Sunday, July 22, 2012

Some Tough Lessons Learned in Ethiopia

On Friday July 6, we went back to Korah to serve. This is how I was greeted! 
It pretty much sums up her personality too! I love this precious girl!

Our team had partnered with the other mission team and purchased several goats to feed the community, starting with the Project 61 children. While lunch was being prepared, we were free to hang out & play with the children.

Faith spent some time playing frisbee & futbol with the older children.

Tanya had brought a Polaroid instant camera to take pictures of the children so they could keep a picture of themselves. She invited me & April to help. Now we just had to find a safe place and a safe way to do this without anyone getting hurt.

We ended up going in the building where our team ate lunch. Two older boys became our helpers (bouncers) and controlled traffic. They lined the children up outside at the door and allowed 10 to come in at a time. When they came in, they sat on a bench and waited for their turn. Talk about God’s provision! These 2 were sent to us straight from Him!

Once our system was in place, one of the older boys handled the door and the other one called the children up for their picture, fixed their hair & told them to smile. Watching that older boy groom the children made me smile (and cry too of course!) 

Tanya took the pictures, and April & I wrote “Jesus Loves You” or “Jesus Loves Me” at the bottom. The children then watched their picture develop and were amazed.

As I handed each child their picture, God had me speak His truth to them – one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart.

But God was also ministering to me. Each time I wrote “Jesus Loves Me” on a child’s picture, God would say to me in my spirit “Yes Nancy, He certainly does! And never forget just how much!” I must have written those words 100 times and each time, they were personal for me. Such a tender time with my Savior!

We got word that lunch was ready to be served so we stopped taking pictures and went to the church. All of the Project 61 children were eagerly waiting. Each plate was filled with lots of Ethiopian bread, broth and meat. My young friend saved me a spot beside her at the front of the church. 

As I sat there and watched these small children eat these huge plates of food, God spoke a HUGE truth/lesson to me. Let me try to put it into words.

A little background info is in order first though. Remember prior to going to Africa, I was the coordinator for the Bible story team. There were 8 of us and we were divided into 4 groups because we thought we would be working with the children at Project 61 in groups. God had laid on my heart to let each group decide what stories they wanted to share, instead of all of us doing the same stories.

I was partnered with Kim, and she felt led to share the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves. My first thought was “Lord, how can we share this story with children who are hungry??!!!” Then the next Sunday’s lesson for my 5th graders was none other than JESUS FEEDING THE 5000! What stood out to me was how the young boy surrendered his lunch to Jesus. That’s when I knew we could use this story to share the Gospel. Jesus wants us to surrender ourselves to Him and when we do, He will do so much more in and through our lives than we could ever imagine. 

Then that same week, God had my friend Cindy share something else with me from the Feeding of the 5000. Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people sit down before feeding them. He wants us to do the same thing today – sit down (be still) so we can be fed spiritually and grow in Him.

Now back to the church in Korah. While watching the children eat, God revealed His purpose for me studying the Feeding of the 5000. You see, I thought it was to teach the children in Korah during summer camp. When those plans changed, I knew God was still up to something regarding the Feeding of the 5000, but I didn’t know what. Then in the midst of us feeding these children, God revealed it to me. ONLY GOD!

I sensed Him telling me, “These children are eating a huge portion right now because it’s the only meal most of them will have today. What I want you to do is pray that this food is enough to meet all of their physical needs until they are able to eat again.

Pray for them, Nancy.

Pray for this food to be stretched like the fish & loaves.

Pray for their stomachs not to gnaw with hunger before their next meal.

Pray for them to know Me and only Me as their Jehovah Jireh (their Provider,) not Americans or visitors from other countries, but Me. Everything, including this food, comes from Me, and the children need to know it all comes from Me.”

WOW! I was speechless. But I immediately obeyed and started praying for them with tears streaming down my face.

After that, I became super sensitive to something. The children were constantly asking us for a gift. It may be a piece of gum, a pen, bubbles, a balloon, a sticker, etc. While these things may seem very small to us, and we are happy to give them away, we don’t realize the potential damage we are causing. I’ll be honest, the children in Korah had pretty high expectations - they expected stuff from us.

I don’t know about you, but personally I do NOT want to be associated with stuff. I want to be associated with Jesus - His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His Truth, His hands & feet, etc.

One girl who was about 10 years old came up to me and asked me for a gift. I told her I came to spend time with her and be her friend. Then I told her I did not have anything to give her except a hug. She shook her head no and went to talk to someone else!

Stuff is nice and often needed, but it is not a substitute for Jesus! True hope and provision come from Him, not us & our stuff. 

While we are commanded to take care of those in need, I think the key is HOW we go about doing it. For example, giving money or resources to a trustworthy ministry who works directly with the people we feel led to help vs. handing out cash to someone (unless of course the Lord tells you to give it to them.) Or giving donations to a place (such as an orphanage) and letting the staff distribute them vs. us handing things out directly to the children.

Matthew 6:3-4 keeps coming to mind:But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This way God is glorified, not us. 

Our hearts are in the right place. We want to help when we see a need. But we should pray first and seek God’s direction on how He wants us to fulfill the specific need before we act.  Every situation is different, but God always knows what's best.  He sees beyond the here and now.

Sometimes, our best intentions still lead to negative results that never even cross our minds.  God showed me this too on our last full day in Ethiopia at a government orphanage.

Our team was so large that we traveled around in 3 or 4 vans. When our vans turned down the road that led to the orphanage, we started waving at the local children who lived on that road. In response, the children yelled, “CANDY! CANDY! CANDY!” at us.

Once at the orphanage, we were given a tour but not allowed to take any pictures. The baby room was almost more than I could bare. I held a little one who was around a year old and very social. She was learning to talk and would copy what you said. But more than anything, she wanted to be held. It was not a pretty scene when I had to put her back in her crib and walk away as she was saying “Mama! Mama!” Heartbreaking.

The workers in that room were doing a great job though, and we were able to encourage them too.

After our tour, we were able to hang out with the preschool and young school aged children. We sat at tables with them and colored Bible story pictures. I was at a table with 7 boys. When I opened up the Bible story coloring book to tear pages out for them, guess what story page I turned to first??!!!

ONLY GOD! He prompted me in that moment to pray for these children too, just like I was praying for the children in Korah! WOW!

I assumed that my table of boys would be finished coloring in a matter of minutes – WRONG! These boys took their time and colored everything very neatly. Each of them would color a little bit, tap me on the arm & then point to what they had just colored and I would praise them. We did this for at least 30 minutes.

Also during this time, 2 other children walked up and handed me pages they wanted me to color. I had to laugh as both of them were none other than JONAH! 

I guess that was God’s way of reminding me where I had been and how far He had brought me.  Just keeping me humble. He is amazing!

At some point, someone started handing out glow bracelets. I expected my boys to jump up and try to get theirs, but they kept coloring. For the most part, a staff member was walking around handing them out in no particular order along with a few team members. Because I was still engaged in coloring with my boys, I grabbed Faith and asked her if she could get bracelets for my boys. She returned with the last of the bracelets, and there was not enough for all of my boys. Two of them were without.

Thankfully, April came by and gave 1 boy a bracelet that did not have a connector piece but she creatively passed it off as a sword. She gave the other boy a bracelet that didn’t glow. It was all she had.

The boy whose bracelet didn’t glow was devastated. It was so pitiful. I worked and worked with his bracelet but couldn’t get it to glow. Interestingly, this boy was the one coloring the Feeding of the 5000 picture. His name was Peter. I will never forget the disappointment on his face. I begged God not to let Peter take it personally. His entire demeanor had changed. I also begged God for just one more bracelet that glowed.

Lots of time passed, and Peter remained sad. He was wearing a coat that was zipped up. He put his non-glowing bracelet inside of his coat instead of on his wrist like the other children. From time to time, I would catch him looking inside his coat to see if his bracelet was glowing yet. I prayed for Peter to be strong, just like his name. I prayed for him to know that being different from everyone else can be a good thing. And yes, I must confess I did pray that everyone else’s bracelet would stop glowing real soon!

Then right before we left, Peter spotted her - a little girl with more than one bracelet. He immediately pointed her out to me. When I approached her, she was not happy to see me and tried to run away. Tanya was nearby and told the girl “only one” several times in her language. The girl stopped running and gave me one of the bracelets. She also had an extra connector which I handed to the boy with the “sword.” 

When I gave Peter the glowing bracelet, he started glowing himself!!! He became a new child! I was so happy for him.

But the bracelet drama did not stop there. Bullying occurred in the bathroom when a smaller child had hers taken by a bigger child. Physical fights broke out over them. Not to mention lots of snatching going on.

I know it’s not really about the bracelets.  It's much deeper than that. 

Children long for something to call their own, especially orphaned children.  They want to be loved, accepted and valued.  They want to belong.  But is giving them stuff (to fight over) going to satisfy what they are truly longing for or make it worse?

It may make us feel better but is it really better for them? What about the caretakers who have to deal with the fall outs after we leave?  Or the long-term ministry trying to establish relationships with the children?  Or the next short-term mission team who comes to hang out with the children and share God's truth?

These are all tough realities that God had me come face to face with this time while on in Rwanda and Ethiopia. He and I are still sorting through it all. It was especially difficult for me to see because I love to give gifts to people, particularly those in need. But, there are 2 sides to every coin, and God allowed me to see the other side this time - for reasons only known to Him right now.

On a different note, one of my favorite things about going on short term mission trips is getting to know everyone on the team and watching God work in them and through them. 

And making new friends!

Our Rwanda/Ethiopia team was great! Everyone was devoted to the Lord with a servant's heart and selflessly generous.  Our worship/share times together in the evenings were powerful, particularly in Rwanda.  The strobe light dance party in Ethiopia was good too!

Not to mention that our leaders Tymm & Laura were incredible!

The hardest part......saying goodbye :(

Our team left on Saturday afternoon, but Faith and I didn’t leave until the next morning. 

It was such a privilege to serve with them!  We miss them all so much!!!

Loving HIM with all my heart,     

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