Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trees of Glory

Children's Hopechest currently has 20 carepoints in Ethiopia (they are praying and working toward increasing this number greatly over the next few years).  We visited four carepoints last week, but spent most of our time at two of them; Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts.  Each carepoint has its own distinct character, and the character at Trees of Glory seems to be a reflection of this precious lady:
Her name is Simret, and her sweet spirit and love of God permeate Trees of Glory.  She lives here, caring for over 130 children.  Most of the children walk to Trees of Glory from villages nearby, but 13 of them live here with her.  She is not married, and doesn't have children "of her own."  "I am lucky," she will tell you, "that God has given these children to me."  She showed me where the children sleep; girls in one building, boys in another. This is the girls' home: 
Simret was happy to show me the girls' rooms; small concrete floored rooms in a cinder block building, each room sparsely decorated with a cot and a small crate for a table, some draped with colorful cloths.  Each room neat as a pin, and each one conveying cheerfulness. Then she showed me her own room...tiny and with no more elaborate possessions or decorations than those of the little girls.  She showed me an equally tiny, spotless room with a small desk which is her office.  But her face glowed when she showed me another room...this one empty except for a mat on the floor.  This one, she explained, is where she prays.  That one moment, as this amazing woman showed me that room with joy, defined this place for me. 

We arrived and were welcomed by this sight; most of the children had gathered in a play area to sing and greet us:

Can you see the sweet girl in the center of this picture; holding a paper in her hands?  This was our first sight of Meseret, the 14 year old girl we sponsor at Trees of Glory.

Of the roughly 130 children attending Trees of Glory, over 100 of them currently have sponsor families.  Because of this, these children are receiving food, education, and Christian teaching/discipleship.  Without this program, most of these children would be hungry, and they would not receive schooling (they are required to purchase uniforms and books in order to attend school, and most of the families do not have the resources to do so).  But the heart (for me) of the sponsorship program is that these children are hearing the Word of God from the staff and teachers at Trees of Glory each day.  They are hearing that He loves them and has a plan for their lives.  They are receiving His love in tangible ways from the precious servants who work with them at Trees of Glory. They are seeing His heart in the hearts of Simret and others.  At this particular carepoint, many of the children are from Muslim families.  They are taking God's word with them into their homes. Jim and I visited some of the Children's Hopechest carepoints briefly when we were in Addis Ababa almost two years ago, and were excited about the work they were doing.  But this opportunity to look deeper and see the impact on these children has kindled my passion even more.

On the second day of our visit to Trees of Glory, we delivered care packages to the children from their American sponsor families (the team had also put together care packages for those children who don't have a sponsor yet.  Sponsored children received a picture and letter from their sponsor families, along with some small gifts sent to them from their family (toothbrushes, small toys, school supplies, etc.).  Those without a sponsor received a t-shirt and a few small items as well.  But every child received a blanket.  Apryl, one of the members of our team, had coordinated this huge effort to bring around 400 blankets with us.  We all carried some of the blankets with us in our luggage, but they were made by hands (large and small) all over the US.  Many of the children at Trees of Glory sleep on dirt packed floors at night, and the temperature gets quite cool when the sun goes down, so it was moving to see all of the children clasping their blankets close as they walked home that evening.  The blankets are the type made out of two pieces of fleece tied together along the edges with knots, and we did notice once particularly poignant occurance the next time we visited; some of the children had painstakingly untied every knot in their blankets in order to have an extra blanket to share with a sister or brother at home.

Meseret, the girl we sponsor at Trees of Glory, is a very reserved, poised young lady.  She at first was unwilling for us to take a picture of her, even as throngs of little ones all around us were begging us for "photographs." But on the second day of our visit, when we delivered care packages to all of the children,  R and I were able to sit down with Meseret and a translator, and to give her the package we had brought for her.  R had especially wanted to sponsor a girl close to her own age, and had carefully chosen some of the items in our care package, including a pair of jeans, t-shirt, and a necklace. When we went back to Trees of Glory for the last time, almost a week later, Meseret was wearing the necklace, took some pictures with us, and hugged us good-bye.  I really can't describe how special it was to be with her, and I'm praying it won't be the last time.

More soon...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crying at Kroger and other random thoughts...

I've just come home from Kroger.  (I know, I're expecting a post about having just come home from will come.)

So this was a new experience.  Standing in the parking lot of Kroger and just...weeping.  I felt my stomach turning when I walked in, but I hadn't eaten, plus am having adverse effects from the antibiotic I'm taking for malaria, so I chalked it up to that at first.  But it wasn't the antibiotic, or the empty stomach, it really was my gut response to the culture shock.  So.  Much.  Food.  So much stuff.  So little gratitude, so little turning one's eyes to God in thankfulness, so little consideration of how much has been given to us and how much is expected of us.  And a few minutes later I found myself back in my kitchen, again weeping.  Trying to share my heart with the make them see. (You should have seen their faces; big eyes, alarmed, wondering what's wrong with Mom...poor kids!)   James 1:27...religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  This is really the bottom line for is just so stinkin' easy to be polluted by the world. But HE knows it.  Our Father knows us, and in mercy He gives us the antidote to the poison the world feeds us.  Look at the widows and orphans.  Look at the ones who are hungry, poor, lonely, distressed.  Look at them and do something about it. Love the things He loves, keep your eyes and heart and hands and feet there.  When we do, we are in His presence.  Because He is there too.  We are intimate with Him...we are washing His feet, clothing Him, feeding Him.  It is an experience that is indescribably sweet, satisfying, leaves us wanting more.  It fills us up and makes the "pollution" of the world detestable to us.  So often, we look at God's exhortations to care for the needy as a burden.  We are likely to act out of duty, or even guilt.  We miss the truth...that He is giving us a privilege...He is inviting us into His presence...He is sharing His heart...He is calling us into a banquet.  He isn't placing a heavy burden on our shoulders...He is taking one off.  He wants to refine our appetites...wants us to taste and see His goodness.  And oh, how good it is; how sweet.

In a few days, or a week or two, I will walk into that same Kroger, and I will not weep.  I'll push my cart, glance at my shopping list, drop the items in without a thought.  I'll talk on my cell phone while I shop, or chat with the kids about our weekend plans.  This is where I live; and truly, I'm not serving anyone by crying at Kroger.  But I can, and I will, keep fighting the pollution.  I will remember how weak I am; how susceptible to the "charms" of the world, and I will keep asking Him to help me.  I will keep asking Him, every morning (and afternoon, and night) to show me where to turn my eyes and put my feet.  To fill me with the sweet satisfaction of His presence...I am hungry for it.  I will keep asking Him for wisdom in how I can whet my children's appetites for what is good and true and right.

I do not have the wisdom to know what this is always supposed to look like.  I don't know how we balance living here in suburban America with dying to ourselves.  I don't think we necessarily have to sell everything we own...but we need to be willing to do so.  I don't think we should be unable to enjoy all of the blessings available to us...but I never want to cease knowing and acknowledging that they are from His hand and they are His.  And I do believe, for my family, that we should be weighing every choice we make...the way that we spend our time, our money, every resource we have...according to His priorities.  Seeking His heart in all of it, and always, always, receiving back far more than we can ever give.

God is good.  We are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  In everything give thanks.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Hour

Leaving in an hour.  Only this thought for the morning:

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in Him, and He will act.  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, 
When he delights in his way, though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Almost There...

Our flight leaves in about 12 hours.  We'll have to leave here at around 6:30 am for our 11 am flight.  Bags are packed, R is in bed...I hope to be in my bed in a few minutes.

I'm not feeling particularly articulate about the whole thing.  I find myself feeling awed by this opportunity...this gift.  I honestly have an image of myself just taking His hand and heading off, not really knowing where He will take me.  The blessing of having the opportunity to just love the ones He feels overwhelming to me right now.  I can't even imagine what I will have to share on the other side of this trip.

Please pray for R.  My specific prayer for her is that God will use all that she sees and experiences to draw her to Himself.  She's a 13 year old girl with a tender heart, and it will be easy for her to grow in her compassion for those who are "less fortunate" than she.  It's likely that she will experience pain, grief, even guilt, as her eyes are opened to the realities of poverty and need.  But I don't want her heart to be turned to the poor and needy for their sakes alone.  I am longing and praying that she will have her Father's heart.  That she will be driven to trust Him, to turn to Him and long for Him in a way that is new to her.  That she will be able to lay all of the pain and suffering she sees in His hands, right along with her own life.  And that she will see the joy...oh, that she would experience the pure joy.  The mysterious duality that she will be used by Him to serve His little ones, and at the same time have the unspeakable privilege of serving Him...washing His feet.  For whatever you do unto the least of these by brothers, you have done it unto Me.  She knows the words, but now...she might really know. Oh, that she might really experience deep intimacy with Him.  Please pray with me for this.  By the way, when she found out that Meseret (the 14 year old girl that we sponsor) likes blue jeans, and that they are hard to come by, she decided to pack extra clothes and leave them all in Ethiopia.  She's planning to come home with just the clothes on her back.  Oh, and the gifts she buys for her brothers, sisters and friends.  She's been saving her babysitting money for months!

We will be landing in Addis Ababa at 7:45 Saturday morning, check into our Guest House, and head straight for Trees of Glory, one of the two Carepoints at which we'll spend most of our time.  With the exception of Tuesday, we'll be at the Carepoints from morning 'til evening every day, working with the children.

We have four bags packed (plus our carry-ons), and three of them are completely filled with donations and supplies for the Carepoints.  (The fourth is mostly our personal stuff, along with our gifts for our sponsored child, and gifts for an Ethiopian friend we'll be meeting on Monday).  All four bags are very close to the 50 pound limit, so that's at least 150 pounds of donations.  We have been absolutely amazed at God's provision for this trip; for these children.  Thank you so much to all who have donated supplies, or given us money to purchase them.  You are all going into Ethiopia with us!!

Back on November 21st!