Saturday, March 15, 2008

Orphanage Visit and… Life Lessons in the strangest of places

It’s Friday night… well, I started writing this on Friday night, and now it’s almost 2:30am Sat 3/15. I’ve written about our first visit with Tariku today, and then wrote some about the last several days experiences.
We are now here at the Guesthouse operated by our agency, Children’s Home and Family Services. We arrived here on Thurs (3/13) night after a great dinner with friends at Bingham Academy where I taught this past week. We finally met the rest of the travel group that came in Thurs night from all over the US to pick up their children too. Steve and Devin from Hawaii, Brian and Jill from WI, Rosemary from Brooklyn NY, Erwin and Heidy from NM, Lindsey and his wife Cindy from NV, Selia and her teen daughter from NC, and then us. A few couples have one or two other of their own children but the rest do not… regardless this is an incredible journey for all of us. It’s funny how one of the most personal times in your entire life you go through with folks you just met. These are some great folks though and we’re getting along really well.
So, we got up this morning (Friday am) to a great pancake breakfast. Kenni and Sasha loved it too. About 10a or so we all piled into the mini bus and drove the rough 10 mins over to the CHFS Orphanage Office. We had a short meeting, and then we were all brought over to the other facility a 5 min walk away. Steve and Devin’s son was in a different facility so they were brought over to meet their son. We were not allowed any cameras at all into the orphanage where our children were but they have 2 camera men who capture those first precious moments on HI FI digital video cams so we’ll get a chance to save those memories forever. We sat with Kenni and Sasha in the waiting room… which seemed like forever… and then they called us. Amy was pretty choked up and the girls were just giddy all over… when they opened up the door to the room that Tariku was in I think we all recognized him right away. He was even more adorable and precious than we imagined! Honestly, my first thought was boy he’s still pretty tiny! Ha ha… He is after all, just shy of four months old… I outta give the kid some credit. Maybe since his nannies are a bit smaller in stature he looked a little larger in the pictures we have next to the smaller women that have taken such good care of him. Shoulda got them to take a pic with him next to a yard stick or something…J That said he’s absolutely beautiful. He looked up at Amy right away when she picked him up… he liked looking around and was probably a little taken back by his smothering big sisters. I think Amy forgot I was there for a sec… as I waited for her to let him go for a minute or two before I held him. He grabbed on to my finger right away, he grabbed my gotee a few times and then loved it when he sat with Sasha in my lap. Awesome stuff. We were able to then take him outside in the courtyard play area in the sun. When I was playing with him, his little finger caught the loop in my right ear… and he gave a little grin. I think he’ll be a handful. Maybe he can teach me how to play basketball someday. ;)
You know though… even as I write this…this is all still a bit surreal… but I’m sure as we spend more time with him tomorrow and the rest of the week we’ll become even more attached. I’ll try to write more in the next coming days since we have a little bit better net connection here in this guesthouse. Our court date with everyone else in our group here is on Tuesday and we’ve got a full schedule all weekend and the rest of the week until we come home. Thank you for all of your prayer and support for us as you are a part of this journey with us!
Thursday 3/6/08 - We arrived here in Addis around lunchtime and Haille, the driver employed by Bingham Academy picked us up at the Addis Airport. I took some video during the drive … we’ll see how well it edits later. We headed over to the SIM guesthouse on Thursday afternoon then went over to Bingham Academy and met the Principal and the Director.
Bingham Academy was established in the 1930s by SIM (Sudan Interior Mission) originally as a mission school and currently has about 250 students in grades K-12. Bingham has become one of the most prestigious schools in Africa so there are kids from all over Ethiopia, and from over 20 additional countries. Some of the kids live on campus but many of the kids live with their families around Addis. About 40 percent of the students are from Missionary families, but since Bingham is so well respected there are kids there whose parents work in local businesses in Addis, the UN, international businesses, and foreign Embassies based in Addis.
Most of the reason we came several days early was to get to know the Ethiopian culture so we could share this life experience with Kenni and Sasha, but we also wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to be able to serve with some folks who know and love this country and the people here. So together we worked out an opportunity for me to teach HS Bible Classes Monday – Wednesday and then do their two Chapel services on Thursday and they planned to put Amy to work filling in where they could use her in some of the other classes substituting. That way, Kenni and Sasha got the chance to attend 1st Grade and kindergarten with the rest of the other kids! What an experience that was! When we got closer to our travel date, we began investigating ways we could come to serve in some capacity. It was through that investigation we learned about BA. Originally we got connected to Bingham through our good friends from our church in Connecticut, the Blackwells, that put us in touch with friends of theirs (the VanGorkums) who have served with Christian Veterinary Mission for the last 25 years.
Over the last several days we’ve had the chance to interact with many of the teachers and staff at BA. We’ve been so impressed to hear so many stories from the teachers that have come from mostly the US, but also from many other countries to Bingham. In every single story, you can clearly see where God’s spirit nudged the hearts of each teacher and clearly carved out a divinely orchestrated path that they followed.
Teaching in a school like Bingham is an incredible privilege. Right in their midst there are ‘World Changers’. Think about it, every one of those kids come from families with an incredible amount of influence – whether they work in foreign business, embassies and government offices, or on the mission field. These kids are exposed to things that their peers in their home countries might never experience. The worldview that they are forming from being in that environment is fertile ground for them to grow into decision makers that could affect not just a way a company might do business, but to influence the decisions of world leaders someday!
It’s great that those kids have such great examples in their teachers too. The teachers at Bingham are incredible examples of humility and faith. God is clearly using them in to impact the lives of the students they teach and their own families.
Friday 3/7 – We spent the morning at SIM Compound in the AM and then relaxed and headed over to the Addis Hilton Hotel. We swam all day and chilled out with Kenni and Sasha - it was the best move we made that week. We got some sun, and we all had a great time relaxing and getting adjusted. Amy and the girls loved the pool water too. We learned that there are hot springs that run hundreds of feet underground so the pool water is naturally heated to something like 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I dealt with it, but would have liked it about 10-12 degrees cooler. It was already over 80 degrees outside. Very nice weather though because it’s so dry here, and there’s pleasant breeze often as well… the weather has been gorgeous.
Saturday 3/8 – Chilled out at SIM compound in the AM, then I went over to visit meet with some teachers to finalize my teaching strategy for the HS kids for the week. Amy and the girls ventured out with a friend we met at the SIM Guesthouse… she could share more about her adventures on Saturday, but she and the girls did some errands with Mary from the UK.
I think now might be a good time to pause to share a bit about the folks we’ve met at the SIM Guesthouse. SIM has been in Africa for many many years and we’ve met the most incredible people there.
Mary has given her entire life to serving the Ethiopian people and she’s been teaching Bible to grad students at the seminary here in Addis for many years. She’s on the SIM Board and left a couple days ago with a team to do an evaluation on another seminary I think in Uganda. In Mary’s spare time, she also edits and writes Bible Commentaries for Tyndale House Publishing. Whodaknown.
Judith is originally from New Zealand but she’s been a missionary in Pakistan for over 15 years. She’s working with mostly women in her little rural home. She does hand crafts with women in her community who come to be with her for love and tender care. Women in Pakistan are treated in many cases worse than dogs. Just thinking about it, it’s really hard for me to imagine, but as she has earned the trust and credibility of the people in her area God has done miraculous things. She’s seen people healed from all kinds of physical and spiritual ailments and many have come to know and love Jesus in deep ways… things that can ONLY be attributed to our Almighty God. Judith arrived at the SIM Guesthouse shortly before we did, and I believe she’s going to stay for another week or so. She said that when she first got to Pakistan there were almost 30 other missionaries in her area, but for the last eight years, she’s been the only one. God has blessed Judith’s faithfulness and her commitment - to especially the women there - but she’s been very lonely and discouraged lately. I know she would appreciate additional prayer for God’s strength and endurance for her.
Paul and Laila Biloski are originally from a farming family in Alberta Canada, but have been in Ethiopia for 39 years. They came to do Church planting and then later teach African seminary students who are now impacting and teaching in places all over the continent! In 1974 the Biloski family was driving back to their home somewhere around Addis, and as they drove into their driveway there were military vehicles outside their house, and their door was sealed off, and all of their possessions were confiscated by the Communist Government that overthrew the prior government. At that time there were over 300 SIM Missionaries in Ethiopia that dwindled to 28 that year. With not one thing but the clothes on their backs, they were able to live at the SIM Guesthouse and finish out the seminary year teaching some remaining grad students. They left Addis after the school year was done, and thought they’d never come back, but God had other plans. Now that Seminary here in Addis, is one of the best on the continent!
The Launders family from Cortaline, ID. were only at the Guesthouse for a few days before they left for a family get-a-way to Zanzibar in Tanzania. They are waiting for their resident visas to get through the court system here, so they have to leave the country every 6 mos. Mark told me that he turned 50 a short time ago, and he and his wife Sydney started to take a hard look at their lives and what they were doing, and what God might have them do. Mark and Sydney have two teenagers… whose names I’ll have to mention when I can recall them. Mark had a well established home building business and the Lord led their family to the rural Ethiopian town of Sodo. Apparently Sodo has a population of about 55 thousand, but has few places with clean water, sporadic electricity and incredible needs for business infrastructure. Mark and Sydney are currently spending most of their time working in a local hospital with a Doctor friend of theirs that led them to Sodo from Idaho about 6 months ago. Mark is using his gifts in construction, management, and love of people to create some infrastructure first in that hospital and then outward in the community. They have focused their efforts there in Sodo because it is the last hospital between the Ethiopian and Sudanese boarder so there are people that come there from all over along with Sudanese refugees.
Rowan looks like he just dried off after catching a few waves on the coast near his home. About 3 months ago, he came to Ethiopia from a prestigious hospital near where he grew up in New Zealand -- to work in a needy, rural hospital in the southern area of Ethiopia. I think it’s near Sodo… but I don’t recall exactly. Now 28, Rowan told me he feels like this few-month investigative journey will bring him here for a long time. He was at the guesthouse here in Addis with Dan and Kim who’ve been serving in the same area for about 30 years or so. Dan does Church work, and Kim helps run the hospital where Rowan is working now. The three of them were leading a group of Baylor nursing students from Texas through their clinical work that is required to complete their nursing degrees. Several of the 7 or 8 nursing students we met plan to return to Africa – many to Ethiopia to serve.
Sunday 3/9 – The girls internal clocks weren’t quite adjusted yet so they woke at 4am so we were all in and out of sleep until about 6:30 when we all got up to get ready for breakfast. The international evangelical church is across town and is right next to the Addis Seminary here that is training about _??_ students for ministry all over Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. We came out to another gorgeous sunny day and hailed Abraham across the street and he drove his cab quickly over to us as the girls and I piled in his little Russian taxi.
Allow me to deviate here as I talk a bit about Addis Roadways… you’ll enjoy it. ;) All the taxi drivers have the same little Russian four door compact cars.. and they all look like they’ve been through a war: Missing handles, missing hinges on some doors, cracked mirriors and windows, dents in various places, limited interior and never any seatbelts to be found. Doesn’t really matter though cause you never seem to get above about 15 – 20 mph in Addis. Imagine driving through a State Fair… all the time. Or… for those of you that have been to a HUGE concert festival… kinda like that. Only with hundreds of thousands of more people. It seems like all 5 million people in Addis are all out at the same time on the streets and in the open markets. The driving is even crazier here than in Senegal in W. Africa. NO street signs, NO street lights.. oh wait, I saw one the other day that worked. I was astonished. Actually I was more surprised people actually paid attention to the lights since it’s the only one in town I’ve ever seen at least. Crazy stuff. You might be asking… how in the world does any one get to and from their destination in any motorized vehicle with conditions like that. I think I’ve realized that as frustrated as some Ethiopian drivers can get… this is a pretty selfless culture. Sure they try to take care of themselves, but this is a culture in which families bring in other family members and care for them when the need arises. This is a culture that gives guests the BEST of what they have to offer…and it’s a culture that is generally speaking content with who they are and what they have. For the ones that are more selfish and impatient, I’m convinced it’s the self-centeredness of the western “civilized world” that have created a desire to have more stuff and to have a higher status.
Now kinda take that culture idea toward driving and you begin to realize that when there’s literally 15 cars in the middle of the intersection everyone gets to where they’re going… eventually. Even though every driver has to be aggressive to get anywhere, they all just continue to honk and point and let each other get by when it’s their turn… and speed up on the straight-a-ways. Another significant thing to note is that no one really owns property here in Ethiopia. I’m not entirely sure how all that works, but evidently you can just kinda set up a house wherever you want. Literally thousands of people live on the street. Some create beds for themselves from things they find lying around… stuff that others throw out, or things that fall off of trucks or taxis driving by. For the people that do have homes it’s all pretty basic. Often a few walls of corrugated sheet metal and a roof to match. There’s really no sanitation organization either. So, on the roads with thousands of people walking or lying around on the streets all day and all night…you run into some very uh… interesting sights. Goats, Chickens … if you live in an urban area consider a well traveled city road with drivers as I described, Police officers trying to direct the traffic making it worse, people sleeping on the medians, pedestrians creating non-crosswalks anywhere they feel like crossing, others reading the newspaper as they wait for a friend using the community pit to relieve themselves on the end of one of the medians (pick a gender), and then instead of a traffic jam in the opposite lane due to an accident, it’s just a local dude driving his few donkeys up the street with loads weighing more than the animal carrying it.
So… back to Sunday morning…we arrived at the beautiful facility of the International Evangelical Church and were greeted by two pastors or staff of the church from different countries. The Worship band started up shortly thereafter and even though I can’t sing well at all, I typically really enjoy making a joyful noise… but that Sunday I couldn’t. I’ve never felt the spirit come over me like he did that Sunday morning. I couldn’t sing a word without choking up. I was totally overwhelmed. I think it had to do with realizing that that environment was what Heaven was gonna be like someday. I was so humbled… When we were done singing the kids were released to attend Sunday School and Kenni and Sasha were SO excited to go with all the kids. Funny thing about that though… that particular service was ONLY in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. We got Sasha into the nursery since she was only going to be there that Sunday… and I tried to explain to Kenni that she would not understand anything that was being said in the class with other 1st graders, but she said that she wanted to be with the rest of the kids and meet some new friends. She stayed the entire service and I found her still in her class interacting with a bunch of the other kids when the class was over. She had a great time.
Monday 3/10– Can’t believe my ‘baby’ brother is 22! Happy Birthday Ben. God’s got some great things in store for you just around the corner. We’re so proud of you bud! Since all of our internal clocks were all still a bit off kilter… we all woke around 5am and had breakfast. We went over to Bingham and I taught 9th Grade Bible Class in the morning, and then after lunch we took Kenni and Sasha to AHope Orphanage to bring all the donations we had for them. As I wrote before- it was an amazing experience. That didn’t just help me put my life and all God’s gifts he’s blessed me with in perspective, but if we ever felt like we were serving the Lord in some way and that what we do in The States is significant… did we ever feel small and insignificant that afternoon. We were around some of the most selfless, humble, spiritual ‘giants’ I’ve ever met. They serve those special Orphans in an extraordinary way… for the rest of those children’s lives.
Not long after we finished playing with the orphans, we headed over to have dinner with the Johnson family. Most all of the teachers and staff at Bingham actually live right on campus and the apartment as ‘fishbowl’ as they are, are very nice and spacious for the families that live there. After sharing late into the evening, we drove back to our Guesthouse across town and got a great nights sleep!
Tuesday thru Thursday 3/11–13 Were pretty similar days as our mornings at Breakfast discussing world events, and my Bible Classes with the HS Students and dinners with BA Families in the eves.
Tuesday afternoon we met up with Fred and Vicky VanGorkum. They are awesome people. I think they’ve spent some significant time out in “the bush” helping villagers care for their animals that is their livelihood and helping them understand what it means to care for their animals, but also to make sure their children don’t get neglected in the process as they try to keep their animals healthy to provide for themselves. I think now Fred and Vicky both are doing more admin and support type work as their three great kids (Jesse, Aaron, and Jodi) are in school. From what I understand Fred still travels to support other missionaries and help them care for animals to help livestock owners begin to understand the message of Jesus in the process. Tuesday night we were with the Emery Family from VA. Beach, VA. (traditional Ethiopian Injira, beef, Chicken, Hot Sauce, Greens, etc) Scott, Janet, Jared and Allison – they’re headed back to the US this summer since their time is up. Scott taught Bible, and some Sciences and became a great help and friend the week we shared at Bingham.
Wednesday was another day of teaching for me, but Wednesday afternoon I decided to head out of the Campus area to get to meet some of the locals, and maybe even get some pictures. I walked down to the end of the street past some shops and ran into a couple of teen guys about 14-16 years old. They only knew a little bit of English and I only knew a couple Amharic words but we struggled through a short talk by the time a couple other guys started to gather round… and then there were more questions about America, and I asked more and more about Addis, and their families… pretty soon there must have been about 15 or 20 guys just hanging around chatting in broken English and Amharic along with a lot of hand motions. They were all fascinated by the camera and loved being able to see all their images on the camera as soon as we took the picture. In the middle of our conversation, one of the guys invites me to come visit his shop… I assume he wants me to buy some things and I was prepared to, but didn’t find anything I wanted or needed… as we were talking more a midst this gagle of teen guys, one of them asks me more about what I do and teach. So I am able to get across that I teach Bible to teenagers so they ask me if I have my Bible… I take it out of my backpack and then they insist on me reading some… you would have been amazed at the silence as those 15 guys crowed around Daniel Chapter 4 as I read it. I’ve got some great pictures to take back of those guys and the memories attached to those pictures. I also had a few snack food items that I gave some of them while I was there on Wednesday afternoon – but promised to return on Thursday with more fun American junk food. Later on Wednesday night we had dinner with Allie and Carey (vegetarian spaghetti and Salad). Carey is from North Carolina and she’s been in a couple different countries in Africa. She’s also served in an AIDS orphanage in South Africa too. Her step dad was the president of Columbia International University… I think his name is Robertson. Anyhow, Allie is recently from the Washington DC area and she found out about this opportunity at Bingham via the relationship that one of her pastors at National Church has with the pastor of her Church here in Addis. They’ve got a great vision here in the area to help with local economic development and care for the needy in the process. Very cool stuff. Another teacher that works here at Bingham this year Ann Faulkner that also attends the same church as Allie, will be working with that church full time next year, and there sounds like some great short term mission opportunities could surface from the work that this church will be doing soon!
Thursday 3/13 –
Thursday I taught Bible class again returned to bring my new friends -down the street from BA -some good ol’ American snack food and to say goodbye… then later we had Dinner with Cara, Amanda, Summer and Cara’s fiancé Rob Bustin. Cara and Rob are from Canada, Summer is from … I forget where, and Amanda is from South Central Illinois. Cara is doing her student teaching in Canada and she came to teach at Bingham because Rob has been working with Food for the Hungry in Addis and the surrounding area. Rob explained that he finished his engineering degree in Canada and came to work with Food for the Hungry in Ethiopia. When he first arrived he was out in the bush I think helping get water to villages, and now he’s doing some with Food for the Hungry Canada, and the Ethiopian Govt working on various projects to establish long term results to get food and water to those in need. I plan to contact Rob’s Director (…his name escapes me for the moment but he’s a fellow Penn St. Football fan) to see what kind of short term/long term projects we might be able to help with later on. After dinner we left for the Agency Guesthouse!


  1. Pack that boy up and bring him home! We'll see you on Easter Sunday afternoon!

    We love you

  2. Wow...your days have been full...with many vivid experiences. I can picture you talking to a group of guys, giving them snacks, and communicating in sign language, Pete.

    I was SO moved by your story of first meeting your new son. We are eager to see and hold him too.

    Keep writing. We love the stories. Dad and I send our love! Hugs to everybody, and the next time you see Tariku, whisper our love too.

    Mom and Dad


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