I feel the need to expound on my journey over the last week and ask you to continue to seek the Lord’s divine direction for me and the ministries of Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home. I hope you can bear with me and my long-winded blog to follow. If you don’t have a good cup of coffee (preferrably Ethiopian) and a little extra time, you may want to revisit this when you do. A few hours should be enough. Not even joking. Prepare.
I’m pretty sure that most of you can relate to times in your life where you felt so certain of some “one” thing that you could not possibly fathom a different outcome besides the one that is so clearly laid in front of you. That is pretty much how I felt about my continued stay in Ethiopia. I was certain that God called me to serve for a period of 6 months. Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m one of those people who the Lord speaks to audibly and tells me every move to make. I am not. However, I felt very strongly that God was asking me to serve in faith for this specific time frame and that He was simply asking me to trust and obey without answers. I typically like a slew of reasons to back up any plan. Especially when it involves such a drastic move. And then I like to state them and restate them, as many of you know. (Smile) Remember, this almost “50” year old Hoosier had never been away from the Fort for more than two weeks at a time. So in order to follow this “call” I needed to quit my job, leave my family & friends and trust that God would provide the resources necessary to accomplish His work. And in true Christ-like fashion - He did just that. WOW! So when it came time to extend my Business Visa for 2 months, I was just sure that He would make it happen - one way or another. But I did need to do my part too. One thing that I did not do in my preparation for the trip, was gather ALL the documents necessary to apply for a work permit once I arrived in Ethiopia. In my mind, I was a volunteer and shouldn’t need a “work permit”, however the Ethiopian government sees things differently. And the one thing I have learned over the years is following the rules is always a good thing - even if I don’t agree with them.
So here’s the summary of how things went down when Rachel and I went to Addis Ababa (which by the way can be a 4-7 hour trip depending on how many cows, sheep or donkeys cross in front of you and how many times the police stop you, checking to see if you’re legal).
Our plan for Immigration was to plead the case of a worn-out “very” pregnant mother of four - under five - whose husband runs an orphanage. Meet Rachel Ayele. She needs the assistance of “moi” to help her until we all return to the States at the end of September. Tears were packaged and ready for display at just the right time. Just so everyone knows - the above information is all true and valid. Indeed, Rachel is more than capable of handling things on her own, but an extra set of hands and feet would be “nice”. Not to mention she is infected with an amoeba, which was just confirmed after our return to Awassa. Also, you may be asking yourself, “Why did they wait until the last minute?” Well in Ethiopia, the earliest they will consider your request for extension is one week prior to expiration.”
We arrived at Immigration early on Thursday morning and let me say that it is my “new” least favorite place in the world. Try to imagine your worst experience at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and then add these factors: No numbering system, no English, no air conditioning, no deodorant, no bathrooms and everyone wants the same thing - to get what they came for and to get out! So we sat there all morning and reached the front row of chairs (its like musical chairs, only there’s no music) and the ONE lady that is the decision maker behind the desk announces they will be closed for lunch and we are to all come back in 1 ½ hours. Seriously. We come back and when we walk in the room there are more people than before and remember “no” numbering system. Well, the room was almost at riot stage. Lots of shoving and unhappy faces. I was as afraid as I was with the baboon standing 5 feet away from me. We were told several times, to take a seat, even though there were none available, but my dear Rachel did not back down. She stood her ground and did not let too many shove past her. She did keep pointing to her belly, hoping they would take sympathy on a pregnant woman. Not so much. When she reached her destination at the front desk, she began to plead our case, but was quickly cut off. We did not have enough documentation to even begin a request for an extension. We needed formal documentation from our Organization (EGCH) stating why we were requesting an extension, along with all the other legal documents that I had brought, minus the work permit. We were told to return on Monday and to start the process all over again. My visa expired on Sunday. We called Argaw and told him the news, and he said that if we supplied more documentation from EGCH, we would put the orphanage at risk of being fined and giving them a bad name with the government because it would come out that I did not have a work permit. Something we were trying to avoid exposing. They also said the best outcome was a 30 day extension and only if we met all the requirements and if they felt like my reason for staying was valid. It was way too risky. So I panicked and we ran to a local hospital and I got a Yellow Fever Vaccination, in case I decided to head to Kenya and try to re-enter the country with a tourist visa. I paid 22 birr (that equals $1.20) to be injected with Yellow Fever by a woman with no credentials, in a dark room, wearing NO gloves and NO alcohol swab. I asked Rachel - did that needle even have a cap on it?? She claimed the answer was “yes”. Smart woman, that Rachel.
Well, our friend Steph had met up with us in Addis upon her return from Tanzania and the three of us returned to our room at the SIM Guesthouse and decided to pray. We prayed that God would reveal what we should do to Argaw and that we would all have a peace about the decision. Trusting that His plan was the right plan. It was very comforting and a beautiful time spent with the Lord and my dear sisters.
Rachel and I knew that we needed to return to Awassa as soon as possible on Friday because we had promised Goiti that we would be celebrating her 7th birthday on Saturday and there was a high probability that we would all be returning to Addis on Saturday. So we bumped the party up to Friday afternoon. We needed to get back ASAP. Argaw enlisted our sweet little old (older than the Rambler he drove) taxi driver to find us a contract vehicle that would bring us back home to Awassa. No private vehicles were found, but what he did find made for a trip to be remembered.
We waited along side the road at 6:30 in the morning and saw this mini-bus pull up with the driver screaming out his window, “AWASSA” and we looked at one another and said, I guess that’s our ride. He continued this routine, driving like a mad man up and down the streets of Addis screaming “AWASSA” out the window until there was enough bodies inside to fill every open inch of space in this lovely pink zebra skinned upholstered vehicle. I will spare you all the details but will try to sum things up with a few key phrases and random thoughts:
Prospective Passenger: “Are you going to Awassa?”
Madman Driver: “Only the Lord knows” evil laughter to follow
Madman Driver on his phone: “What roads are the police on?”
Rachel to Ellen: “Start praying”
Ellen to Rachel: “Without ceasing until we arrive in Awassa?” knees to chin
Assistant to Madman: Hops out of vehicle on the outskirts of Addis and changes the license plates.
Several stops in small villages for “new paperwork”; and even more slow drive-bys with handfuls of money handed out the window to key people on the streets.
Numerous pay-offs witnessed at police enforced check points.
Arrival at a bus station 45 minutes outside of Awassa.
Everyone exits mini-bus and gets into another one.
Everyone except Rachel and Ellen.
Madman Driver: “Why do you not get out and why do you not pay?”
Rachel: “Because we are not in Awassa.”
Madman Driver: “No worries. That bus will take you to Awassa.”
More exchanges between Rachel & Madman Driver in Amharic.
Madman Driver: “Pay me what you owe and I will marry her.” pointing to me
Rachel to Ellen: “Pay him and get out.”
I gladly comply.
We squeeze into the next mini-bus and are separated. Rachel has fortunately won some sympathy and gets a “front seat”.
Man at bus station grabs my bag and ties it to the roof of the connecting mini-bus.
Man asks for money.
Rachel: “No money. We did not ask you to move our bag.”
Rachel turns to see where I am and Man at bus station sticks his hand in the window and steals Rachel’s phone out of her purse.
He is gone and so is Rachel‘s phone.
At this point, I am surprised by NOTHING. I accept the ½ inch of bench seat next to the wheel well and brace myself with my hand on the window for the remainder of the ride.
New Crazy Driver gets stopped at a police check point. Police began writing him a ticket for a problem with the license plate (shocker) and the exchange of money begins. Only this time, the cop is not accepting the bribe.
New Crazy Driver gets hauled away by the police.
Assistant to Crazy Driver hops in the driver’s seat and we speed off. I gain some leg room - the Assistant to the Crazy Driver was sitting next to me in the wheel well.
Seven hours after our journey begins we arrive in Awassa! Praise the Lord. I have a Wacky Cake to bake.
The decision was made. I was leaving. In shock I began to prepare for my departure. We had Goiti’s Birthday Party at Rachel & Argaw’s house. Rachel had made homemade ice cream for the party and it was the very first time the kids had ever had it. Can you even imagine - never tasting ice cream before in your life? Thus, we waited as long as possible, before telling the children that I was leaving. Leaving tomorrow. I had to allow them the privilege of taking pleasure in their first experience of ice cream. I was bawling and they were just sitting there; blank looks on their faces. I wondered what might be going through their little brains.
“Yea, no more radish sandwiches.”
“Abandoned again by someone who claims to love us.”
Only the Lord knows.
I felt horrible. I had so much more to do, so much more to say, so many more hugs and kisses to give. How could this be happening? It was not the way I had planned it.
I had 24 hours to pack up my apartment, turn in my keys, and say goodbye to so many dear sweet friends. Kelly & Ben threw together an impromptu going-away dinner for me, complete with few of my faves; Lem Lem’s Bretzels, Stoney Tangawizi and Kelly’s famous oatmeal raisin cookies.
The entire Ayele clan traveled with me to Addis to see me off. That is no small task.
I was honored to say the least. Fortunately for me, Argaw had some difficulty finding a private vehicle to take us, so that gave me extra time at the orphanage to say goodbye and dehydrate from all the tears. (The fewer potty stops along the road to Addis the better off you are.) When Argaw showed up at the orphanage, he made a quick entrance and said, “Come on, get in the van.” I said, “So fast? I have more kisses and hugs to give.” He smiled and said, “Oh come on Ellen, you’ll be back in January.”
They dropped me off at the airport at 11:00 pm (that is 4:00 pm Indiana time). Rachel slipped me a precious note that I will treasure forever and a necklace of Africa (Ethiopia outlined) and a cross overlay. Tears and more tears.
I flew to Istanbul - 5 ½ hour flight, endured a 7 hour layover, then onto Chicago another 11 ½ hours later. I could share all the details of my conversations with my poor next door neighbor - seat 12 B - a sweet 23 year old veteran who served in the Marine Corp in the Infantry. But it would require much more coffee and a box of tissues. But I will be so bold to ask you to pray for him. Jason is his name and he has seen way too much for his 23 short years. I gave him a book, “More Than a Carpenter” and a hug in baggage claim. And then I asked myself, “Is this why God sent me home when he did?” After all, he does have perfect timing.
Whatever the reason, I feel certain we are not at the end of the story. I am so excited to see how God uses this for his glory. So the rollercoaster continues. Better reheat the coffee. Upon my return, I had a debriefing meeting with our Missions Pastor Jeff and my nephew Josh (the new overseer of the finances for EGCH) and Jeff made the comment, “Why don‘t you just go back.” I responded, “Huh?” (that’s about as intelligent of a response as I could muster). That still did not sound intelligent : ) - oh well. He suggested that I just fly back and stay until I planned on returning with the Ayele’s on September 27th. He reminded me that because of all of you gracious donors, I had enough in my account to pay for a return airline ticket.
I would of course receive the typical 3 month tourist visa on my arrival to Ethiopia. No need for any additional paperwork or trying to buck the system by slipping out of the country overnight to Kenya. I did exactly what I intended to do, as planned with my airline ticket matching my business visa. Whoa! What is happening here? This sounded like a perfect idea. I came home and emailed Ben & Kelly in Awassa and shared the idea with them; thinking how fun it would be to just show up and surprise Rachel & Argaw and all the children.
The one thing I have failed to mention up until this point, is that giving for the EGCH ministry has been way down over the last few months. It was decided in the beginning that any money in my account that was not used for my expenses would naturally go to the EGCH and to supply the needs of the orphanage. Another whoa! How do you decide what is best for all involved? It seems that I would be selfish if I used that money to purchase a plane ticket to go back, when it could be used to support the ministry. In the same breath, I recognize that my God is big enough to supply all of the needs of his people in His perfect timing. A lack of funding is not something he is concerned about. He has it all figured out. So what to do?
I started the process of seeking discernment and confirmation. I shared my thoughts with Rachel’s parents and they encouraged me to talk to Rachel and Argaw. I thought this was good advice, because by not telling them I was strictly trying to enjoy the element of surprise. Not exactly biblical and as a matter of fact, quite self-serving. So the three of us spent a long time discussing the options on the phone last night. Their initial response was “Get on a plane and get on over here.” But after having some time to pray and seek the Lord, they thought that God had his reasons for sending me home and maybe that reason was for me to be a voice for those who have no voice here in the United States - the twenty precious children of Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home. We have decided to continue to pray and seek further prompting from the Lord. Well, actually that is what I decided because our phone card ran out of time before we made our closing statement. I trust that this week God will make it crystal clear what I should do.
Ephesians 4 kept resurfacing throughout all of this. Shaun Havelaar from Calvary Chapel Bible College Hungary taught on this text in Ethiopia a few months ago at the orphanage and then I taught the kids this memory verse: “Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient; bearing with one another in love.” Eph. 4:2
Just Friday my friend Melissa sent me a link to a message on Eph 4 through her church in Florida and I have read and reread this text again and again. Here is the resounding message: Unity in the Body of Christ. In my study notes I read this:
God has given his church an enormous responsibility - to make disciples in every nation. Matt 28: 18-20 This involves preaching, teaching, healing, nurturing, giving, administrating, building, and many other tasks. If we had to fulfill this command as individuals, we might as well give up without trying - it would be impossible. But God calls us as members of his body. Some of us can do one task, some can do another. Together we can obey God more fully than any of us could alone. It is a human tendency to overestimate what we can do by ourselves and to underestimate what we can do as a group. But as the body of Christ, we can accomplish more together than we would dream possible working by ourselves. Working together, the church can express the fullness of Christ.
Isn’t that a beautiful truth?
So as the Body of Christ I would ask that you pray for God to show me his good and perfect will and that I would recognize it, obey it and have complete peace with it.
If you were able to stay with me throughout this EXTREMELY long post - you poor souls, I praise you!
I’ll keep you posted my dear friends.
Once again I say….
Only the Lord knows…..