My thoughts on Africa

Monday, November 29, 2010

All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

I failed miserably at documenting that last part of our trip. For the first 5 days we were washed in waves of emotion. Starting with the reunion with Abe's mother and the difficult day at Legatafu, to the amazing grace of Korah and the sweet time with the babies to the reality of Kolfe and Kechene. There were so many highlights that it was easy to capture each day with a single story. The end of the week was just as sweet and in many ways much more personal. Our last dental day we were at Luke Society.

(Patients waiting at Luke Society)

This clinic was established by a doctor who experienced a rebirth in a hospital bed. Debilitated by a heart condition he met Jesus at the brink of death and committed to help the poor when he recovered. An incredible story in itself, but the reason it meant so much to me to be there is this was a special place for our dear friend Dereje. The doctor and Dereje are very good friends who share a love for God and a desire to help the poor.

(Here is Dereje at Luke Society with a sweet woman who came back after receiving dental services to thank Dr. Moody and the team and to pray a blessing over all of us for coming.)

I love Dereje is because he represents HOPE. Hope in a place so desperately in need of something good to come along. I heard a great description of hope this week from on of my greatest spiritual guides. Ok just kidding....it was Oprah, but it was so true I had to write it down. As she was dolling out a million dollars in "favorite things" to her audience she ended the show by saying she loves giving away all of the extravegant items not because of the material gifts themselves, but to her they represent HOPE. A hope that when you least expect it something wonderful can come your way and change your life. I'm not blind to the contrast between Oprah giving away a car and Dereje setting up a dental check up.....but they do represent something very similar.

Dereje is a man who was given the opportunity to be educated. Rather than take his education and flee this country that offers so little incentive to stay, he takes what he has been given and multiplies it amoung the masses. In addition to working a full time job in Addis Ababa (which is no small feat in itself to be employed) he set up a ministry for street children called the Love and Hope initiative (there is that H word again). He gathered a group of his friends and community leaders who refused to be apathetic in a city consumed by a poverty that few in our world can appreciate and they chose to make a difference in the lives of 100 street kids. They have an office at Luke Society and when we were there we were able to bring backpacks that were donated, stuffed full of school supplies for the kids they serve and two additional trunks full of items that were collected in the States and carried on the plane with us. It was as if we had given him a kidney. These kids are Dereje's passion. He shared the verse above from Galatians and told me it is their theme.

There is often a question that arises when Africa becames a topic of conversation, "Can one man alone change a country like Ethiopia?" It's paralyzing to even think about. But this one man is absolutely making a difference in the lives of 100 kids who I have no doubt will make a difference in the lives of 100 more and Ethiopia will not remain stagnant as long as he has a breath of life to give back to others.

In the world I live in, through the things I have seen, I believe HOPE is one of the most powerful thing we have to give.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Oskar Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Itzhak Stern: You did so much.
[Schindler looks at his car]
Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
[removing Nazi pin from lapel]
Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.
Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!

Processing through this trip IS a process. I realize it has taken me three weeks to get it all down in words. I plan on finishing documenting the trip and giving a recount of each day, each location, each story saw and heard. But before I do I need a moment to analyze.

This trip was so different from my last trip to Africa. When I went to South Africa it was the culmination of a very selfish dream. I wanted to see the country, meet the people, SAY i had been there. Even though my heart was in a place of compassion, my goal was not to serve the people of South Africa. This time everything was different. I am older, and while I wouldn't necessarily say wiser - I have had some life experiences that give me a different perspective. In 1998 when I arrived in Cape Town I was a single law student who had never really lived on my own. Sure I went off to college but there is such a security net. A 3 hour drive from home and a campus full of people just like me. I was fearless and ready to change the world and to absorb the entire experience. To this day I can't imagine how my parents just happily put their daughter on a plane alone, to live in a place she had never seen half way around the world. They knew it would make me a better person. So off I went, with no cares in the world my perspective then was different, my purpose was different.

In 2010 my life has a few more complications. Maybe complications is not the right word, more like responsibilities. I don't have the luxury of sitting down for 2 or 3 hours and just journaling my thoughts about my trip. For one, I have a full time job that I had to consider being absent from to go on this trip. I've mentioned before that my boss is one of my biggest advocates and not only was he supportive, but everyone I work with was excited for me. Another "small" change was that I have 2 children. Children who are at a very precious age. Children who love to be tucked into bed each night and get upset if their ritual prayers and good night wishes are interrupted. Children who I hate to leave each morning and long to be with each afternoon. Children that I wouldn't hear tell me they loved me for 10 days. And above all those changes I have a husband. A husband who shares my desire to use our resources to make the world a better place. A husband who works hard to provide for his family and to be the kind of father he was blessed to have. A husband who was willing to sacrifice to make this trip a reality for me.

And life has shown me things. Since I last went to Africa my father and father-in-law have both died. One unexpectedly and one as we anticipated, both leaving a gaping whole in our lives. My job has shown me things. Things that I couldn't imagine human beings would do to one another. The world has shown me things. As a country we have experienced tragedy and loss. And to top it all off we now have the Internet at our fingertips and with more information we have less communication.

As I process I realize that my heart is hardened in many ways. I am sceptical of people and their motives. I am not as quick to give the benefit of the doubt and even quicker to throw out a judgment.

But there is something about Africa that changes you to the soul. In many ways it is like holding a mirror up and seeing what your character is truly made of. As much as I think I am a grateful person, how would my attitude be if I lived in the shanties I saw. Or if I had to walk 4 miles to get water. How shallow am I for getting upset when they don't get my order right at a fast food place or if I have to wait 10 extra minutes for a prescription. I realize how entitled I have become. To look around and see these precious people with joyful smiles, it's humbling to think about what gets me in a bad mood.

(One of Bobbie Jo's beautiful images)

I also realize it is easy for me to have faith given the life I have. Africa brings about a lot of questions. How can this happen in a world that has so much? Why do the people allow their leaders to take advantage of them and why do the leaders think it is OK? Why did I get the opportunity to be raised by a stable and loving family when my birth mother could have so easily chosen abortion or tried to raise me herself or abandoned me like the children we saw. Why do I get to live in America, the land of plenty, and raise my children in a comfortable home? I have learned that I have to focus. There are not answers to these questions. I do not believe God wants me to be burdened by the guilt. I believe he wants me to be grateful for the blessings I have. More importantly it is what I do with those blessings that matter. As you stand in a sea of orphaned children and realize a few hundred dollars a year could provide clean water and clothes and education for them shouldn't that make you reassess where you spend your money? Do you really need that expensive purse or those fancy shoes (two things that ALWAYS seem important to me). As I chastise my children for wanting more, more, more am I any different?

An amazing photographer named Bobbie Jo Majors joined us on our trip.
Here she is during our first day of dental:

You can see her work HERE. She sent us a video she created. Please take a few minutes to watch THIS. She has been writing on her blog about what to do with everything she saw and felt. Thoughts of selling her home and giving up her business. It's a common internal struggle. Should I feel OK living my comfortable life? Do I really need all of the things I have grown accustomed to? It did make me think of the scene in Schindler's List where Schindler realizes all of the money he has squandered and how that money could have been used to save so many others. That was the angst we experienced, for the 450 we were able to see, there are still hundreds more that need our help. Did we do enough? It's a feeling I hope I never lose, that there is always more to be done. Part of what I should do is help and physically be the person that tends to the poor. The other part of my job is to let others know that they can make a difference. To put aside apathy or cynicism and just extend kindness. What do we do with our experience? We don't let it stay in the pictures....we take what we have and help those we can.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A friend at work has this quote as his signature on all of his emails. I've seen it a thousand times. Strong words from a man who refused to silently standby and watch the atrocities of the Holocaust. He saw a world ravaged by hate and bigotry and the insatiable desire for power. Many countries in Africa have seen this same desire ravage their homes. Not every country has seen the same genocide (though many have) as the Jews did during Nazi rule, but the people have fallen victim to the desire of those in power to accumulate and hoard at he expense of the masses. Such is the case in Ethiopia. When famine began to take the lives of tens of thousands of people, the rulers tried to claim ignorance and tried harder to prevent the story from getting out to the rest of the world. Famine in the 70s and 80s created a devestation that would be punctuated in the 90s by the massive spread of HIV and AIDS across the continent. The combination of these forces is largely responsible for the orphan crisis.

It's difficult to comprehend here in the United States what happens to children when their is no longer anyone to take care of them. We have government agencies who swoop in and non-profits that advocate. I in no way want to minimize the situation in our country - believe you me, I see it firsthand. I know what happens to chidren in foster care. The ones who have been abused or neglected. But even in that system each child receives a court appointed guardian and possibly a volunteer to make sure their guardian is doing what is in the child's best interest. A foster home goes through a thorough inspection and a licensing process. Standards have to be met for the care of the child. Counseling is offered and treatment is available for older children who may have some behavioral problems.

In Ethiopia children from the ages of 7-18 go to homes. Not foster homes where they have to share a bedroom with another sibling. Homes that resemble placese where we in America would go camping for the weekend and then complain about the circumstances. Homes where the running water is a spicket outside and the toilet is a hole in the ground. Homes where the only clothes they have are the uniforms so tattered by daily wear they are barely held together by the threads. Homes where they are cared for by nannies who make less than $2,000 a year. Nannies with good hearts and kind souls, but not mothers.

These are the children we saw on Thursday of our trip.


We went to see the boys in the morning and the girls in the afternoon.

When we arrived at the boys orphanage we set up shop in the church/auditorium. One large room with painted murals on each wall. One outlet for electricity and no water. The room reminded me of a movie set where the characters stumble into an abandoned warehouse that was once used for happier times. To say that it was dirty puts it mildly. The boys were so sweet and eager to help. They picked up the crates of supplies and dutifully put them where requested. So eager to please. So eager for praise. Some boys grabbed brooms and mops and worked to make our area presentable. The team was once again amazing. Each person found their supplies and went to their station to set up shop. As the boys waited on benches to be checked in sweet Sallie taught them the thrill of doing the "wave" and then rounds of "Head and Shoudlers, Knees and Toes" broke out. They marched through like little soldiers, ironically considering there were possibly some former ones in the crowd, and smiled as they departed with spaces where their teeth once were and new toothbrushes and toothpaste. After about 250 boys were treated we packed up, ate our lunch in the vans and headed to the girls orphanage. As we waited to to leave one boy recognzied a member of our team from a visit earlier in the week. He came up and said he had missed the dental day because he was at school. He said he was working very hard because he had to score a 700 in math to be considered for college. By his speech and his memory there was no doubt in my mind he had the ability. He said he wanted to go into medicine and do what so many people had done for him. He said the only way he could do it was with the Lord's help. What drives a kid like that. Parents dead, living in a home with 250 others, nothing in the world to call his own and a smile as big as the moon and a desire to be a doctor.

The girls were just as heartwarming. They eagerly stood in line for a chance to be seen by a dentist. As they waited, some of the girls from our group painted their nails and made salvation bracelets with them.

Sweetest smiles and gentle eyes.

I was asked on this day to share my story of being adopted. It was fitting to share it in this place. It was easy to let my mind wonder how different my life would have been if my biological mother hadn't chosen adoption. The life filled with love, protection and opportunities I have had with my family was not a likely scenario. I even said it outloud, while my life would have been different if raised by my biologically mother, it still would not have been what these girls where facing. It's hard not to wonder what will become of these girls? What does their future hold? These girls abandoned by death and disease. The life of a young girl abandonded is not pretty anywhere on the planet. They are so much more suseptable to the evils of the world. Knowing how fragile the self-esteem is of a young girl, who will tell them how beautiful and worthwhile they are? In some ways it felt like a cruel tease to come in and shower them with love for a few hours. My prayer is that they take this small moment to know there are people out there who do care for them and love them and believe they are worth traveling across the world to give them a hug.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week. - Alice Walker, author The Color Purple

Day 5 - Our Sabbath

When planning the trip, Moody and Emily wisely worked in a day just to rest, regroup and and process through some of the things we had seen. The original plan was for the day to be used however each person wanted, and then to have a gathering in the evening to share and discuss what we'd experienced. One tiny little thing intervened. Actually, it was dozens of tiny little things. We had the chance to go to the main orphanage in Ethiopia where all children are supposed to come first before they are assigned to the different orphanages and adoption agencies throughout the country. The way the system is set up, if a child is abandoned or orphaned they must come to this place first and then literally by chance they are sent to the next place. As we would learn at the end of the week this can mean the difference between a very low income agency with little means and overcrowding or a well financed one with trained staff and clean accommodations. Mind blowing to think that a lottery system changes the course of these children's lives.

The fabulous part about getting to go rock babies was the connection that was made before we went. I mentioned before that people who have a heart for the poor and orphans in Ethiopia are often connected by 6 degrees of separation. True in the case of the parents who were to adopt baby Brighton. After receiving an email that their dreams of having a new baby were coming true one November 26th, their elation turned to heartbreak when they began to get follow up emails that Brighton had been very ill. Before they had a chance to bring their baby home, Brighton went to Heaven. In the midst of their devastation this couple was not sure what to do with this experience or how to regroup from such a tragedy. In their grief they created the non-profit Brighton Their World to honor the son they never had they chance to raise. If you click on the name, it will take you to their page and their mission. Among their grand purpose of bringing attention to the orphan crisis, they also do the very practical and MUCH needed task of collecting formula to ship around the world to places like Addis Ababa whose buildings are filled with tiny babies who can no longer depend on their parents for nourishment. Having a HUGE amount of formula to send to Ethiopia, Brighton's parents made the connection with Moody and Emily and physically drove from Georgia to Texas so that the 67 folks we were taking could load up their bags with formula in every form and size.

On our Sabbath we had the chance to take that formula to the state run clearinghouse and feed that formula to these little babies who generally get their bottles fed to them from a pillow propped up under their chin. I want to be clear that this is not a criticism of the men and women who work at this orphanage. It is a picture of the reality of the crisis this country and the continent as a whole are in. As you can see, rocking the babies and giving them bottles was a task we were all eager to perform.

In addition to the babies there were other children we got to meet. The orphanage itself was established when a wealthy couple discovered they could not have children of their own. They donated the land to the government to use to take care of these children. It bears the name of the donor's wife and while there is not a lot of money running through the place there is clearly a lot of love. Each nurse knows the name and story of every child. There is one building dedicated to children with special needs. My friend Laurel who is a speech therapist back home fell in love with this cutie.

Precious child dressed in an infant's onesie. With obvious developmental issues it was difficult to know how old she was. It was more difficult to learn that she was 6. We watched as the nurses poured love on her and the other children who had a difficult time. I know it sounds redundant, but Ethiopia is not kind to people, especially children, who have physical or mental challenges. We sat in awe of the nurse who lined the children with these special needs up on a couch. One blind, several grossly underdeveloped or with obvious physical deformities. She gentle took injera, gathered the meat onto it and placed it in each child's mouth. The obvious image was of a mama bird feeding her young. But this woman did it with a kindness and a love in her eyes. I can only imagine what her wages are and I'm ashamed to think about the fact that I probably squander that amount each month on frivolous things each onth. And yet for these mere pennies she took the time to make sure each of these souls were tended to and assured that they would not go hungry. Not as long as she was there. My world of work back home sees mothers who neglect their children. Where they allow the men in their lives to do unthinkable things. I've handled cases with children who are scarred physically and emotionally I couldn't help but think how ironic it was to watch this woman - in one of the poorest countries of the world, with no connection to theses children other than her occupation, with very little to offer them. She gave these children abundantly more than all of the parents I come across in the court system combined. Another lesson about what children TRULY need. An especially good lesson for a mother who wants nothing more than to make her children happy.

OK...so we did enjoy some play time too. As much as i would like to say we then spent the rest of our day building houses, the absolute truth is we went shopping. After spending hours watching these ladies care for these children and feeling a sense of hopelessness, retail therapy did seem like kind of a shallow response. We were reminded that spending money in the local economy is one of the best things we can do as a whole. (Don't judge.....sure we were justifying it in our minds, but the truth is it does help) We spent the day at a small market behind the large post office in town.

Store after store of beautiful hand crafted curios and then some not so hand crafted, straight up souvenir items. Everyone found their treasures and items people from home had requested. They also found a way to negotiate in the local language and how to make great deals with the shop owners.

We reassembled in the garden of one of the guest houses at 5:00 for a time of sharing. David Daniels who is the pastor of the church where I am a member, Pantego Bible Church lead our time. On a side note - not many people get to spend a week in Africa with their pastor. We had about 20 come from our church. For me it is such an encouragement to see the person who teaches from the pulpit every Sunday put his words into action. Never one to shy away from work or loving people, I was so encouraged to what this man who is put on a pedestal by thousands in his congregation come to his knees to serve the "least of these". He and his wife Tiffany are very special and I am so glad I had the chance to experience this with them.

During our time David asked us to talk about what we had seen and what we thought God wanted us to do with what we saw. After the challenging first day of being overwhelmed and having to turn so many away, to the desolate conditions of Korah and the faces of the children in each orphanage we had a lot on our hearts. Consistently we did not want to go back to our lives in America where we were spoiled and comfortable and not take some kind of action. We shared stories about specific people we met and how our short encounters with them made a huge impact.

I share this story, but it is really not mine to tell. It belongs to my sweet friend Susan who was my roommate in Africa and my sounding board every night (and most of the day) for what I was experiencing. She shared about one of the people who made the biggest impact on her. It was in Korah. She was working in the pedo area treating the children all day long. A little boy came in who needed his tooth pulled. The dentist had a difficult time getting the tooth out and as the father stood and watch his son writhe in pain, tears began streaming down his face. As any parent knows there is nothing worse than watching your child experience hurt. You immediately want to fix it and would give anything to take on the burden yourself so you don't have to see it imposed on your child. As this father struggled to watch this experience for his son, his tears of empathy turned into a plea for help. He begged Susan and the team she was working with to take his son. Take him to America where he can live a better life. To America where he can get an education and be provided all of the things that his life in Korah could not give him. How many fathers in this world don't even know where their children sleep at night and aren't willing to provide for their very basic needs and this man - recognizing his lot in life, broken by what he had just seen his child physically go through, this man was willing for his heart to be ripped from his chest and let his boy go half way around the world because he longed so deeply for him to thrive in this world. Children in America should be so lucky.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We have to quench the thirst of Jesus for others and for us. We do this by nursing the sick and dying. By each action done to them I quench the thirst of Jesus for love of that person - by giving God's love in me to that particular person. Gathering and teaching little street children. visiting and caring for Beggars. Giving shelter to the abandoned. Caring for the unwanted, the unloved, the lonely - all the poor people. This is how I quench the thirst of Jesus for others, by giving his love in action to them. - Mother Teresa

Day 4 - Korah

Before any of us went to Korah, Dr. Moody shared this video with us;

The Village of Korah - A short documentary from Session 7 Media on Vimeo.

With these images impressed on our hearts and the experience of the day before fresh in our minds, it was fair to say many were anxious about what we were going to face when we got there. Throughout our trip we traveled through the city in hired vans with drivers. The drivers are contract workers working mainly with The Gladney Center for adoption who escort adoptive families when they come to Ethiopia to meet their children. They are some of the nicest, hardworking guys you will every meet. Truly a treasured part of the trip to make new friends with them. To give you some perspective though, the drivers lived their whole lives in Addis and had never been to Korah. They didn't see any reason to go and quite honestly they were not thrilled to take us.

The average citizen of Addis has two opinions of Korah - you have either never heard of this place, or it is a forbidden area reserved for outcasts that no one would dare enter.

I learned years ago that videos can make a deep impression, but they never capture the magnitude of the situation. Nothing was more true than here. As far as you could see masses of people were living in this small, filth ridden area. Shanties built of tin or tarp covered the land. As we pulled up to the church (again, another building made of tin roof and tarp sides) we met Cherrie. Cherrie is an American who came to Korah to discover this is where her heart is. Her children are grown and her husband is about to retire and she spends the majority of her time ministering to the people of Korah. She wears a spectacular necklace made of washers with the names of her biological children stamped on several and then handfuls of names of the children she sponors at Korah stamped on the others. She gave us a tour and a history of the area and introduced us to Sammy. You see Sammy in the video. Sammy's parents, both lepers, raised him in the dump. YoungLife came to Korah and Sammy dedicated his life to Christ and felt a burden to minister to the other kids in Korah. He has a group of guys he disciples and they provide education and help for children who grow up.

We were directed into the church - the one with no electricity or running water - and given instructions. One of the things we quickly learned on this trip was the art of improvising. There were no tables to lay patients on so the church "pews" (long wooden benches) became the examining and working tables. The irony did not go unnoticed. We Americans complain if we have to wait 10 minutes to see our dentist and then when we want a massage chair with a TV in the ceiling to keep us at the height of comfort while we go to our annual check up. And pain, we want anything we can get to make the pain non-existent. In stark contrast we saw 300 people wait in a line, standing in the mud soaked with debris and urine, eager for the chance to see a REAL LIVE dentist with the hope to get the teeth that are rotting in their heads, causing tremendous amounts of pain and health issues pulled with one, maybe two shots of anesthesia. Then they hop up, don't get a friend to drive them home or a comfortable area with a TV to rest before they head back out. They pick up their crutch, made of a stick or broom handle, and limp back to the tin shack where every possession they own waits inside.

The phrase "poorest of the poor" is used a lot in Ethiopia, in all of Africa for that matter. It has even became a source of pride and even a point of contention for some who want to all jockey for the position of being the one service or clinic that serves the poorest of the poor. That day in Korah, there was no doubt, we came face to face with the poorest of the poor. The age of the person often dictated their condition. The older residents clearly were banished because of leprosy. Many missing limbs or apendages. Many crippled by the disease. We many who were blind whose entire existence was at the mercy of another person. Ethiopia is not kind to those with disabilities. The terrain is difficult to navigate for the heathy and their is not government assistance to provide meals or medication. It's a wonder anyone who has physical challenges survives at all. The skin of the young does not wear the scars of leprosy, instead the lesions of HIV or AIDS.

And in shame we Americans who thought we were bringing buckets of hope and aid to these people found we were the ones who benefitted that day. Amidst the pile of the city's discarded we found a precious people who were full of joy and gratitutde. Who quickly shared how God had blessed them. Blessed them? It took me so off guard. People with nothing...actually, with more than nothing with the trash of the people around them, they looked me right in the eye and told about how they were blessed. Humbling.

We wrapped up dental services and walked to ALERT. ALERT is the leprosy hospital that was donated years ago by a doctor and now serves as a residence hall for about 200 families. These families make hand made garmets and gifts to sell for support.

With our group who had not yet had the opportunity to buy local wares it was like Macy's on Christmas Eve. It took over an hour for everyone to get through the line and at the end of the day it was the largest sales the store had ever seen! Cherished items for those of us who had the chance to meet a cherished group of people.

The end of the day provided a place where we could all decompress a bit. We had a cultural dinner at a traditional restaraunt where we ate delicious lamb and yentils and other dishes served on the bread of the country injera. Entertainment was provided in the form of local singers and dancers and then some NOT-SO-LOCAL dancers joined in the fun and things got a little crazy. We decided what happens in Addis needed to stay in Addis but there is no doubt YouTube will be the source of shame for several.

I am working to update as quickly as I can. The benefit of being jetlagged as you can see is getting up early in the morning. I will be adding pictures to the earlier posts as well if you want to loop back around.

Day 5 - government run orphanages.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

DAY 2 and 3

I'm torn about posting because there is no way to include all of the things we have seen in the past 2 days. I don't feel I am going to give it justice in the few moments I have on the hotel's computer to include everything, so I will try to hit the highlights.

Sunday morning we gather together at Beza church. We got there at 8:30 which is when we thought it would begin but one of the pastors told us it was a special day and they were combining their early and late services. So a little delay until 10:00 and we all joined the congregation inside. The service was in both English, for the "international" congregation and Amharic for the local folks. The singing put gospel choirs in the states to shame. Singing and dancing and a very fun time for all of us. The church was celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacle and so the invited leaders from local churches to join as a show of unity. First a Messianic Jewish Rabbi spoke and gave a lesson about the Ethiopian Jews and how they had been persecuted. Then a priest from the traditional Christian Orthodox church told had the forefathers kept the faith in the country. The pastor then did his own lesson about how God has been so faithful. That seems like a lot....it was. 3 hours worth. It was a wonderful experience and I'm so glad we went.

After church we ate a beautiful resturaunt overlooking the city. It was a gorgeous view and a nice time to relax. Our next stop was one we were so thankful we got to be a part of. We met with the leaders of an organization called Drawn from Water. I can't enter the link from here, but google Drawn from Water. They discovered a tribe in Northern Ethiopia who believes certain things curse a child and if they do not kill that child another child in the village will die and because of the curse. So, the elders of the village make a decision and they may drown the child (hence the name) or they could just leave a child in the forest to die. One of the things that they believe is a sign of the curse is if the child's top front teeth come in before their bottom front teeth. Can you imagine - you make a decision to kill a child because their top teeth come in first. So, these lovely families are now trying to build relationships with the elders and prevent further deaths. While they do that they actually go out and rescue these children and bring them back to the home they have established. Unlike the majority of the orphans who were left alone due to HIV/AIDS - these children have parents but the village decided they should be removed. It's amazing the love these folks give the children and we had a wonderful time blowing up balloons and painting faces, passing out lollipops and silly bands and bringing new shoes for the kids going to school. After 2 lovely days of calm laid back time with some of the most beautiful children in the world, we had to prepare for the unexpected.

Monday was the first day we went out with the dentist. We have 17 from all over the United States and they are INCREDIBLE. They are tremendously talented and I cannot believe they have given up 10 days at their practice to do this. We got up early and headed about 45 minutes outside of town to a smaller area where there is a government run clinic. There are no paved roads and along the way our drivers negotiated through a maze of people, goats, potholes and large rocks. As we pulled up the facilities were what you would imagine a clinic in the middle of Africa being. Corregated tin roofs and cinderblock buildings in and L shape. 15 rooms with no electricity or running water. We knew going in there was no way to gage how many people would show up. When we arrived the crowd was massive. I would guess 300 -400 people most of whom live in the forest behind the clinic. As all of the dental people arranged their stations we tried to entertain the small children. We started with face paints and baloons and the small group of children turned into a mob. Just the chance to get a Disney sticker or a paper plate was worth pushing to the front of the line. As the crowd grew we realized we needed to focus on helping out the dental folks and not trying to do crafts or other activities. Each room was assinged a different task. 2 orthodontist did initial triage and determined what services the patient needed. From there they might go to cleaning or restorative to get a filling. Anesthesia was another area where they prepped for the last room which only did extractions. I was on the end at the "pharmacy" helping the local clinic pharmacist pass out tylenol and amoxicillin. As 1:00 rolled into 3:00 and then 4:00 the line of people never ended. One of our drivers went into a little coffee shop and said the "American dentist" were the talk of the town. As people heard the news they made their way to the clinic. Finally, after hours of seeing patients and facing the reality that everyone was not going to get served the decision was made to close down. It was very difficult to see face the reality that we could only do so much. The dentist were very hard on themselves. They wanted everyone to walk away with some kind of care. Then we all stood back to see what had been done. Close to 400 men, women and children had been seen by a dentist. Hundreds of extractions and filings and treatment for infection. It was an amazing day and much what I imagine the scene was like when Jesus fed the 5,000. Just a mass of humanity wanting to be loved. We did what we could and we thank God for giving us the strength to do it.

Our day at the clinic was a harsh reality that Day 4 we were going to a leper colony and no one truly knew what would happen there. We had no idea what to expect and what we didn know was that the conditions were much worse than what we had seen. Stay tuned for the day at Korah.

Monday, October 4, 2010


My head spins trying to find a way to capture everything that happened the first day. We have MARGINGAL internet reception here so I won't get to write much. I'll skip all of the travel details except to say it truly was a miracle that 67 people got here with over $50,000 worth of supplies including medicine and medical equipment and we only lost one bag of clothes. AMAZING. Our hotel here is wonderful and they have provided a great room for us to sort all the supplies to be distributed everyday.

After 20 hours of travel and arriving at the hotel and sorting out everything we were ready to meet some kids. I want to begin by letting you know I will not be using any true names of locations or children unless they are already on the internet. Ethiopia is a very proud country. They are a very loving, hard-working people. They truly do the very best they can with what they have. I want to be sensitive to their perspective too. Many Westerners have come for short stints and used the informaiton they gathered to criticize this country. This is not my intention. This is the reason for the annonymity.

Our plan for the day was very laid back. We were meeting at 10:00 and then going to the orphanage where Abe Alexander (the inspiration for all of this) was adopted from. We had 5 or 6 vans of folks pulling up and we were welcomed by a sea of beautiful, happy faces. As each one of us entered the courtyard we were bombarded with hugs and kisses and the sweetest affection. (MAKING FOAM VISORS)

Each person became liked a pied piper with a group of 10 to 14 children around them. We started handing out lollipops and sillybands and while each child could not contain their excitement, they were also very mindful to wait their turn.

I was amazed to watch the older children wait for the younger ones. The dentist got set up. There "examining tables" were benches from the side of the picnic tables covered with fuzzy mats for comfort. (DR. MOODY LOOKING AT SOME PATIENTS)

They did amazing work outside and inside another dentist performed extractions or fillings with the means he had. Each person had an assignment. One group instructed each child in groups of 3 or 4 in oral hygeiene. It was apparent that they had never brushed their teeth before.

They were THRILLED to recieve a new toothbrush with paste. One group painted a room. The toodlers quarters needed a freshen up and gallons of green paint gave the room a whole new look. Nate Berkus would have been proud. Then the nannies needed help getting the infants to sleep. I walked in the room to what seemed liked dozens of babies. (Actually only 9, but when they are crawling in every direction it multiplies. God knew what He was doing when he gave me twins because withing minutes I was balancing one baby on my leg and keeping one over my shoulder. Each nanny took such loving care of each child. There were at least 2 babies to every bed and one had three. They were clean but dressed in onesies that looked liked they made it through the Brady Bunch and then were sent over. We were lucky to be able to bring some new onesies and formula and disposable diapers. One little one seemed to have some difficulty. She was the one over my shoulder. As I held her she labored with every breath and at times coughed to the point it seemed to pain her. When aked how old she was the nurse said "six month". I looked at her and couldn't help of thinking of when Gabby was born and the skin on her legs just hung of her bones. This 6 month old child could not have weighed 10 pounds. I knew when I heard her age and felt her coughs that she was very ill. Possible like many orphans in Ethiopia that she was HIV positive. Possible that it was just an infetion. The reality of the situation is that she willl probably not make it to her 1st birthday. Knowing that I held her as long as the nurses would let me, wanting her to know in some small way that she was loved and her live was seen here on earth.

The men had a different task. Several guys from our group had heard that buying a goat or sheep could provide a lot of meat for the kids. So off they went and bought 4 sheep. You can imagine what happened when they returned. Let me just say if you are squimish to blood you didn't want to be around. (OUR DINNER - DON'T LOOK TOO CLOSE, YOU WILL SEE TEETH. IRONIC FOR A DENTAL TRIP)

These four sheep became our Bar-B-Q dinner and it all happened right there in the courtyard. It was very good and traditional preparation made it very spicy. A classic example of the people of Ethiopia. Here we hoped to give them some food for the week and they invited all of us to stay to partake.

But the true highlight of my day came in the form of an 18 year old girl. She was not an orphan there, but the biological mother of Abe. We knew she was coming and in preparation I found a necklace for her with Abe's name on it. As an adoptee I knew the sacrifice she made. And as the Alexanders found discovered Abe's diagnosis I knew that she literally saved his life when she allowed him to be adopted. Here she came in the gates. You would know her from a mile away because she has the most gorgeous caramel skin and bright brown eyes. When she saw Abe it was very difficult. Abe had a hard time too and she was seeing face to face the reality of what she had just learned only weeks before about his condition. As the tears melted away I was able to let her know what a gift she had given and how I thanked my birth mother every day for allowing me to be adopted by my parents and that her decision truly changed the course of Abe's life. As the tears dried off she was able to tell us how she knew when she was pregnant that God was going to do a miracle in the child she carried. As Emily and I sat with her and the precious director of the orphanage interpretted for all of us, she was assured that he is in fact a miracle and the reason we are all here. (ABE AND HIS TWO MOMS)

I could have left after the first day and my trip would have been so worthwhile. But.....today was just as good! More on that tomorrow. AND....I have to send pictures later as well.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Ethiopia during the famine, I saw stuff there that reorganized how I saw the world. I didn`t quite know what to do about it. At a certain point, I felt God is not looking for alms. God is looking for action. – Bono

It's here. 3 months of planning, 1 plane ticket, 60 cupcakes, 2,000 pearls later it is here. Tomorrow my family will take me to the airport and I will leave them for 10 days to serve thousands of people I have never met. I don't hoard things - but what I don't give up freely is time with my family. I get so precious little of it. It takes a strong force to relinquish hours at home. But I have felt a stirring in my soul about this trip from the moment I heard about it. 12 years after my first trip to Africa I cannot sleep thinking about what this trip will bring. My previous experience taught me that no words or pictures can begin to describe the magnitute of the situation. No one can adequately explain what it is like to be surrounded by severe poverty as far as the eye can see and yet be in the midst of the warmest, most joyful people you will ever meet.

And just thinking how we got to this day amazes me as well. For one family to adopt two children and have a vision to take 67 people to serve thousands is just unbelievable. Our local paper wrote about it and you can click this link to read the article. It was all so simple (easy for me to say I didn't mae hotel and taxi arrangements for 67 people). But simple in the sense that the idea was thrown out and we all latched on. We wanted to be a part of something big and life-changing. No doubt this will be.

I believe Bono's words from the quote above. God is not looking for us to throw money at a problem. He is calling us to compassion. Calling us to treat others with dignity and grace. My boss who I cited in a previous post wrote this comment, "In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due." Our trip should not be something that is out of the ordinary for a group of people to show honor and respect and love to another group of people. This is what our purpose is, what our duty is. And the fact that it seems so extrodinary is truly a comment on how far we have come from basic premis of loving of our fellow man. Loving a person for the mere fact that they are a PERSON.

So here I am. In 24 hours my journey back will be in full swing. Lord keep my eyes open to what you want me to see. Keep my heart strong when the surroundings cause it to break. Melt away my selfishness that will be tempted to focus on my own comfort and let my hands embrace others in the way you would embrace.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Doctors always ask why I send photos, why I don't just send the X rays and blood studies. I want them to know this is a human being. This isn't just a back. This is a soul. Dr. Rick Hodes

Do you remember back in the 90's when Kevin Bacon was popular and so was the game "6 Degrees of Separation"? For people like me who cannot remember how many ounces are in a cup but can rattle off to you most of the Academy Award nominees from 1986 this was a great way to pass time. The trick was to connect any actor back to Kevin Bacon within 3 movies. For example Rob Lowe (very easy). Rob Lowe was in The Outsiders with Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon. Someone a little harder like Jessica Simpson. Jessica was in Dukes of Hazard with Seann William Scott. Seann was in Old School with Vince Vaughn. Vince Vaughn was in The Breakup with Jennifer Anniston and Jennifer was in Picture Perfect with Kevin Bacon. (I could do these in my sleep).

As I was talking to Emily one day about the people going on the trip she started describing all the people who had a connection. There is an adoptive family who lost their son and now collect baby formula in his honor. They happened to correspond to the Alexanders over the years and several weeks ago drove in hundreds of pounds of formula for us to take with us in our luggage to feed the babies when we get there. People who are passionate about Ethiopia are much like Kevin Bacon. Not just the fancy dance moves and rockin hair, but the connection to others with the same passion is uncanny.

I first discovered this one day at at lunch. When I was an intern at the DA's office another fella who was interning with me became a lifelong friend. He has sinced moved on from the meager pay of the public sector and now works at a high toned private firm in Wise County. One day I get a call from him about a young lady who wanted to be a DA. I'm always more than happy to meet students who are interested in criminal law and will gladly spend a lunch discussing the possibility. Well one thing led to another and the young lady had a little bit of a life change and was not going to be able to work with us. BUT, as a sign of her appreciation she wanted to take me and the friend that introduced us to lunch. This young lady's name is Michelle Simpson and my friend's name is Allen Williamson (or as I refer to him as Big A). Delightful girl and I know she will make an excellent prosecutor. So where is the connection to Ethiopia you ask? So glad you did.

When I get in the car that day for lunch Allen and Michelle are talking about adopting twins from Ethiopia. Michelle, who got engaged since the last time I saw her (hence the life change), was about to marry a wonderful young man whose mom and dad adopted 2 sets of twins from Ethiopia. I really didn't think much about it because I have been talking about our trip incessantly and assumed they just brought the topic up since I was leaving on my trip within the month. It was only later during the lunch when I mentioned something that we were going to do on the trip that they both realized I was going. The crazy part is Allen brought up the fact that they adopted because they were twins and Allen and I have both serendipitously had boy/girl twins. He thought he was making a twin connection and it was so much more. Michelle proceeded to tell me that her mother worked for years as a dental hygienist and she couldn't wait to get back to tell her about this trip. She wants to get information to possibly go in the future. And Michelle's future mother-in-law couldn't believe the connection either.

That is where I found out about Dr. Rick Hodes. Michelle said her mother just finished the book aboout Dr. Hodes called This is a Soul. It tells the story about this diminutive Jewish man from New York travels the world and ends up dedicating his life to the poor and disenfranchised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His main clinic is at Mother Theresa's home run by her Sisters of Charity. Sounds like a good read, but at the time I was deep in the other book and thought I could pick it up after I got home. Two days later my mother hands me an article from Ladies Home Journal. It tells about a journalist from New York who follow this doctor in Ethiopia and ends up "adopting" a young boy. You guessed it....it was also the story of Rick Hodes. So....I bought the book.

If you ever start to feel sorry for yourself or thing that the donation that you make to the local charity is a REAL sacrifice, pick up this book. Devotion doesn't begin to describe what Dr. Hodes feels about his patients and the people he serves. If each of us had 1/10th of his passion our communities would be unrecognizable. You can read more about him and donate directly to him here. As I was trying to mentally and spiritually prepare for this trip I has blessed to have some time alone. I was able to go with work to a conference on South Padre Island (I know....rough gig). While I was there I had an afternoon to go to the beach and finish my book and truly check my motives for going. This was my view as a read my book.

There is something so soothing and so introspective about water. Throughout my life being new water whether it was the small pond I grew up on, the lake where I spent my summers at Kanakuk Kamp, or the chances I have gotten to be by the ocean - it never fails to remind me of just how small I am. It's trite to say and authors and composers have written about it from the beginning of time. But there really is something about looking out into the ocean (or the nasty oil infested Gulf of Mexico...whatever) that reminds me when I think I have control over everything I have not a clue what tomorrow will bring.

I started thinking about a question I was recently asked. During a conversation about the trip the question came up about what my "goal" was and it caught me off guard. I had never really thought of the GOAL. My purpose was to serve the people and love them the way Jesus does, but what does that mean. That I just fly in for 10 days and give away candy and toys and then leave them behind. As I walked the sandy beach and thought about this I couldn't help but think about Dr. Hodes. In his book he refers to the Talmud where one of the rabbis asked Elijah the prophet where he could find the Messiah. He responds, "At the gates of the city, dressing the wounds of the lepers, one by one." Dr. Hodes ponders, "With everything the Messiah has to do - rebuilding the Temple, returning Jewish people to the ways of Judaism, bringing peach to the world - he is spending time treating the lepers." And his thought.....our job is not so small after all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Strong women- precious jewels all- their humanness is evident in their accessibility. We are able to enter into the spirit of these women and rejoice in their warmth and courage.
— Maya Angelou

I have a great friend at work named Allenna. She LOVES to make things happen. If you need 1,000 pounds of sand....she's got a guy. Thinking about throwing a chili cook-off.....she can get it underwritten. She loves to talk people out of their money for a good cause. She's hysterically funny and a little bit irreverent and has a deep desire to make the world a better place.

When she found out I about our trip to Africa her superpowers kicked into overdrive. She immediately signed over a check she received as part of serving her jury duty - but for Allenna that was not enough. As timing would have it Allenna's mother-in-law had recently attended a jewelry sale. And not just any run of the mill jewelry sale. Genuine pearls purchased directly from vendors in China and designed in the most exquisite creations at the hand of a benevolent artisan. Allenna sent me the designer's information and we soon became internet BFF's. Before I ever met Margaret Palmer face to face i had a glimpse of her deep sense of compassion. She started her jewelry business as a way to give back. Every time Margaret presents a sale, a portion of the proceeds go to the host's charity of choice. The American Cancer society and Habitat for Humanity are just a couple of the charities who have received thousands from these sales. In fact, she created a gorgeous line of jewelry to benefit the Cancer Society. The necklace below is an example of colors she brought together to represent the different types of cancer. She states so eloquently on her website how she came up with this creation, "A pearl grows when a rough, irritating piece of sand is trapped within the tender flesh of an oyster. The oyster forms layer after layer of protective shell around the irritant until it is transformed into a beautiful pearl. Cancer is the irritant that we need to surround with layers of love and support. You and your prayers are the layers of protection for a cancer victim."

Please check out all of her great jewelry benefitting ACS at Margaret Palmer Jewelry

As soon as I told her about the vision of providing dental care to the orphans of Addis Ababa she didn't hesitate to commit to having a sale. And to boot she gave me some great ideas to get additional donations.

So one Thursday evening women from all over the metroplex came to my mother's house and selected some unique and VERY AFFORDABLE pieces. So much so that Ms. Palmer donated just shy of $1,000 to our trip!!! It was amazing and I am so grateful for her generosity and for all of the people who came by and bought pearls.

With her gift, we were already able purchase video cameras for the orphanage that Gladney oversees. These cameras are essential to the adoption process as they allow the proceedings to be recorded preventing any question of the validity of the adoption once the child gets to their forever home. We have also been able to buy craft supplies to use as a mini-vacation Bible school for the children as they wait to see the dentist. I am thrilled about the idea of each child being able to sit and make crafts that they will be able to decorate on their own and keep for themselves. For most of this children this may be the first thing they can TRULY call their own and know it was made specifically for them.

Three months ago I could not imagine where money was going to come from for this trip - once again I am reminded that my little mind cannot comprehend the unlimited creativity God has and bestows on me. And I am also reminded that you should never underestimate the power of a woman and her willingness to buy jewelry!

Monday, September 13, 2010

There is no me without you - Haregewoin Teffera

I have been thinking a lot about the differences between my trip in 1998 to South Africa that I previously wrote about and the one I am preparing for now to Ethiopia.

For starters, I knew very little history of Ethiopia when I committed to going on this trip and quite frankly still don't. When I went to Cape Town I'd poured through volumes of books and even minored in African history with an emphasis on South Africa in college (who knew UT offered so much diversity?) So, I decided before I could board the plane I had to get a base knowledge about the country and it's people.

It may start becoming obvious through this blog that I am a big fan of Emily and Moody Alexander. To say I "single white female" her on some things would not be an exaggeration. It's like friends who share a bond over coffee or shoes - only slightly deeper. It is a love for a place that no one can describe - yet you know exactly what they mean without saying a word. When she recommended the book There is No Me Without You I got it.

Now once upon a time in my life I read books. This time would have been after I had to cram 200 pages each night for the next day's class but before I starting thinking going to bed when the kids did was really not that bad of an idea. Back when I worked during the day and Chris worked at night and before I could fill my free time with Keeping up with the Kardashians. Back during that magical time I read books. Lots of books. One book after another. Then two humans started growing inside of me and they took all the energy I had. Then they started growing outside of me and took more energy that I thought I could muster. So when I buy a book now it is with good intentions but doesn't generally get read until Christmas break when I don't feel bad about letting the kids watch 12 straight hours of TV because it is too cold to go outside.

This book was different. From the first page I stared to get a glimpse of what my upcoming experience is going to be like. I thought back to the shantytowns I had been in outside of Cape Town and Johannesburg. I could see the desperation in the eyes of the people tempered with the determination to stand up and do something. I began to think about the contrasts of these two countries.

While South Africa has a horrific past it has birthed a nation of heroes. Men and women who sacrificed their lives to emerge from their banishment as the leaders of a new nation - the fulfillment of a grand dream. The people who had suffered the most were able to see one of their own rise up and carrying them with him on his shoulders like any proud father would. Ethiopia has not been as fortunate. It's heroes come in the form of a middle-class woman who lost everything she had and out of desperation took in some unwanted children. She was in the pit of dispair and saw in these children salvation - they needed each other to survive. The book follows the plight of Haregewoin Teferra, a widow who experiences the death of one of her children and essentially becomes the dumping ground for all of the children in Addis Ababa whose parents had succummed to the AIDS epidemic or had reach the end of their ability to feed another mouth, no matter how small. It's a vivid depiction of a woman whose love of children comes at a great personal cost. It's the story of someone who much like the Mandelas of South Africa was not willing to stand by and let a human being be treated with anything less than respect and awe as the divine creature God created them to be.

So I begin to see one of the sharpest contrasts between my past experience in Africa and the one I am about to embark on. Ethiopia still waits for it's leaders to rise up and take the "least of these" with him. What I anticipate will be the same is the unbreakable spirit of the people. The drive that each woman working with HIV-positive orphans has in the way she cares for the children who have been abandoned there by death or more brutally by choice. Ethiopia's heroes are not walking hallowed halls as lawmakers or politicians - they are walking the dingy floors of nurseries changing diapers and quieting cries. They are giving bottles and chasing away nightmares. They will never have their face on a T-shirt, but their acts will be imprinted on the hearts of the countless children they love like their own.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same - Nelson Mandela

There are many people living and dead who I greatly admire. They have some general qualities in common. Courage, integrity, compassion, vision. Nelson Mandela is probably the human I admire the most. As you can see to the right I had the gift of being able to meet him when I was in South Africa. I cannot begin to comprehend how a man is persecuted throughout his life, dedicates himself to the struggle to ensure that the color of a persons skin should not determine how that person is treated, goes to prison for 27 years because of this belief and emerges with a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. I'm so petty I still hold grudges against people who didn't include me in their group in high school. Recently a book was written about some of Mandela's fundamental principles. I gave the book to another man I admire.

You may have seen bumper stickers where the driver is proclaiming that his "boss is a Jewish carpenter". Well, my boss is a Jewish lawyer. His name is Richard Alpert. Apparently there was a character on LOST with the same name. This prompted us to purchase the likeness in bobblehead form.
The Richard I know really doesn't look much different. Just a little bit taller and not as much eyeliner. The non-bobblehead Richard is man not unlike Mandela. He likes to remind me that working so closely with me on a daily basis is a lot like the torment Mandela experienced in prison.....just more chatty. All new prosecutors in our office spend about 2 years under Richard's tutelage, and as hard as it is for me to put in print, we are truly all lucky to be able to glean from his talent. You see Richard has literally dedicated his life to prosecuting cases involving deaths caused by drunk drivers and he has become THE expert in the field not only in Texas but all over the country. This became his niche when he realized that most victims of drunk driving crashes are police officers who are trying to make the roads safe for all of us, but end up the casualties of a senseless act. Needless to say, his passion strikes home for me. About a year and a half ago Richard asked if I would be interested in working directly for him again supervising new attorneys. I was flattered by the offer....then realized I was about half a dozen deep in the line of people that he asked before me. Regardless, I was honored and took the position. Since that time Richard has not missed an opportunity to challenge me to grow as a manager, to be challenged as a trial attorney or to push me toward a situation that can only make me better. There are very few people who enjoy watching others succeed as much as he does. And while we share a lot in common professionally as well as personally, our faith is not exactly the same. We are both comfortable sharing our feelings and our convictions and have no problem even joking about it. I would write down an example...but that's really not something you want burned in print forever to be misunderstood. Despite where my Christianity and his Judaism diverge, Richard was one of the first whole-hearted supporters of me participating in a Christian-focused, dental mission. When I asked him what he thought about taking 10 days off to share the love of Jesus through dentistry to orphans in Ethiopia his response was, "I would be upset with you if you didn't". When I told him I was thinking about selling cupcakes around the office to raise the money he immediately threw out marketing ideas and sales techniques. With his encouragement I went home and whipped up these.
Chocolaty, marshmellowy, S'more cupcakes.

Armed with this plate of sugary goodness Richard lead me like a circus elephant through our office, leaning on all the big wigs to dig deep and fork out some cash. By the end of the day my measly 18 cupcakes raked in $67.50 (and I started by asking $1.50 for them). And when I felt bad about people who were paying me in $20s rather than singles, Richard pulled me aside and assured me that I should never turn away a gift someone is willing to give to a cause I feel passionately about. He reminded me that people want to share in an experience like this any way they can.

So ultimately Gabby's angst about who was going to make cupcakes for the children without mommies and daddies turned into the first $200 I received to go on this trip. And the man whose response to being asked to have a "come to Jesus meeting" said "that didn't work out so well when He met with my people the last time" was the impetus behind it all. You have to believe that God has a great sense of humor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hold a true friend with both your hands. ~Nigerian Proverb

I started writing about the trip because from the moment I mentally committed to going and ran the proposal past my husband for the umpteenth time, extraordinary things began to happen. When I say extraordinary, I truly mean EXTRA ORDINARY. The acts of others have touched me and surprised me and some have completely flabergasted me. Without the first act though, this trip would not be possible for me.

Most people would say they have a BEST friend. Ask my kids and they would tell you who theirs is. Of course that answer could change in 10 minutes, but right now they will give you a name without hesitation. And some people will give the “sweet” answer and say their husband or wife. Make no mistake - I love my husband. Wouldn’t want to live a day without him, but even he knows that I have a best friend who will always have a special place in my heart. A place reserved for someone who is not legally obligated to love me unconditionally, but does anyway. For me that person is Lisa. Lisa and I have been best friends for nearly 20 years (wow….that sure looks old when it is in print). We have experienced some of the greatest adventures in life together. Here we are on our first trip together to New York City. Note the fashionable vest and “not- dated- at- all” denim. We really thought we were cute then.

One of our greatest adventures was when she came to visit me at the end of my time in South Africa. Here we are in Zimbabwe at the edge of Victoria Falls. And here is Lisa at the game reserve where we went on safari in Krueger Park, South Africa. The trip was special for both of us because this was a dream come true to me to experience life in South Africa and Lisa never hesitated to book a flight and join me on my journey. So when she booked another flight to Africa this summer I should not have been surprised. But I was. More than surprised – I was humbled beyond words.

When I committed to the trip I didn’t want to take anything away from our family. Whether that be a vacation or letting the kids go to the preschool they love for one more year. I was going to raise the money in other ways. The only problem was I needed to book my flight pretty quick to secure the price and I didn’t have the funds up front. I had this grand idea. I was going to borrow the money from my 94 year old grandfather. He keeps stacks of it just lying around waiting for one of his grandkid to ask for it and he would have loved to help me out. The plan was to borrow the money and then sell things like cupcakes or monogrammed bags or whatever I could to raise the extra funds and pay him back along the way. I was so excited about my genius plan I called my best friend. I hadn’t told her any of the details about the trip so I couldn’t wait to hear her reaction that I was getting to go back to the continent I love. She was every bit as excited as I expected her to be. I told her about what we were doing and who was going and what my plan was for raising the money. She said she wanted to send me some money and I told her that was silly – I was not going to let her to do something like that. I needed to be responsible and pay for myself and just pay my grandfather back as I earned it.

After I hung up the phone I went about my business. A few hours later she called back. She wanted to give me my flight numbers to Addis Ababa. DID YOU CATCH THAT? MY FLIGHT NUMBER. True to form she’d tracked down Emily, got the information and bought my tickets. Now you will hear me say this over and over (so much that you will start to think I am trying to convince myself) but I am not a crier. My mother has never been supportive of crying and I learned from her that if I was strong enough I could fight back the tears in any situation. Well, I wasn’t strong enough. I started bawling. I have learned in my life that sadness does not generally bring me to tears. Neither does anger nor pain. I see too much of those things in my line of work, I would be crying all the time. The things that open the ducts of my tears are kindness in the face of adversity, grace where none is deserved and the selfless sacrifice of one person for another. To me Lisa’s act was a culmination of all three. She knew how this trip would change me and I knew how much Lisa was giving herself to make it possible. I also know that few people know me like Lisa does and knows when I can be selfish and unkind. She knows when I do things for my own benefit or for the praise of men. In spite of what she knows about me she did this. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a best friend like her.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Of all the needs a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaken need for an unshakable God.
Maya Angelou

Like all mothers I think my children are amazing - both utter geniuses. My daughter in particular is also very inquisitive. There are hardly any new words or situations she encounters where she doesn't ask questions. She likes to know how everything works and what everything means. When she does ask a question it usually becomes the jumping off point of a much longer conversation. How this is all relevant to Africa is that I try to be very open with our kids about why I do the things I do. Whether we are donating clothes to Mission Arlington or particpate in ESL classes for the African community in our church, these lessons make a much larger impression than anything I tell her. I know they did for me. Seeing my mother sew items for children whose mother's didn't have the patience or the resources to make them homemade things or my father put together bicycles for foster children, I learned lessons about compassion by watching them do rather than just hearing them talk. Recently I was changing Gabby's clothes and I put a t-shirt on her that we got from the Porter family who are in the middle of adopting 2 gorgeous children from Ethiopia. Not letting a single detail get past her, Gabby asks me "What does this shirt say?" and I tell her it says "147 Million Orphans" on the front and "Feed One" on the back. Digging deeper she asks "What does ORPHAN mean?" I craft my response in the simplest terms I can, "It means kids that don't have a mommy or daddy". While I do think Gabby is amazing I cannot claim she is any math whiz. She did recognize the word MILLION. Her response, "Are there really THAT many?" And I said yes and asked what she thought about that. In rapid fire succession she spits out, "Well who takes care of them? Who drives them to school? Who fixes their food? Who bakes them cupcakes?" And the list went on to include questions about grandparents, ballet, t-ball practice and doctor's appointments. But what stopped me in the midst of this moment was the pure-hearted question from the mind of a 5 year old "Who makes them cupcakes?" Cupcakes are a big player at our house. I LOVE cupcakes. They really are the perfect dessert. Portable, no forks, knives or spoons necessary, no cutting or dividing required and the ability to make them fancy with decorations or eat them just plain. Gabby shares my adoration for them (coupled with both of our adorations for anything coated in sugar). To her the thought of a child without a cupcake was just as horrible as not having shoes or not seeing a doctor. It pierced my heart. Without a mother or a father a child misses the sense that they are the most special thing that God created. They don't feel the protection of someone putting not only their needs, but their wants ahead of their own. When I shared this story I had several people say it evoked tears. This was not my intention, but a hazard I should have recognized nontheless. It's part of the ugly truth we find too hard to even talk about. That there are children out there alone, waiting, dying. I have so much love and admiration for those who have not only heard the call to adopt, but actually followed through. I have to say the Lord has not tugged mine or Chris' heart toward adopting. But - my heart is broken and I feel I should do what I can to support those who sacrifice so much for orphans. I go into this trip with the hope that in some small way I can be used to love the orphans I will get the chance to meet. And one of the first lessons I have learned in this adventure is that a 5 year old could spark an idea to help make it possible.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A "NO" uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a "YES" merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. - Mahatma Ghandi

I have a hard time saying no. Set up a lemonade stand, offer to sell me a raffle ticket, suggest a committee I should sign up for and I am like those old cartoons with the candy on top of the body and the words above it reading "sucker". I don't want to miss any exciting events and I hate the idea of people having fun without me. I married someone who is exactly like me in that respect. "No" is not an easy word for either one of us. So when I heard about this trip to Ethiopia I was so proud of myself for saying we loved the idea, but we could not feasibly go at this time. In fact I gave a long and drawn out explanation of why this was the least responsible thing I could do right now. But the story leading up to this trip is truly the stuff movies are made about so I should have known I would get sucked in at some point. When we moved to Arlington from Dallas we were lucky to have a fantastic group of people living within a one mile radius. We moved next door to the Saxons who couldn't be more fun, dependable and enjoyable to be with if we got to carve them out of puddy ourselves. With the Saxons came a circle of Arlingtonians lead by my choice for Mayor and First Lady Moody and Emily Alexander (technically they live in Pantego which is the only thing keeping them from taking complete control of the city). Our kids love hanging out with the Alexanders and we are excited every time we get invited to join them so when they said they were considering adopting we were thrilled because we thought our family of four would fit perfectly into their family of six. Being adopted by the Alexanders was a very exciting prospect for us. Imagine the disappointment when they told us they hadn't considered us, but rather a child from Africa. Some people just aren't open minded. In all seriousness, as an adoptee and a lover of Africa I was more than elated. There was a part of my soul that was so joyful for them that they would get to experience, even though in a different part of the continent, the indescribable spirit of the people and the beauty that surrounds them. Their trip to adopt one son turned into multiple trips and the adoption of another son. It also stirred a passion for a people and an insatiable desire to meet their needs. And so they had a vision. A vision to take 10 dentist on a trip to serve the people of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the way Jesus would have. To use the gifts they have, specifically dental training, to help change the lives of some folks. I stayed up one night moving around money in my head trying to figure out what I would have to do to be a part of the trip. My initial practical response was overcome by my desire to be part of something truly amazing. Chris knew from the beginning that I would want to go and gave me his blessing, but told me he just didn't know how it was going to be financially possible given the plans we already had for the year. So, I resigned myself to the idea that it just wasn't the time. I was going to honor our family and not press he issue - i would just be supportive of the people who were going and hope there would be another chance. Then one conversation completely wiped away any self-control I might have had. Over the past few months I have gotten to know the wife of the pastor at our church and she has been gracious to listen to me carry on about why I feel the way I do about Africa. So, she asked me if I'd heard about the trip and I tell her I had but I just couldn't see myself going right now. After more follow up questions I told her I couldn't justify spending that kind of money and then she did the one thing I fear the most. She asked if she could pray that the Lord would provide the funds. How do you say no to a preachers wife? I mean that just might get you turned into a pillar of salt on the spot or worse get you kicked out of the women's ministry. So I said yes and went on my way. What made matters worse is that she actually did it. I got follow up messages letting me know that she was discussing the whole matter with the Lord. She even offered to let me share a garage sale day with her to raise the extra money. I mentioned this to Emily and she was no better. She told me, "He will fund those whom He calls". Another conversation and concession on my husbands part and my schemes started to solidify in my mind about how the money was going to come. Little did I know that the solution was being worked on before I ever knew there was a problem.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Africa has her mysteries, and even a wise man cannot understand them. But a wise man respects them.
- Miriam Makeba

I believe we all have one thing that stirs our hearts. Good or bad, every person has an activity, a hobby, maybe a location that gets them excited just by the mere mention of it. That thing for me is Africa. To say my thing is "Africa" is pretty broad, especially since I think the majority of people have major misconceptions about Africa. For many people Africa is just one big place, a homogeneous mass of land half a world away. The majority of the U.S. population doesn't delineate between Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan. Ask the average person to name 5 countries in Africa and most would be hard-pressed. I don't say all of this to sound critical. It would be impossible for me to tell you where Sierra Leone is on a map or which countries boarder Ghana (believe you me I've tried on that Internet test....it's shameful). I have come to observe that a lot of Westerners glom people from Africa in one big group and when we do this we might as well be saying people from Fort Worth are exactly like people from Dallas. I mean PULEEEZE. We know 30 miles doesn't seem that far, but it's more the state of mind than the geography. For some reason we don't apply this philosophy to people who come from completely different countries with totally unrelated languages, traditions and customs. But I have always been drawn to the continent as a whole. I don't know what exactly began the interest for me, but I do know when it solidified. In 7th grade I had a social studies teacher who came to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa to escape the oppression of Aparthied. At the ripe age of 12 I couldn't comprehend when he told me how beautiful his homeland was and how he would never be able to see it again. Why wouldn't he just hop on a plane and visit his family there? I couldn't imagine how he had to leave behind EVERYTHING because the color of his skin made him a target. I was so affected by his story I started to study about South Africa. By this time I had already created deep seeded feelings about racism. I was raised by two people who had zero tolerance for discrimination in any form. I was a child in a world where segregation was not too far in the past, and the scars were still very fresh. At a young age my sense of justice was very strong and my desire to protect the underdog was reinforced on a regular basis by my parents. I was encouraged by my teacher to watch the movie "Cry Freedom". There are very few stories that have changed the course of my life as this one did. The film is based on the story of Steve Biko, a freedom fighter in South Africa who was martyred for his stand against Aparthied. In the movie he speaks of a man named "Mandela" who is imprisoned for his beliefs. As I got older Aparthied became more of a global issue. Our country imposed economic sanctions on South Africa and called for Mandela to be freed. I began to read Mandela's writings in college and was amazed at his vision and compassion. I watched every minute the day the South Africa president announced to the world that he was to release Mandela and saw that great man walk free in the streets for the first time in 27 years. I'd already decided to pursue a career in law. I loved how the great leaders in history used the law, rather than violence, to gain equality. In 1998 I was given the opportunity to travel with Howard University to Cape Town where we spent a semester studying abroad. It was as if everything in my life before was leading up to this opportunity. I'll have to write separately about that experience, but what it did was deepen my sense of adoration for the great continent of Africa and it's people. So, given the chance to return (even if it is further North than where my deepest passion lies) I couldn't sleep thinking about what i needed to do to go. And so....my journey back begins!