4 Significant Lessons I’ve Learned
Here we are at 4 years into this journey of ministering in holistic ways to children and their Moms (or Dads or Grandmas or Aunts). We have watched over these four years as God has done what only He can do in the hearts and minds of adults and children. We have seen families preserved and orphans prevented. We have stood amazed at the bravery and selfless love that those considered to be materially the poorest of the poor show in the most difficult of seasons.
Here are 4 Lessons of a sort that I’ve learned over these four years. We’ve benefitted from having some of the greatest of teachers – Moms who selflessly love their kids and keep persevering as well as a staff who are willing to show Jesus’ love day after day to those they serve.
1. God loves the poor more than I could ever hope to. God’s love for the poorest of the poor never ceases to amaze me. He is the one who called us to step out on this journey and He has never let them down. He has provided what has always been needed at just the right time. When a facility would fall through – he provided a new one. When staffing became a challenge – He sent incredible people. When our relations with officials became strained, He intervened. He has protected, provided for and preserved this project time and time again.
I am convinced that the reason why is because He cares so much about these families.
He also cares so much that He continually stretches my faith to limits beyond where I am comfortable. This year He has put it in our hearts to add another 40 families to the project again. I don’t know where those resources are coming from (I keep reminding Him of that) but continually it feels as if His passionate pursuit of Moms and Children will keep us walking into those deep waters where only He can provide the way out.
I love seeing God’s love in action for these Moms and children.
2. There are no easy solutions. When we started dreaming about this project almost 5 years ago, it seemed like an easy enough solution. Watch some kids. Moms stop begging. Moms start working. Moms reach sustainability. Moms are graduated from the project.
Said that way, it almost makes sense and diagrams so neatly on paper. I threw away those diagrams long ago.
Even the best solutions that work other places in the world do not necessarily work in any given setting. One potential solution was to have Moms start self-help/savings groups. Great idea with incredible success in the countryside. All of a sudden we found that Moms in the slum did not trust each other and the solution fell on deaf ears.
Or, another solution is let’s give Moms a skill. It seemed like a great idea. We sent out a bunch of Moms and had them trained to be seamstresses. Now they had a skill and could work in textile factories which are popping up in Ethiopia every day. By the time these Moms were trained, the starting wage in these factories became 800 ETB ($40) per month. This meant Moms could pay their rent and have $10 left over per month to pay for food, clothing, transportation, medical, etc. So much for sustainability since they could make more than that begging on the streets.
What we now know is that we have committed to seeing orphans prevented and families preserved. If the Moms don’t get to middle income status, that’s okay. If they keep living in a one room home with a dirt floor, that’s okay, too. If they stay together as a family and have dignity restored – that is all we truly can ask for. It is huge. If we can give them glimpses of Jesus and introduce them to Him along the way – that’s even better!
We still have some great strategies now. Moms are saving money. Now, 3 of them can afford the downpayment to own their own apartments. We hope to start our own hair salon and sewing center and cafe where Moms can grow into a viable business that will minimize risk while maximizing profits for them. We have a great school that is educating children. We have a wonderful opportunity to give literacy training to Moms.
But, even if those strategies stop making sense tomorrow, we will keep doing what we’ve been doing – loving on families, preserving families and preventing orphans.
3. Long term relationships is the most vital ingredient. I am more convinced than ever that the only way to see change happen is through relationship. Feeding the masses or distributing food or free services or refurbishing the slum only provides a lasting benefit when they are tied to relationships. It feels good to “just do it”, but I believe we must always be conscious of the long term benefits.
When I look around EHE, what I see are how relationships now built on 4 years of consistent care are paying off. Moms have a voice into the way the project is run – and because of that they feel ownership. When a recent situation arose, the Moms were the first to come to the defense of the project. Why? Because these are now their family members.
Relationship means that the 22 Moms who are HIV positive not only receive services, but are checked in on and given extra care, prayer, encouragement and visitation when they need it. Relationship means that when one of the Moms recently contracted TB on top of the HIV she had and her medications got totally messed up by a clinic – our nurse was there to plead with the doctor to serve this Mom well. Relationship means that our staff were present at this Mom’s bedside constantly during her final weeks, including when she recently went to be with The Lord. Relationship also means that our staff will keep advocating on behalf of her children so that they may be cared for.
Relationship means that Moms come and share their problems and social workers work to find solutions. When a Grandma’s house became inhumane to live in – her house could be renovated. When a Mom was living under a tarp in the rainy season with her children – she could be befriended and her children sent to school. When a Mom broke her arm, other Moms (who were disconnected from each other before) came with the solution of sacrificing a little among all of them to care for her. When a Muslim mom showed up with newborn triplets – staff were able to offer ongoing help that not only will see those children have formula for a week – but for as long as they need it.
Those relationships then expand beyond the beneficiaries. It extends to our great family sponsors around the world. It grows to a great relationship we have with Food For All in the Netherlands whose project provides funding for 30 families in the project. It grows to local organizations we serve alongside such as Strong Hearts and Hope for Korah with whom we share both the burden and resources. It grows to organizations such as Brighton Their World who help us to provide nutritional resources…and on and on and on.
We need each other. Together we go far and long.
4. True teams sit at round tables. Between Christy and I, we have literally told the story of Embracing Hope and the daily ministry over a thousand times. However, I am always hesitant when we share. The impression that I am afraid people get sometimes is that we are somehow really creative or that we somehow carried the burden of this ministry. The truth is, we are nobodies.
If you want to know the true heroes – they are the local staff. They have names like Alayu (Ethiopian Director), Binyam (Project Coordinator), Sisay (Social Worker), Habtamu (Social Worker), Hamelmal (Finance Manager), Seble (Nurse)…and on and on and on. These are the people who have tweaked the project and made it fit. These are the people who answer the call when 95 new families need helped in the neighborhood. These are the people who make development ideas work within a unique group of people and a unique setting. These are the people who help to heal hearts, see transformation from the inside out and who point the way to Jesus time after time. These are the people who figure out how to minister to Protestants and Orthodox and Muslims in non-offensive ways that still clearly show who Jesus is. They work outside of their job expertise everyday. They do whatever comes their way and they minister to individual moms needs. I love the days when I stop by the office and find that no one is sitting behind a desk – because they are answering the calls to meet an individual’s needs.
Without a round table, there is no project for Embracing Hope Ethiopia. It would just be some hair brained ideas that some Americans transported to Ethiopia and tried to impose. Instead, EHE is organic and fluid (yet structured). It has so little to do with us…and so much to do with some great Ethiopians who have huge hearts to see families preserved, orphans prevented, dignity restored and individuals introduced to Jesus in word and deed.
Four lessons. In reality, it is more like 40 or 440 that I could share. What a ride it has been. We are so grateful to God for the ways He has provided, directed and sustained. We look forward to all that He will continue to do in these coming years.