Visiting sponsor children and reading letters

Monday, 7/20/15 Update from Sintaro Village (Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

We want to get an earlier start this morning, in the event that we might have afternoon rain again. Things don’t quite work out as planned, but we still manage to arrive a little earlier today than yesterday. Progress!

When we make the turn off the main road into Tula we are pulled over by a local policeman. No one translates what is going on, but moments later, the policeman boards our bus and sits down next to me. Mattewos and our translators are quiet, but don’t seem bothered by this, so the rest of us take it in stride too. Not wanting to do anything which may be misconstrued, we ride the rest of the way quietly into Sintaro. As it turns out, he works in the Malga district, and he is just hitching a ride!

As we arrive in Sintaro, the kids are once again lined up to welcome us. They seem happy to see us… until they see the policeman step out of the van instead, and then their demeanor changes and they get much more serious! Their smiles reappear when we step out behind him and begin our day together.

The day starts with handing out name tags to all of the children. They enjoy our attempts at pronouncing their names and patiently wait to be called. I find that I am much, much better at pronouncing their unusual names since I’ve met all of them once before. Progress!

We’ve decided that we want to start the day doing hut visits so we’re not so rushed by the weather. Hut visits are an amazing opportunity to meet our sponsored children, see their living environments and to learn more about their culture and lifestyle. We have three visits scheduled for today.   We visit Lori and Sarah’s sponsored children (you can read about Sarah’s visit in a separate post), and another student named Kassa.

Last month, many children from our community attended an African themed Vacation Bible School at CPC. Sarah Scott, Heather Southworth and a team of volunteers did a fantastic job of educating our kids about Sintaro Village and introducing our kids to the concept of supporting those in need through the giving of themselves, their finances and through prayer. Each day, the VBS kids brought in donations that ended up being enough to sponsor two Sintaro children for SIX YEARS! Kassa is one of those children, so we are thrilled to be able to visit him and bring back the stories of our visit to the children of CPC! It is a beautiful thing to realize how this project is impacting lives in Sintaro, as well as at home!

As we walked towards Kassa’s hut, the neighbors file in parade with us. We join hands and sing songs as we get closer to the hut. Kassa’s family is home and we are invited inside to meet them. Kassa’s mom is there, with three additional siblings. We learn there is a 5th child who was in 9th grade and left to attend school in Awasa (about a 45 minute drive away). Unfortunately, he has fallen sick and has had to drop out of school. He is still in Awasa, but is working to help provide income for the family.

As we look around the hut, it’s hard to see because it is so dark inside. I’ve been in several huts and by comparison, this one is fairly large and seems sturdy. We notice that behind a basket-weaved wall there is a raised mat, where presumably, the entire family sleeps. On the wall, they have a poster of the American alphabet! Dad isn’t home because he’s out farming in their fields. I ask if they have any livestock, and they point behind me where, unbeknownst to me, there is a cow—inside the hut! As we finish our visit, I ask how I can be praying for their family. Mom’s immediate and authoritative response is that she would like us to pray that they increase their faith. This is profound to me—here we sit among the poorest of the poor, who have such great physical and financial need, and yet, her hearts desire is for increased faith. Oh, we have so much to learn from these people! I ask about any potential health issues, and she asks me to pray for her insides. She says she hasn’t felt well for a long time, is very weak, and has little energy to do her work. As I begin to pray for her and her family, she kneels at my feet and I kneel beside her to lay hands on her and the children. We enjoy a sweet time of prayer, where at every pause she joins me with an “Amen”. Too soon it’s time to go and we take a few family photos with them outside the hut.

It’s lunchtime, but first we must wash our hands. Imagine my delight when we realize that we have running water!!!!! Just this morning, a spigot has been installed with water from the well! Although the water celebration won’t take place until Wednesday, we are able to enjoy the fresh, clean, cool water! The team takes a moment and just appreciates what a momentous occasion this is and praises God for the flowing water!

Once again, I’m hungry for lunch. In past visits, the Hope staff, interpreters and school staff all wait until we serve ourselves, and then they sit at a different table from us. I noticed this when I was here in February and yesterday I made a conscious decision to not sit at “our” table, but instead to sit at the empty table where they would normally sit. I was pleased that they joined me and we conversed all through lunch. Today, I sit at the end of the table with the rest of the CPC team, and I am so pleased that the interpreters join me. Yes—they’ve taken my lead and want to join us! Being here in Sintaro is so much about developing relationships, and we have an opportunity to do that in so many more ways than just with the people of the village.

After lunch, Lori, Sarah and Rachel leave to go to the local Catholic church and set up the screen and projector for another viewing of “The Jesus Film”. They report back that the building is overflowing and spilling out with people there to watch the film. Initially, some of the school children are there, but when it’s time for them to leave, some of the other local children and young adults (the ones “outside the fence” rush forward to take their place. A few of the village elders are in attendance as well.

Meanwhile, Lori and Debbie attend a meeting with the Water Committee to discuss the plans for water distribution. We are all excited about the upcoming celebration of water!

The rest of the afternoon is spent reading sponsor letters to the school children. It’s a sweet time of being one-on-one with each student and really connecting the to the community back home. We take pictures and are able to share the letters and tell the students about our friends back home who love them and pray for them.

We manage to get letters read to all 150 students and we’re all exhausted. We drive back to the hotel and look forward to a shower. Unfortunately, when we arrive, we have no power, no water, and no wifi. Some of use baby wipes to clean off a bit, and then walk a few blocks for some refreshing pre-dinner gelato. We enjoy Italian pizza for dinner, and then finally come back to the hotel to find we have power and water again. Unfortunately, wifi is still somewhat elusive, but when I walk to one of the other buildings, I’m able to find some. It’s a late night and that bed is sure looking good. It’s been a good, full day and I look forward to what tomorrow may bring. G’night!

Sarah’s hut visit

7/20/15 Update by team member, Sarah Obujen (Sarah will a High School Junior this Fall, and this is her first trip to Sintaro)

Selam! (Hello in Sedama-the local language spoken in Sintaro).

So far my trip here in Ethiopia has been eye opening, fun, and full of adventure. Today was our second day in the village, and it is packed with reading letters, hut visits, showing the Jesus Film, singing, etc. When we pulled up to the village, we had kids running along both sides of our bus shouting and waving. As we continued down the road the amount of kids grew and the yelling got louder. I couldn’t keep the giant smile of my face as I waved out the bus window. When I got off countless outstretched hands greeted me. I grabbed as many hands as I could and gave them a squeeze. Adorable faces grinned up at me, and I realized that my heart is totally captured by these kids.

We first hand out name tags for each of the 150 students. We each grab a stack of name tags and start calling out the names written on the tags. This is no easy task, especially for me. I take my best guess at each name but typically I wasn’t even close. Luckily the translators, school teachers, and children are willing to step up and help me find each student. During the controlled chaos I was able to find and meet my sponsor child, Zena. She was very shy and first and tentative about approaching me but, I saw her watching me from a distance.

We make our way down the “road” (a term to be used loosely) and to our first hut for the day. During hut visits, we are able to meet the sponsor child, their family, siblings, and any animals that share their home with them. We have the opportunity to ask them questions, and see what their living conditions are like. We are able to visit three huts today, Wondi, Lori Larson’s sponsor child, Zena, my sponsor child, and Kassa, one of the sponsor kids that VBS raised money to support.

Today, visiting Zena’s hut especially touched my heart.

She was finally coming out of her shell, and she and I held hands the whole way to her hut. When we arrived he mother came out to greet us, and three kids followed. I greeted each of the kids by shaking/squeezing their hand and hugging the mother. The family then led us inside her hut, and pulled out small wooden stools for us to sit on. Inside the hut it was very dark but you could see it was clean and organized. The huts here in Sintaro are made out of tree branches and mud for the walls. The roof and made out a thick grass and tree branches.

Sitting near Zena and her family, and an interpreter I began to ask them questions. I came to discover that most of her kids attended the public school, which is about a two-hour walk away. Her eldest son went to school in Awasa, but became sick and couldn’t attend school anymore; instead he found work in the city. The family owns crops near her house, where they grow false banana and other crops. They also have a cow that sleeps in their hut night so the hyenas don’t attack it. I also found out that the new water distribution point is close by to their house, and it is an easier route then going to the old water. I am so excited for the family to have clean water.

Zena then gave me a tour of their hut; I saw their small sleeping area, and their kitchen right next to it. The kitchen/bedroom was blocked off by a weaved wall of sorts. They also had an area set up for the cow with tree branches and a spot to tie him up at night.

Just as we were finishing the tour, Zena’s father came racing in the door with Zena’s brother. They both still held farming tools in their hands, and were sweaty and breathing hard. He told me that he was working in their fields but then he heard that we were here so he sprinted back. He thanked me multiple times for visiting with them, and for providing Zena the opportunity to go to school. This pleasantly surprised me, because on Zena’s information form, it said her father was “tired” and did not work. I was so excited to meet him and have my expectations blown away. He was fantastic to talk to, and I know that he is an amazing man of God.

I then asked what I could be praying about for them. He asked me to be praying for continued health, food, and water for their family. He was also very grateful that their kids were able to attend school and that God has continued to provide for their family. He wanted me to pray for their family and the village for peace and prosperity. Once he had finished, I prayed right there with the family, holding as many hands as I could grab. It was an amazing experience and I could feel God’s presence in the moment.

God has been stirring my heart for this village, these beautiful people, and especially Zena and her family. I am so pumped to continue to serve God this week, and see how He works in my life, the villagers’ life, and the lives of my team.

Sarah visits her sponsor child's hut and meets the family

Sarah visits her sponsor child’s hut and meets the family

Sarah and her sponsor child, Zena (Zena's mother in the background)

Sarah and her sponsor child, Zena (Zena’s mother in the background)

First Day in the Village

Sunday, 7/19/15 Update from Sintaro Village, Ethiopia

After a good night’s sleep, we arise feeling much more rested and ready to face the day. We eat breakfast in the hotel, and are pleased that it is ready “on time”! Typically, time here is a suggestion. After a hearty meal, Pastor Mattewos arrives at the hotel and we are ready to start our day! The first stop is a sidewalk coffee shop to pick up our interpreters. We have to wait for a bit, but when they arrive, I am thrilled to see familiar faces! We have four interpreters today, and I know them all from my last trip! Several are all wonderful, kind-hearted men of God who dedicate their lives to the Lord. Joseph teaches catechism and teaching the gospel to children and Teshale is studying to be a priest. Also with us are Berhano and Aklilu, who I learned has recently gotten married! We make a stop to buy some more bottled water and then we are finally on our way to Sintaro Village!

As we approach the village, my heart begins to warm and my pulse quickens with excitement. I am about to be reunited with some beautiful souls that I have fallen in love with. The drive passes quickly as I observe my surroundings and note that everything this trip is much greener. The weather has held out for us so far and we have dry weather. It’s obvious that it has rained significantly though by the puddles and the ruts in the road. In very wet weather I can imagine that this road would be virtually impassable.

We make a final turn and I spy crowds of children—OUR children!—who see us approaching and begin singing a song of welcome. Tears immediately spring to my eyes as I recognize familiar faces. They recognize me too and several children call me by name. My heart is melting. One of the faces in the crowd I recognize is Lemlem. I greet her by name and she breaks into a huge grin as I embrace her. Too soon, I realize that the rest of our team has started walking away. Those who know me well know that I’m always the last to want to leave a group of people!

Sarah is with me and we follow the rest of our group up the hill. I make eye contact with her and I can see that her heart has been captured with love already for these people. I embrace her and we walk arm in arm up the hill. It is my extreme privilege to be with her on this trip and watch her grow in love and service for the Lord.

When we get to the top of the hill I realize that we have arrived at Meker (which means “Harvest”) Church. The building is fairly large and is packed with people. Church is already in session and they invite us to come to the front of the room. We sit facing them and they welcome us. When they invite us to respond, Lori stands and speaks for the group. She tells them that although we have traveled from far away, we are neighbors and brothers and sisters in the Lord. She says that we love Jesus and are visiting Sintaro because we love them too. She refers to the water that will soon be flowing from the well and that we are excited to celebrate not only the physical water, but the Living Water also. They respond with “Amen’s” and “Praise God!”. The service continues for a few more minutes as Pastor Mattewos gives a short message from Ecclesiastes, and then it ends with songs of worship and prayer.

At the end of the service, the announcement is made that there will be a short break and then we will be showing “The Jesus Film”. A few people leave, but most stay. I take this opportunity to get up and mingle with the crowd. I walk throughout the church shaking their hands and offering a greeting. Many respond with smiles and respect, but are a little unsure of how to respond to me. Noneetheless, I can tell that they appreciate the effort that I am making as they are very welcoming and glad to have me there. Others are more affectionate in their response—especially the women. Many hold me close in an embrace and whisper quiet words in my ear. I don’t know the meaning of the words, but I can sense their love.

After a few minutes, the show begins! The room has filled up once again and there is a quiet excitement in the room. I know that this is the first time for probably all of them in the room to experience seeing a movie of any kind. I make my way back to the front of the room and search for a seat. There are none to be had, so I end up sitting on the steps at the front of the church. Sarah, Brenda, and Rachel are there with me, and Lori is on a bench in the same area. We settle in, knowing that we will be there for about two hours until the movie ends.

I keep my focus on the film rather than watching the villagers. I don’t want any of the focus to be on me, but instead to be on the message of the movie. The movie is a dramatic reenactment of the gospel of Luke and it follows the life of Jesus from birth to death. Although I can’t understand the words, I know the story, so I’m able to follow along. It’s interesting to be able to pick out a few words and names here and there. Every once in awhile a sneak a peak around the room and see how intently everyone is watching. It’s an amazing thing to behold! Also, I realize that the room has continued to fill. Adults and children have filled every nook and cranny of this building and there are probably several hundred people in attendance! Children are continuing to press forward and before I know it, we are surrounded by them. They are pressed close and begin leaning on me and cuddling with me. I look at their faces and they are mesmerized by what is happening on screen. I silently pray for the work that is happening in their heart through hearing the word of God! I believe that this will profoundly impact them in untold ways.

At the end of the film, Pastor Mattewos stands and gives the invitation to have any who have not yet decided to follow Jesus to accept Him into their heart and accept the gift of salvation. He tells them that we will be showing the film again throughout the week, and suggests they invite their friends who need to hear the gospel message. We end in prayer and there is a real sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence among us.

IMG_3767

We leave the church and start walking back to our bus. A group waits outside of the church for us, and in my normal fashion, I greet everyone and smile into their eyes. As I make eye contact with one woman, my heart leaps with excitement! This is my friend, Joy!!! Those who followed my journey in February will remember that she is the one who taught me how to harvest the “false banana” (which is a staple of their diet). I don’t know her name, but I’ve called her “Joy”, because that’s what she exudes. When I met her in February, she smiled and laughed throughout our entire encounter. I feel a kinship with her that is unmistakable. When I realize it is her, my face lights up with excitement and recognition and she knows that I remember her! We hug for a long time, and she is laughing and smiling just as I remember her. I pull back and look into her eyes and say “Kocho!” (which is what they call “false banana”) and she knows that I remember her. We hug and hug and I invite her to walk with me back to the bus. We walk arm and arm and smile and laugh the whole way. When we get back to the bus, she thinks that’s the end of our encounter, but I have a surprise for her. She steps onto the bus with me as I reach into my backpack and pull out photographs of her and her family from when I visited in February. She is surprised and thrilled! It’s time for us to go, so reluctantly, I say my goodbye and say wishful prayer that I’ll have the opportunity to spend more time with her as the week progresses.

It’s not even lunchtime yet and I’ve already had such an amazing day!!!

We drive onto the school property and I’m excited to see how much the construction on the school has progressed. The classrooms that were under construction a few months ago are nearly done and almost ready for the new students that will begin school in the Fall. The administration building is nearing completion too, and one of the new latrines is operational! I also see a distribution point for the water on the school grounds! This truly is SO exciting!

As we get off the bus, I see the familiar faces of Hanaga, the school principal, and Ashenafi, the English teacher. Lunch has been prepared, so we wash our hands and enter one of the classrooms, which is our makeshift cafeteria for the week. The cooks are there and I recognize them too. They are pleased that I remember their names. It has been such a pleasure to see people again and continue with developing our relationships. All of us have a longing to be known, and it is no different here in Ethiopia.

When I was here last time, many will remember that I got quite ill. Unfortunately, that means that even once I’d recovered, I had no appetite. Today was different. At lunchtime I found my stomach grumbly and even ate seconds of the delicious food prepared!

The skies are now looking quite dark and our driver and Mattewos are very concerned that we need to leave the village before the rains come. Covering these hillside dirt “roads” in dry conditions are challenging, and in heavy rains, I can imagine that they’d become nearly (if not completely) impassable. Their concerns are well founded.

We make a quick stop to do a hut visit of a young student, named Matthew. He is very quiet and shy and conversation with him is somewhat difficult. I ask him a number of questions that result in him showing us where he sleeps—a family of 6 shares a mat about the size of a double bed. He pointed to the corner and indicated that this was his spot.

The next hut visit is to see Brenda and Rachel’s sponsored child, Iyob. Brenda tells him that they are his sponsors, and he goes into his hut and comes back with their picture! He understands who they are! We are invited into his hut, which is filled with too many children to count. Based on what he said, it sounds like they have 9 children and both parents who live together in their hut. They also had at least three cows, 5 baby goats (plus the goat’s parents?), and chickens sharing the hut too. The baby goats were itty-bitty and Sarah was instantly smitten!

Sarah with some adorable baby goats!

Sarah with some adorable baby goats!

Brenda and Rachel visit their sponsored child

Brenda and Rachel visit their sponsored child

We are racing the rain, so it is time to go. We make our way down the hill and just as we get onto asphalt, it begins to rain. By the time we get back to our hotel and hop in the shower, it is a torrential downpour. We are thankful to have missed being out in it!

After a brief time of rest, we walk a few block away to eat dinner at the Lewi , which is a resort right on Lake Awasa. The rain has stopped so we eat outside as the monkeys, cats, and even a duck enjoy the evening among us. Dinner is over and we are ready to call it a day!

We made it to Awasa!

Lori and Debbie are reunited with Worede

Lori and Debbie are reunited with Worede

Saturday evening, 7/18/15, Updated by team member, Debbie Wyne

There are five of us on the team: Lori, who is our team leader and has been here 4 times previously, Brenda and her high school aged daughter, Rachel, Sarah (another high school student), and myself (I was here for the first time in February).

After a loooong day of travel, we spend a few hours at The Amenities hotel in Addis Ababa freshening up and having a bite to eat. We are joined at breakfast by a few staff members from Hope Enterprises. Hope is the Ethiopian organization that CPC partners with to develop and implement the Sintaro Village project. Hope’s General Secretary, Dr. Lemma, joins us for breakfast, along with Pastor Mattewos, and Worede, who is the Project Manager for Sintaro Village. It’s good to be reunited with Worede because he was with us each day on our last trip to Sintaro a few months ago.

During breakfast, Dr. Lemma gives those who are new to the project some background and an overview of who Hope is and what their role is. We discuss some plans for the week and ask some clarifying questions to prepare for the days ahead. We are excited to learn that Hope is sending us with some trees to plant on the school grounds! Unfortunately, there is also disheartening news that Worede is not well and will not be joining us for the week. He promises to follow doctors orders to get some rest, but also indicates that if he is feeling up to it, that he will try to make the trip to Awasa and join us in the village later in the week. He has put so much time and effort into this project, and I know he is really hoping to be present when the water from the newly dug well begins flowing and we can celebrate God’s provision!

The weather is mild today. Apparently it rained really hard last night, but so far today it is dry and a fairly comfortable temperature for travel. As the day progresses, our driver turns on the AC, but all it does it blow tepid air, so we open the windows instead. Our drivers name is Job. He is a Christian man who has been working as a driver for 24 years. He speaks broken English and he and I begin to forge a friendship. He wants to know about my family so I show him a picture and explain who everyone is. Some of you may know that I raise puppies-in-training for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and one of my pups is in the photo with my family. Job is intrigued by this but explains that in America dogs are prized and here they are not. I think it baffles him to know that someone who is visually impaired would entrust their life to a dog!

After several hours of travel, we stop for lunch at the Sabana resort. We are more than ready for real food and we all eat well. After lunch, many of us are having trouble keeping our eyes open and we doze off and on.

Finally, we arrive at our hotel in Awasa. Although we had reservations, it seems they have given our rooms away and they scramble to put enough roll away beds in rooms for us to all sleep. It is 7:30pm, and it’s 43 hours since we left home. I don’t think the bed will matter much. Once we are laying horizontally, I think we will all sleep very well!

Praise God for safe travels thus far! Please pray for continued health and restorative sleep for us all tonight. Tomorrow we head to Sintaro Village!

We are drinking our water!

We are drinking our water!

The Journey Begins!

Saturday morning, 7/18/15 Updated by team member, Debbie Wyne

The journey begins! The first leg of our flight is from SFO to LAX, and then we walk to the international terminal, get boarding passes and go through security again. Once we board the flight, we land in Dublin, Ireland and have a couple of hours where we stay on the plane and get to see Ireland, and even smell the air through the airplane door, but we don’t get to set foot in the country. After refueling, cleaning and stocking the plane with supplies and boarding additional passengers, we leave Dublin and continue our journey to Addis.

Twenty-nine and a half hours after the team has initially gathered together, we arrive in Addis and in no time we pass through customs and obtain our Visas. We see that all of our luggage has arrived, and soon we are joined by Pastor Matthew. Pastor Matthew is with Hope Enterprises and will be with us throughout the week. I’m truly looking forward to getting to know him because I can already sense that he is a strong man of God. A few minutes later and we are on the bus on our way to freshen up at The Amenities hotel. We are tired, but excited to be here! Welcome to Africa!

The team at the International terminal at LAX.  Here we go!

The team at the International terminal at LAX. Here we go!

IMG_3728

Arriving in Addis Ababa, just in time for the sun rise!

Tut Tut! It looks like rain!

The team leaves today to begin the looooong journey to Sintaro Village!  Looking at the weather forecast for the area, it looks like they will be fully experiencing the “rainy season”! Thunderstorms and heavy rain are predicted every single day!  Please be praying for traveling mercies.

Tut Tut! It looks like rain!

Tut Tut! It looks like rain!