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.