Jessie is out at dinner with the Ethiopian Smile Dental team that we have here in town this week. And if you are noticing a bit of a trend where I write more when Jessie is gone, it’s true. For me writing is like getting sucked into the eye of a tornado.
Yes there might be a world outside the whirlwind that surrounds me, but I know little of it when I am inside here.
Trying to get in here, this twirly, spinning place of creativity and expression, and be in the same room with someone as captivating as my wife is kind of like trying to get through the streets of Addis Ababa without using your horn.
Neither are possible.
Ok. Way to much information there.. I just thought I should mention why half of my posts start with some description of why I am home and Jessie is not. Seemed like a little more back story was necessary.
Today was a good day. We started out by picking up about 40 of the people from the team at their hotel and together we went to visit Embracing Hope. For about an hour we listened as Jerry and Christy explained their incredible project and told stories of the mothers who have seen their lives transformed because of the work they are doing. If you have not taken the time to read their website you need to go check it out.
What is so amazing about their project is the sheer number of women who are now keeping their children instead of having to abandon them. Literally children who were only days away from becoming orphans are being given a second chance. And it is beautiful!
After spending some time playing the 66 beautiful children who attend the day care at Embracing Hope we headed off to the Bring Love In Intake Center, we told our guests about the new families that we are creating for the children who have been orphaned. I kind of get a bit emotional when I talk about the families, and how wonderful it is for kids who otherwise would be left to grow up in a government orphanage. There is little in this world that gets me going like talking about what we do here. Anyway, we did that for a while, walked around the intake center, and met the staff at the office, and then we walked the few blocks through our neighborhood to the house where Beletu and her new daughter Setota live.
We knocked on the green metal gate and waited a few moments for Beletu to come to the door.
“Hello” She said, with her signature calm-warm smile. I like how one of our friends described Beletu when she called her a rock of a woman, who is quietly changing the world with her peace. Only good things come from people like Beletu, and I was happy to be showing off the warm home that she had turned this house into.
“I am here with the guests that we called about today” I said, as a seemingly endless line of visitors began to flow in through the gate.
“Thank you for coming” She said, but her voice was drowned out by the crowd of excited guests.
“This is Beletu’s house” I said, as we all filed into the living room area.
“Beletu was abandoned by her husband when she got sick several years ago, and now she has made a commitment to start a new family her with Bring Love In. In a few weeks her 10 year old son is going to be joining the family here as well. He is finishing the school year, and has been living with her parents for the past several years”
“How many children will be living in the house with her” A blonde woman asked from the front of the crowd, a camera dangled from it’s strap on her hand as she spoke.
“This house will have 6 children in it.” I said, as I looked over at Beletu, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“And how much does it cost to sponsor a house like this” A tall man who I met briefly but already had forgotten the name of asked from the back of the room.
“It is $625 per month to pay for everything, rent, food, salaries for the house mother and her helper, schooling, everything that it takes to run a family here in Ethiopia.”
“And how many families do you plan to create?” Another chimed in.
“We have two homes open now, and in the coming weeks we will be opening three more. But we plan to have as many as twenty in this neighborhood that are managed through the office that you just visited. Then once those are full we will be looking at other neighborhoods where we can open another office, and more houses as well.
Just today we found out that another 40 children, (in addition to the 45 that are being processed to come us), are getting their paperwork done. That does not mean all 85 of these children will come into our families, but rather that they are designated to be transferred to in-country non-institutional projects such as ours, and if we had the capacity, we could take them into our care, and out of the government orphanage.”
“Are there other projects like yours in the area?” A woman who’s name I have not learned yet asked from the other side of the room.
“Yes, there are two others, one is full, and the other is just getting started and has beds for eight children. But we are the only Christian based family creation project in Ethiopia that we know of.”
“Tell us about the need” The same woman asked and I made a mental note to ask for her name when I got a chance.
“The orphanages that we get kids from are where children who are abandoned or who’s families have passed away are taken here in Addis Ababa. Each of them has at least 2 children to a bed, and are overwhelmed with new children that are arriving every day.”
I paused and looked around the room for a minute, several were crying and I wondered if I should stop.
“We hope to create more families to meet the need. We believe in raising up future leaders for this country, and we feel that families made up of widows and orphans is exactly the solution that Ethiopia needs.”
Just then I heard a small noise from the bedroom. Setota, the newest addition to this family was waking from her nap. I answered a few more questions about the new families and then made my way into the bedroom where Beletu was already bent down by the crib, her hand was slowly caressing Setota’s cheek.
“You can” She said, gesturing to the small child who was almost hidden in a pile of colorful blankets.
This is the part where the day stopped and stood still.
I reached in, placed my hand on Setota’s tiny body and looked into her big brown eyes. I have been with her several times, but I have not held her yet. I could tell every time that she was overwhelmed with all that was happening in her life, and did not want to add another complication to things. This time though she seemed to warm to my touch and I could not resist the urge to pick her up.
As I puller her close to me, she instantly wrapped her tiny arms as far around my body as she could and nestled into my chest.
It was as if all the people crammed into the room with me disappeared in that moment, Setota, the first of the orphans that we devoted our lives to helping, was, in an embrace that was both tiny and as big as anything I have ever felt, making it all worth while.
I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was holding back tears as I stood there in the doorway to Setota’s bedroom. Cameras flashed, people asked more questions than I could wrap my head around, and all I could think of was this 17 month old girl in my arms, and how beautiful she was, and how her new life had just begun. She seemed to grip tighter as the moments passed, and I held on. Sharing a moment with this baby who only days before was struggling for her life in a hospital bed, having nearly starved to death.
I know that I will always carry that moment with me, the day when time stood still in the middle of a crowded room.
All that we have done to get to this place, each struggle, each painful sleepless night, each family event we missed back home, all pale compared to this moment.