are here, and myself and another new friend Swen from Minnesota and I are engaging him. His English is pretty good. He is attending high schools to learn technology and is fascinated with Swen’s iPhone. He plays games and asks questions.

About 20 minutes into the conversation, the mother and the child realized who had come. Up until this point, they had not realized that Kurt was the child’s sponsor. She began to weep and to tell them how she was able to afford this home and to have moved here to provide a better place for her children. She was moved powerfully, and said that were it not for the church and Compassion, she would not be alive. She had lost her husband several years back. It was such an emotional time, and Kurt expressed his love for their family and his commitment to this family as now a part of his own. This is a tangible way to live out James’ challenge of loving and caring for widows and orphans. I guess I just saw “true religion” in its purest form.

The room was small and a bit tight for the 5 of us on the visit, so I stepped out occasionally. I decided to engage with the neighbors a bit, and a group of women out doing laundry were a hoot. We laughed, and shared a bit of personal information because one of them spoke English quite well. When our group left, they came out with a huge piece of Injera (Ethiopian bread) they had just baked for us, complete with hot red pepper powder. I took a picture of them, and they asked me to send them a photo. I think I’ve got it figured out how to get it there, but they asked if I would visit again soon. I told them I hoped so, and I do.


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Long Term Strategy for Change

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At the International Lutheran Church, we were able to see how the program works over time. As I said, Compassion’s vision is “releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” One of the most important learnings for me was what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction.” Poverty is not a quick fix. No Band-Aid will do the job. No mission trip where we do a few things for someone will change their life situation for good. Compassion’s work is more like a consistent, holistic, long-term strategy to truly transform a person. Like a long, steady, consistent irrigation. I said this on the van one day, “What we’ve seen is how Compassion changes a child, which changes a family, which changes a community, which has the potential to change a whole culture.” But that’s a long-term commitment, not a short-term flash in the pan.

When we gathered in the sanctuary of this small oasis in the middle of a city of poverty, we first met Ayune. Ayune grew up in a very poor family in the nearby slums. Her parents were not believers, and her mother died when she was 8, and her father when she was 12. She was raised by her 2 older brothers – the oldest of whom was 16 when he became the caregiver.  She reflected that the church and Compassion became her family and helped her brother to raise her. Ayune grew up as a Compassion sponsored child, and was a member of the very first group at this particular church. She and several friends who came through the program are now young leaders in the church, and she now works for Compassion.  She is also on the Compassion board at the church and serves in the church in a number of ways as a volunteer leader because it is her home church. She serves alongside of Abeje who is the now the Church Administrator and Tilahun who is one of the evangelists. These three - and several others - grew up together in the church. They called each other “family.” The church is now about 1000 members – 250 of whom are children.  By the way, the children who are members of the church are not necessarily Compassion Children. Some are, but many (if not most) Compassion sponsored children are Orthodox, Muslim, or sometimes animist before coming into the program, and it is truly an evangelistic endeavor.  The church has a 5-10 year vision to plant churches that preach the gospel and minister to people holistically – and they said that the DNA of Compassion and the care of poor children is so embedded in their church that if the partnership with Compassion were to be discontinued, they would continue the work on their own. That’s creating indigenous leadership and transformation. Did I mention? All of these centers and the Country Office are run – not by Western missionaries – but by indigenous Ethiopians? They hope to build some mixed space facilities – like a library – that the community can use, and that they can use as a third space for evangelism. They have 12 full time workers at the church, 6 of whom are evangelists (which is basically a pastor who’s focus is people outside the church who are far from God, helping them find their way back to Him), 5 are directors, and 1 pastors the church with another part time pastor. Notice, the bulk of resources are focused outside the church body.

Though Ayune wasn’t ever in the Child Survival Program, she and her friends Abeje and Tilahun are definitely a testimony to the long term development of young leaders who received Christ, received help to release them from poverty, and who are now next generation leaders in the church. This is the long-term development strategy: Crisis Intervention -> Child Survival Program (womb – 3 years) -> Child Development Sponsorship Program -> Leadership Development Program (I’ll write about an LDP later).

I mentioned in the previous post that Ayune’s parents died when she was 8 and 12. This was not an unusual story for us to hear. In fact, it was one of the most prevalent stories we heard. Even as we looked through files at the center and read each child’s family information, many had lost at least one parent, if not both. Many are being raised in community by the church, the neighborhood, and then at home by older siblings. It was not uncommon to meet children who were being raised by 14 and 16 year old siblings. One home visit that a part of our group made that we were not on was to a home with 4 children, the oldest of whom was a 15 year old boy who was raising the rest of the family. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be either raised by my brother, or have my oldest daughter have to raise my other children. These kids may not have much, they may be uneducated, but they are amazing!


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Children at Lideta

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One of the Child Development Sponsorship Programs we visited was the International Lutheran Church in Lideta. This visit was so much fun. We were able to play with the kids in the playground for a long time. I played a game of soccer with the little boys, and every time we scored, we would cheer. When a boy would throw the ball from out of bounds (which was hard to tell where those boundaries were), one of the children would “head” the ball. One time, I headed the ball, and from that time on, every time the ball was thrown from out of bounds it was thrown so I could head it! The boys were like little buddies of mine, following me around every where I went.

Trista was with the kids by the slide, having a great time as the slid down, giving her high-fives over and over and over and over again. There were a couple children that were particularly warming to her heart. One was a little girl of about 6 years old who was continuously caring for her little sister of about 3. They finally had to drag us away because we were keeping the kids from their schooling.


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Home Visit - Genet Abebe

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There have been many powerful moments on this trip, but one of the most amazing has been with home visits. We have had the opportunity to go to the homes of the children who are a part of these projects, be welcomed there, and hear about life among these people.

First of all, when I say “home,” you have to change your perspective. My bathroom and walk-in closet (and I don’t have a big one) would be a large home here. Our first home visit was with Genet Abebe, a mom in the Child Survival Program at the Sodamo Guenet Church. We walked to her house after we visited the chicken farm. She is not able to work at the chicken farm because she came into the program after it started. She rents her house for 6 Birr a month. To give you an indication, $20 is about 370 Birr. So, her rent is about 30 cents a month. Her husband works at the local flower farm and is also a subsistence farmer for the family. She lives in a little hut that is about 5x15 with her husband, 4 children, and her mother. It’s one room, but divided by a curtain. In every place we’ve been, I honestly can’t figure out how they all sleep in the small room behind the curtain… or even in the whole house for that matter. Maybe they take shifts? Should have asked that question. Abebe has her own trade. She buys large sacks of flour, hot pepper (like cayenne), matches, charcoal, and onions and then divides them up to sell to her neighbors for a small profit. To get clean water, she carries a 26 liter container of water from across the village from the well to have clean water.

Second, we spent some time listening to Abebe’s life. It’s a difficult life, but she feels blessed. We asked her if she was a believer, and she said that she wants to be, and asked if we would help her. When we asked for prayer concerns she had, she asked that her mother and husband would also become believers. In on of the most significant moments we experienced, Kurt – a pastor from North Dakota who was with us (there were 5 of us in the house), was able to lead her in a prayer of salvation (see the video below. Note… Abebe’s mother prays along part of the prayer, but stops at the point of receiving Jesus. We’ll continue to pray for her to come to know Jesus.) 

Lastly, I have to say that the power of a person receiving Jesus here is amazing. It truly changes their lives. Most Christian (non-orthodox) people I have met here have been able to articulate when and how they received Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior (their language). They share how dramatically life is different since then, and their understanding of their relationship with him, sustenance by him, love for him, and need for him are so powerful. In comparison, too many of us who are Christians in America take our faith so for granted, or don’t ever move beyond a cultural religious sensibility into a personal relationship with Jesus. In a culture where evangelical Christianity is not the norm, and were poverty and need is so rampant, the sweet salvation, provision, and peace that Jesus brings is life changing. 

(By the way… I’m still on Day One of our trip in these blogs. So many experiences… and honestly, as I read what I write, it just doesn’t come close to conveying our experience.)


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Complimentary Interventions Sadamo Guenet Church

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So, Compassion has Child Survival Programs (CSP) like the one I mentioned above, they have Child Development Sponsorship Programs (CDSP) – which we’ll visit the next couple of days and then again with our partner church in Awassa next week, Leadership Development Programs (LDP) – some of the students of which we meet with on Friday, and then Complimentary Interventions (CIV). Complimentary Interventions are special projects that Compassion does for a community around a particular need. When I say, “Compassion does” that really means someone like you and me or our church taking on a one-time project that will make a difference in the lives of the people in the community. These could be digging a well, intervention for HIV/ AIDS, an income generating project, a library or resource center, toilets, etc.

In Sadamo, we saw at least two Complimentary Interventions. The first was a well (see photo below) so that the community would have clean water. The leaders mentioned to us that offering a clean cup of water in Jesus’ name is often one of the first steps to people encountering grace and the gospel. Water is so critical in the third world, and it’s amazing how little access so many people have to clean water. The second was an income generating activity that was started and run by the mothers in the Child Survival Program at the Sadama Guenet Church. They started with 140 chickens and have now grown them to 250. The women each work in pairs 2 a day caring for the chickens. The chickens provide food - including the important protein - for these others and their children, but they also provide an income in the local community. This is a very practical way that Compassion is living out its commitment to releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. They are holistically caring for people. They help them learn trades and gain skills (note the sewing machines below). In fact, that’s what’s been so powerful is that Compassion is really church based. They are really about people and not programs. They are truly focused on the life of children. And they are seeking to transform people by transforming the next generation and then transforming communities and eventually a whole nation. This is a long haul commitment and requires focusing holistically on each person - developmentally, physically, psycho-socially, emotionally, economically, academically, and spiritually. We’ve see so many sides of this. Clean water. Basic parenting skills. Schooling. Income generation and mentoring. All this is done through indigenous leaders, as well, people like A’senaketch who I mentioned in an earlier post who was raised as a Compassion child and is now the trained nurse doing home visits. 

By the way, if you look at the pictures below, you’ll notice the eggs stacked up in the playroom.


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Fresh Roasted Ethiopian Sodamo, not Starbucks Ethiopian Sidamo

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We had an amazing coffee ceremony. Those of you who know me know that I love coffee. Ethiopian Sodamo is a great one at Starbucks, but nothing compares to what I had today. Here, one of the ways they greet guests is through a coffee ceremony. While we were meeting and getting acquainted, a couple of the women were roasting coffee over a small urn with a little charcoal in it. Then, when the beans were roasted, they would pulverize the beans by hand with a kind of mortar and pestle, and then finally brew the coffee in a special pot over the fire. The coffee is served in small porcelain cups, and was like an espresso, only the flavor was much deeper and richer. They also served us a mixture of roasted barley and peanuts, which I actually really liked as well. Trista even tried coffee… although she’s still not converted.


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Abandoned to Hope

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 Chaltu and her new Hope.

One of the mother’s we met was Chaltu, who is pictured here. Chaltu is a 60 year old women who found Alti (which means “Hope”) abandoned by the side of the road about 9 months after her husband died. She took Alti in to her home and is now a part of this program. Hope has given her new life as she raises her among the other mostly younger women.

She told us that before she had “Hope” she literally had very little hope in life. But then, having found her, she also found the Compassion Child Survival Program and has learned about Jesus and come to know him as well. Isn’t it true that we all go from abandonment to hope?

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

-Ephesians 2:12-13


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Addis Ababa Day 1

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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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