Saturday, July 30, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
As I type this, I am sitting in the DC airport waiting to fly home to Nashville. I never dreamed leaving Ethiopia would be as hard as it was. I have loved many places I have gone and I have felt twinges of sadness many times before as I left those places. But this time was different - I felt like I was leaving a place that felt very much at home to me. I hadn't expected that. I loved the people, the ministries, the country and one little boy in particular that I cannot get out of my head. I can't post any pictures of him or any of the kids at that orphanage unless it doesn't show their face - like the picture I posted where I'm holding him - you can't see his face so that one is ok. But out of respect for privacy of the kids and the families who are adopting many of them - you can't post pictures online of them. Which I totally respect and understand. But I am thankful they still let us take pictures for us to have for our personal use. I am cherishing all the photos and videos I got of that little boy. I've been praying, thinking, praying and talking with team members about him. As soon as we landed today, I felt a sense of urgency to do something - to contact the adoption agency, to start fundraising, start the process and just move forward while asking God to either open or close doors. If this is meant to be, I just trust God will open doors wide open. And if not, I will just be praying God has a wonderful family for him. I so want him to have a forever family. I wish you could have seen how snuggly he was, how cute he was when he was wearing my sunglasses and trying to put them on me and giggling. The first day I got there - I picked him up and he immediately put his head on my shoulder. I know he probably has done that with others before cause he is a snuggler but I have had other kids snuggle up with me but this time - I just started welling up with tears almost immediately. It was instant love. I wish I could describe it better than that. We did get to go back a second time to see those kids. We went and bought formula and took about 20 cans to Restoration and to Korah. We got to stay for about an hour at Restoration and I got tons of pictures and video of him and just loved on him so much. It was so funny - he was wearing a pink shirt and mix-matched socks. I had a David & Goliath book with me and I got to flip through it with him. And he got a kick out of playing with and putting on my sunglasses. It was so great to see him again but even harder to leave the second time. I was crying when I walked out of there. Thankfully this time he wasn't though cause he was playing with toys when I left. He was cutely waiving at me as I walked out. I left a huge chunk of my heart there.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Yesterday we went to Restoration Orphanage and I fell in love with a sweet little boy who actually is available for adoption and is around 2 years old. What a little snuggle bug. When I picked him up, he just immediately wrapped both arms around my neck and laid his head down. It wasn't too long after that he fell asleep in my arms. When I tried to lay him gently down in his bed, he woke up and was not happy. He was screaming and crying and was very upset. It took the nanny some time to calm him down. We came back after lunch and loved on the kids some more and I got to hang out with him for awhile. I got to hold him and take him on a tour through the building. We stood out on the balcony for awhile and I talked to him and prayed over him and he gave me lots of hugs. What a cute little guy! Later we went back up to the baby room where from what I could tell, he is the oldest boy. The nanny's brought some toys out and he has quite an arm on him - he can throw a ball really well. He was standing next to me and held out his hand and I was being silly and shook his hand and said "nice to meet you" and he thought that was so fun - he kept sticking his hand out and waiting for me to do and say it over and over again. Right before we left - the nanny gave him a bottle and he came over and laid down on me to drink it. Before long, he was out. I just rubbed his little head while he slept and he looks so content and peaceful. But as smooth as I tried to be in picking him up and moving him to his bed - he wasn't fooled and he woke up screaming mad again that I put him down. We all had to put down kids and so the nursery was full of crying babies. The nanny's grabbed some toys and tried to calm them down. It broke my heart to see him crying like that. He just so loves to be held. I found out that his name means "His mercy" referring to God's mercy. Several times the team would see me holding him and say "he's available Autumn - you could adopt him" and I found my eyes welling up with tears several times. I've always wanted to adopt a little boy from Ethiopia and here I was face to face with a very real little boy who was in my arms who is available for adoption and who just happened to be the little boy that captured my heart. There was another single woman there who was adopting one of the kids. I got to talk to her briefly and just found it interesting that she was there that day. But she is adopting a girl and I know a lot of countries don't allow singles to adopt the opposite gender. But I looked up the adopting agency website for the agency this orphanage works with and it didn't say anything about adopting a specific gender and singles over 25 can adopt from her through them. Which is awesome because a lot of other agencies I had looked at didn't allow it here. I know the ideal situation for a child is a mom and a dad. And for a little boy especially - a dad. It makes me sad that I don't have a dad to offer a child. But obviously that's not in my hands. I just keep praying and asking God - why is my heart breaking, why am I so wanting to be a mom and adopt a child and yet why at the same time am I struggling with letting go of the order I thought things would happen. A few of my team members at dinner that night said they thought I should start the process trying to adopt him and let God open or close doors if it's truly meant to be. It's not that I don't want to step out in faith - but I really don't want to get ahead of God. And I think with matters of the heart - it's harder to discern what God is saying sometimes. And I'm just not sure what he's saying. Some days, I think he's saying "wait" and other days I think he's saying "step forward in faith". I'm reading a book at home called Adopting on Your Own - it's all about single adoption and the chapter I was on before I left was about how when you really start to consider adopting as a single, there is a mourning process of letting go of the dreams of having a spouse first and just the order most people dream of things happening. I know that's true of me. I've wanted to be a wife and mom since I can remember - in that order. So the idea of raising a child on my own is scary. This book is great because it talks about all those fears. Fears about never having any help or a break and getting overwhelmed. I love kids and I know I have a lot of love to give and I know without a doubt I want to adopt. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared to do it by myself. And I think I am in that mourning process right now. I'm still moving forward slowly, trying to let go of my plans and asking God what His are. I talked to my roommate about moving out - felt like it was time to try it on my own. And it would be a good step towards seeing how I do financially without a roommate before adopting. The cool thing is - my roommate was feeling ready to live on her own anyway. So that worked out well. God's timing is so awesome. She was excited to look for her own place. And I'm excited to live alone too with my Auty girl. And it really is a good step towards adoption. And if God's plan is for me to adopt as a single - I do not want fear to stop me. I just want to make sure I hear from Him first. And I'm just praying that hearing from Him won't be so difficult with this matter of the heart. I keep praying for confirmation one way or another. I would love all the prayers I can get. I do not take raising a child lightly. I know it is a forever commitment so I don't want to just jump in blindly without seeking God fully and without knowing exactly what it all will mean for my life. So if you're reading this, I would love your prayers for just clarity from the Lord.
In the meantime, I have this little boy in my heart and on my mind. And I'm hoping we get to go back for one more visit before we leave Ethiopia. We are going to try to get the AWA mural done in the morning on Monday and are hoping we can go get some baby formula with donation money the team raised and drop some off at Korah and Restoration. We need to make sure that would be ok with both places for us to stop by again. But we all really want to. Our hearts were moved by both those places. I have fallen in love with Ethiopia. I loved Uganda too. But in a different way. It's kind of hard to explain. I hope to go back to both but I feel my heart more invested in Ethiopia. Maybe it's because here I really felt God challenging me to get outside my comfort zone in new ways. And the need in Korah was so great. I love that one of our past team members saw that need and was moved to help. And it was awesome to be able to see that ministry in action. I just love that past team members have been so moved to do more that they couldn't go home and back to life as normal. We are seeing it happen more and more and that is the best part of what we do at Visiting Orphans. To know lives are being changed all around - in the kids and people our teams visit but also in the lives of the team members themselves. We are called to go. And God is then moving those who are obedient to that call to not just go but to be the change the world needs. And so many of them are responding to that call, moving their lives to other countries, starting new ministries, adopting, going on more trips and more. I love that I get to see it all happen and to see God working in such amazing ways. Our God is an awesome God! And He is alive and well and working today. I can't wait to see what comes from this very trip in the lives of these team members. It's exciting to think about. We shall see what God does!
Friday, July 22, 2011
It is 9:15am and we just checked out of Providence Guest house where we spent the first 2 nights. We just checked in to Ethiopia Guest House for the next 4 nights for our remaining time here. As soon as the next van and luggage arrives and we get unloaded, we will head to Restoration Orphanage.
Yesterday we spent the day in Korah. I am so glad that Project 61 is there helping the people there. There is so much need. The pastor of the church there told us that all of Addis thinks Korah is the lowest of the low. So low that Addis dumps all their trash there. One of the guys who works at P61 told us that the people there were so glad we came and that the people across the way from Korah who have money won't even look at the people of Korah or acknowledge them. So for us to come and pray with them and hug them is a very big deal to them. There was a girl named Kayla there who was awesome - she helped us by telling us what the schedule should be and we split into 3 groups - one team did the Noah's ark story, one team did music and the other team did art projects. We did each thing with one group of kids and then we rotated to the next group so that all 3 groups got to do all 3 things. Then we got to help feed the kids lunch. They came and found me and asked me to get 3 people to come feed the old men with leprosy who had lost all their fingers and couldn't feed themselves. I'm gonna be honest here - I got an instant feeling of panic like "I can't do this" over me. I had forgotten that Kari Gibson had done that and I had seen the photos so I knew it meant feeding them with my hands. This was definitely outside my comfort zone. And I know it was for my other team members who joined me and helped. When I sat down - I felt nervous because I had no idea how to feed them this ethiopian food with this spongy bread like thing that was flat and big like a tortilla called injera with sauce poured on it. Thankfully there were people there who showed us. It took some practice cause it tended to get soggy and fall apart - I dropped some on the man I was feeding a few times but then I got the hang of it. I just really wanted to do a good job. It was uncomfortable but very humbling. I can love on kids all day long but when it comes to adults, I'm not as familiar. And to get up close and personal with an old man who had suffered so much, lost all his fingers and most of his toes from leprosy - it was humbling. I just tried my hardest to look him in the eye and smile. After he had eaten enough - he pulled out a black plastic bag - similar to a kroger bag in size. He signaled for me to untie it so I did. He then signaled me to put the leftovers in this bag. I looked in there and there were some leftovers already - all mushy in the bag. I dumped the leftovers in and then a lady came around and fill it up with more. I asked and she said they take leftovers everyday to eat for dinner. One of the 3 men had a tupperware type container that he put his in inside the bag and I thought that would be a good thing for future teams to bring for them - some tupperware so they didn't have food in a plastic grocery bag. I got my photo with the sweet man and patted his bag. He put his hands up and smiled so huge - I asked the lady what that meant and she said it was the signal for thanking God. Wow - talk about humbling. To literally be able to feed this man and love on him - what an honor. Uncomfortable - yes. Worth the discomfort - definitely. The mission trip Anticipate journal talked in one chapter about how we're not coming on a mission trip to love on orphans or paint a mural or whatever other thing we think we're coming for. We are coming to be transformed to the likeness of Christ. When I heard the pastor talk about Korah being seen as the lowest of the low and I looked into those precious kids faces - I felt overwhelmed with emotion and knew this is exactly where Jesus would be. Yesterday at Korah - my heart was broken in a new way. And I pray in that moment of loving on that man even when in the natural I didn't really want to - I know it was Jesus loving through me. And for that I am thankful.
After we fed the people, we ate our lunch and then split into 3 groups and walked to do some home visits. The group I was with visited the home of a mom who lost her husband 9 months ago and had 2 small children to care for. She had a roommate to split the rent but the lady left and now she is trying to come up with 230 birr per month for rent when she usually only makes 6-7 birr per day at the most when she sells corn. Some days, she doesn't sell any. She is really struggling. We got to pray for her and I asked if I could hold her hands. I have noticed in all my travels that people need to be touched. In America, we're all about personal space but in most other countries - a touch means a lot. Especially to those who so many people ignore and pass by. I think that's why the kids just latch onto us. Sure they love games and stories and activities but more than that - they just really love to be held. I tried to look them in the eye so they know that I see them - and that God sees them.
Korah was a hard place to visit but a great place at the same time. I definitely want to go back. All the kids knew my co-workers name when I asked them if they knew Alicia - they all got excited and said "oh yes, we love Alicia. She is our friend." And I know Alicia knows most of their names. I want to know them, to know their names. I have seen in Haiti that when you come back to a place time and time again - it means so much to the kids. It's great to come visit once and love on some kids but so much greater to come repeatedly. That means so much to those kids! I think then they really believe you when you tell them they matter and that you love them.
Traveling is exhausting. Add together 24 people, 48 checked bags, 2 carry-ons a piece, two countries, multiple airports, multiple places of lodging and you have one exhausted team. But also add into that some amazing kids that we got the joy and honor to love on and it's all worth it. Even with swollen feet and a sore back:) I love this team. We are at that point in the trip where we really do feel like a big family. A really big family. This is my biggest team ever and I am so thankful to say that every single person has been a joy to have on my team. They are flexible, respectful, kind and amazing with the kids. I am blessed. The ministries, staff and kids are blessed. What a great trip!
As I type this, we are now at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda waiting to board our flight to Ethiopia where we will spend the next week before going home. I cannot believe a week in Uganda has already gone by. We arrived last Friday, drove 3 hours straight to Jinja to Canaan Children's Home where we fell in love with some 145 or so sweet kiddos. We stayed at Canaan's for 3 nights. The second day - we went to Amazima - it was Saturday and they do their feeding program on Saturday. It was awesome to get to meet Katie Davis and see the ministry at work. The community is extremely blessed by that ministry. So glad we got to go. We were even able to help serve the kids their food. The next day was Sunday and we spent the entire day at Canaan's. We broke into groups and did VBS with the kids for Sunday school and then attended church after. We got to play with the kids in the afternoon and take a walk to a site where they are going to build a new and bigger church as they have the finances. They also took us on a walk to their farm where they have cows and stuff. Monday morning, it was already time to leave. We got up at 6am, at breakfast at 7am and hit the road at 7:30. We stopped in Jinja, exchanged money and shopped a bit before heading 3+ hours to Kampala. Once we got to Kampala we arrived at the children's prison and called Sixty Feet - only to find out that is not the location they were at that day. They are at a different prison 2 hours away on Mondays. As it was, we only had planned to spend the afternoon there so driving 2 more hours wasn't really an option. So we went to our guest house and checked in and relaxed. It worked out though cause Moses from Sixty Feet came to meet us later at the guest house and it ended up that 9 of our team members were able to go to the nearby children's prison we tried going to on Monday with him on Tuesday. They had a good but very hard day there. So glad they were able to go. I know they were a light to those kids. They led them in worship and played games with them and loved on them. What an amazing ministry Sixty Feet is - so glad they are doing what they are doing! The rest of us spent the day with Return Ministries and the 200+ kids that come there for a meal and program on weekends. Since we were in town, they got to take off school and come get a meal on 2 weekdays. We went again today for the morning and left for the airport after lunch. That place is so joyful. I love it there! I hope to go back again for sure and would love to stay there longer next time.
We had an amazing day at Return Ministries today. We had a ball with the kids. We did animal balloons, painted nails, did face painting, sang songs and did lots of dancing and loving on those sweet kiddos. There are so many kids there. There had to be over 200 and most of them were pretty little. So cute!!! There was one little girl named Hina who latched on to me pretty early on and would not leave my side. I was trying to help the team and formulate a plan for what to do with the kids but I just really had to stop and love on her. She seemed so much in need of that. I ended up picking her up and she grabbed on to me with both arms so tight. I started praying for her and got overwhelmed with emotion. I don't even know her story but from her tight grip around my neck holding on to me and not wanting to let go - I just sensed she had a lot of pain in her life. I asked one of the ladies later and she said her father died and her mother takes care of her. But that's as much as I could get. I finally got her to let go of me and do some coloring. She gave her picture to me. After awhile, she made her way to the area where the kids her age were all sitting cause they got called down for lunch. Me and Sarah got to go around and wash the kids hands. They hand out a big bowl and a water jug and the kids put their hands out over the bowl and you pour water on and they rub em together to clean them. It was neat being able to go around and do that. For lunch, they had rice and beans with some veggies in it. Some of the older kids formed an assembly line to pass the food down. The smallest kids were served first. After lunch, I didn't see Hina again so I think she went home. Most of the kids live in the neighborhood. Only 15 actually live at the home. The rest are local kids. It's such a great outreach to those kids! There was so much joy. It was seriously like the most fun I've had in a long time. They sang us songs and danced. And then we sang some songs for them and danced. They taught us some dances. Then we taught them the song I always hear in Haiti - "I am not forgotten - God knows my name". Then we did the hokey pokey, father Abraham and head shoulders knees and toes. Oh and not to forgot the makerena:) After that, they just had music playing and I started dancing with the kids. I pulled out any zumba move I could think of. They stood there and imitated all my dance moves and they were awesome. They are such good little dancers. It was like heaven - that's a highlight for me to get to be surrounded by kids and making up dances! The team got some videos of me being silly with them with all my zumba moves. Everyone had so much fun with the kids. We are glad we get to go back tomorrow morning. We will go back in the morning and then head straight to the airport from there after an early lunch. We fly to Ethiopia tomorrow night. Hard to believe our time in Uganda is almost over. It has flown by. Probably because it's been so jam packed. I love the people here and the culture. There's such a sense of community and love! I hope I will get the chance to come back again. It's been an amazing first week. And I trust that God has amazing things in store for us in Ethiopia too.
9 of our team members went with Sixty Feet today to the children's prison. They brought light, I am absolutely sure of it. They had a great day but a hard day. But they went and they loved on some kids that very much needed it. We are going to have dinner shortly and have a time of sharing about our day with each other since we split up today.
Thanks for praying. We need the prayers and so appreciate them.
I've been typing up blogs on my laptop but can't add them cause the wireless internet isn't working. So I am using the computer at the Ethiopia Guest House where we just checked in this morning and will stay the rest of our time here. I know alot of my team has family and friends checking this blog so I like to update it as often as possible so they know we are all safe. I'm hoping I can upload my more detailed blogs soon so you can read about our experiences here and in Uganda. It's been a great trip and we still have 5 days to go. We spent the day at Korah yesterday. Today we are going to Restoration Orphanage. One of the vans broke down so we are waiting for a new van to arrive to pick us up. With 24 of us, we travel in 3 vans. The ET Guest house staff are awesome. Even though we couldn't stay here the first 2 nights - they still provided transportation and guides for us and they are great. So thankful for them. We have stayed in 4 different places now so I'm really happy to be staying here for 4 nights in a row.
Hopefully the wireless will be working tonight and I will upload my blogs from the past few days. Thanks for praying!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Internet was down the last day and a half at Adonai in Uganda so we couldn't get on to update everyone. I typed up some blogs that I will upload later but for now - just wanted those who are checking my blog to know that we made it safely to Ethiopia. We are totally exhausted after hauling our bags today and dealing with the craziness of these airports but all is well. We arrived at the guest house we are staying at for 2 nights and the staff from the other guest house we will spend the rest of the week at is providing transporation and guides for us. They picked us up at the airport and helped us with our million bags. I will write more soon but for now, I am about to fall over tired so I'm signing off. We are all safe and all is going well. Thanks for the prayers!
Monday, July 18, 2011
It is almost 5pm here in Uganda - we got up early to say goodbye at Canaan's, eat breakfast and head back to Kampala. We stopped to exchange money and do some shopping on the way. Wow - exchanging money took FOREVER!!!! Then we headed to the children's prison in Kampala - only as it turns out - it wasn't the one we were supposed to go to and that one is 2 hours away. Soooo... we called Moses from Sixty Feet and let him know of the mix up. He's going to join us for dinner tonight at our guest house where we just checked in about 2 hours ago and had our first REAL team debriefing. The first few days were incredibly busy - it just felt so jam packed and it went by way too fast. Plus with adjusting to a different time zone - we were all pretty much exhausted by nighttime. But it's been great. We absolutely fell in love with the kids at Canaan Children's Home and Pastor Isaac who is the papa there, along with his precious wife Rebecca. They have huge hearts and quite a story. You should check out the Canaan Children's Home website! There are children that still need sponsors. What joy we saw there. Even with the tragic backgrounds these kids have - they still have joy. Pastor Isaac shared some of their back stories with us last night. Heartbreaking and hard to believe these joyful children have been through all that they have. He told us Canaan's is a place of healing and when teams come, it helps them heal. What an honor and a joy to be one of those teams!
Tomorrow we spend the whole day at Return Ministries. We get to meet the papa there - Pastor Samuel - he and his family are going to join us for dinner tonight too.
Thanks for all the prayers. We so appreciate it!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
We have been in Uganda 3 days and it's gone by way too fast. It has been a jam packed itinerary and I wish we had more time with the kids at Canaan's. Love them all!!! Our team is amazing - what a great group. I am so blessed by then. We went to Amazima yesterday and spent the day there. Today, we got to have church at Canaan's and teach a VBS story and craft to the kids before attending regular church. We got to hear the kids sing and then we got to hand out many of the clothes we brought to all the kids, along with some toys. It was a good day but went by too fast. I can't believe we are leaving here early in the morning. We are heading to Kampala and going to minister at the children's prison with Sixty Feet on the way, then the next two days we will be at Return Ministries and then we fly to Ethiopia. We are having a great trip. Thanks for all the prayers!
Friday, July 15, 2011
After a long 24 hours plus of travel, we just arrived shortly ago to Canaan Children's Home in Jinja, Uganda. It was a 3 hour drive from the airport. We mostly all slept the whole way. We are pretty tired but super excited to be here. We made it safe, as did all our luggage. Internet access is very limited so I probably won't update as much as usual during these first few days but wanted everyone to know we are safe. Thanks for praying!