Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Testing our patience...

I was not blessed with patience as a virtue, so I'm thanking the good Lord that he is giving me the opportunity to learn patience through the adoption process.Many people ask us how our trip was, or how things are going,and I have to say that it is a difficult question to answer right now. 

As for the trip, with the exception of the return trip and our court appearance, it couldn't have gone any better.  Combining serving, friendships, and meeting Zion for the first time made for a dream come true for us (especially me).  It was a great experience for me to watch the people of Ethiopia capture my wife's heart and to see God work in her.  As nice as it is to share wonderful time together sitting on a beach or other vacation spot, I have come to believe that it is as good, if not better for a relationship, to be able to serve together and share God's love to those less fortunate.

We obviously are dreaming of our little Zion who remains in Ethiopia for the foreseeable future.  He is a sweet and wonderful little spirit and I can't wait to get him home.  As hard as it was to leave him, we are comforted by the fact that he is getting great care and in a very nice care center.

As for the court issue, we are still in limbo.  We happened to be one of the first 2 couples (we appeared together) to be caught up in a new Ethiopian guideline regarding adoptions involving children from the sounthern region.  Apparently they now need a letter from the southern region government, verifying the status of a care point which Zion spent a short time in. 

Initially, our attorney in Ethiopia stated that it would set us back 1 week, so not to be alarmed.  The magic question is whether that is American time or African time.  In African time, that week could go on for a long time.  Currently we are at 2+ weeks with no word and Holt is not able to predict when the letter will get taken care of. 

It is frustrating, but we are trying hard to keep in mind that things don't happen on our time.  He will decide when it is time for Zion to come home.  Please join us in praying for a quick resolution to this bump in the road.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trying to keep perspective...

We are trying hard to figure out what God is trying to teach us. Traveling to and from Africa is never easy, but this has been downright ugly. We were scheduled for about 32 hours of travel, but we have far surpassed that.

It started poorly when the first meal came to me an hour into the 6 1/2 hour flight from Addis to Frankfurt. I chose the pasta because my experience with the meat on earlier flights wasn't so good. Within 1 hour of eating my stomach went crazy. The vomiting and diarrhea began. Just what you want to be doing on an airplane. It continued throughout the flight and into the 6+ hour layover in Frankfurt. Not sure how I was going to survive the 10 hour flight to Denver, we boarded. It went okay and I only had a couple of issues. The whole time I was thinking, "get to Denver and we're only 1 1/2 hours from home. In Denver, I was finally able to hold down food so things were looking up.

Then the delays began...

They pushed our flight back every 15 minutes for 4 hours. Finally they cancelled it and rescheduled it for 7:00 this morning. As only the US airline industry can do, they begrudgingly reserved a room for us in a hotel 30 minutes away and told us to grab the shuttle. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how long it will take to get a planeful of people to a hotel 30 minutes away with 1 15 passenger van with luggage. Getting sick of waiting in the 20 degree temperatures, I used my African negotiating skills to find a van which would take us and 2 of our fellow travelers for $40.

We made it to the hotel, hoping for the first 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep for several days. At midnight, a text came from United stating that our 7:00 flight was now cancelled. So at midnight I pleasantly spoke to a United person on the phone so they could reschedule us.

Currently I am sitting on the wheel well in a van full of new friends. They were planning on putting all of us on their bus until it didn't start in the cold weather.

But, at the end of the day, my wife has reminded me of our family montra in these situations..."I get to..."

I get to ride on the wheel well of a van because most people in the world don't have that ability.

I get to travel 46 hours to get home because most people in the world would travel 2 weeks to get to the US if they could.

I get to reach into my pocket for my last $20 to pay for a van that I shouldn't have to buy last night because many people in the world don't make $40 in a month.

I get to put on dirty clothes today which smell of a combination of coffee (from the packed gifts for our family) and vomit, because many people in the world struggle to compile multiple sets of clothes to put on their back.

I get to miss my kids at home for one more day because there are many people who desire to have kids or more than 1 and can't or aren't allowed to.

We are trying hard to keep everything in perspective and stay positive. Hoping to be home soon!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Zion Day

We met our beautiful baby boy today!  He is so amazing!  We were able to spend five hours with him, which was so much more than we thought we could. We left for a lunch break and to let the kids nap.  We had lunch at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant with two other couples that we have met here.  This is a picture of our meal.  It is eaten with your hands and injera, the country’s staple food. Keith & Holly and Anka & Andrew were able to share today’s special moments with us and have helped us document it well. 

I bet we gave Zion hundreds of kisses.  He took two short naps on us, but otherwise was so content to be held and rocked.  He did a little tummy time. He has great head control and can push his weight up on his arms.  He drinks milk from a cup, which was so surprising.  Yes, a cup, not a bottle!  We are unable to post any pictures of him until the adoption is final but we took a lot of incredible ones.  I am certain that I am in love with this tiny being, but there is so much more……

I love his long eyelashes.
I love kissing his cute cheeks.
I love his tiny toes.
I love his curly hair.
I love his homeland.
I love his beautiful smile.
I love his warm dark skin.
I love his milk breath.
I love his soft cry.
I love his little bottom.
I love his culture.
I love his “almost giggle”.
I love his snuggles.
I love his big brown eyes.
I love his grunting.
I love his story.
I love his stares.
I love his dried boogers, I do.
I love being his mommy. 

What a blessing he is to us!  Leaving him was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I cried our way home to the guesthouse and long for the day to bring him home.  Then I cried with immense gratitude and sadness for the birthmother who had to leave him just five months ago.  Please pray for her healing and comfort.

Court tomorrow, hoping to pass it without delays!!

Love, Shannon

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Korah...Part 2

Another amazing Ethiopian day!  The day started with a return visit to my old friends in Korah.  I was a little unsure going back to it would feel.  My good friend Brady (who has been there multiple times) told me that each time he returns it is better and better.  He was right.  Seeing all of the people, homes and small market when we were pulling in brought a lot of good memories back.

The instant we got out of the car in front of the Great Hope church, we were greeted by a host of children, many of whom I recognized and recognized me.  We were instant friends again – holding hands, hugging and getting kisses on the cheek.  What a great way to start the day!

I shared some of my pictures with the children that I had taken in August and brought back to give them.  They were very happy to receive them and had a lot of fun seeing them.  We were able to talk with the band of brothers and show Shannon the dorms, kitchen, clean water project which was recently finished by One Child Campaign, and saw where the Mission Ethiopia women make their beaded necklaces. 

Then it was time to worship at the Great Hope church.  I wish we could have understood more of it (the only words we knew in the 90 minute service were Amen and Alleluia), but there was no doubt that God’s presence was in that building.  We sat with many of the kids that greeted us and one young boy crawled up on Shannon’s lap and fell asleep (snored through much of the service).  She is obviously a natural at this.

Many of my Man Up friends will remember “Brady’s girls”.  They are two young girls (kindergarten age) who have made a great friendship with Brady.  We were able to meet up with their older brother who wanted us to come visit their house.  Upon our arrival, we were blessed by their mother with wonderful coffee and popcorn, while the kids played, sang, and acted crazy for iPhone video recordings.

After leaving there, we headed to Mercy’s house.  Mercy has a very special place in the hearts of Man Up and Simply Love mission teams.  She is a beautiful 15-year old girl who has a heart and seizure condition.  Thanks to the great work of Kari Gibson over the past year, she has done well with new medications and is prospering in school.  Her mother, Mulu, is a very sweet woman also.  Upon our arrival, Mulu indicated to us that Mercy is sick and sleeping.  She told us that yesterday at school someone hit her and it triggered her heart condition and she is not doing well.

We sat with Mulu as she made us coffee and talked with her, trying not to disturb Mercy from her rest.  After coffee, we prayed over Mercy, asking for God’s help in healing her.  Mulu was so appreciative of our visit that she prayed over us, blessing us and praying for a safe journey home. 

Our final stop in Korah was back to the house that my team renovated last summer.  It was great to see the kids again, because the oldest is usually at boarding school, but was home for a short time to complete some paperwork to return to school.

Unless you have been to Korah, it is hard to explain what it is like.  It consists of 130,000 people living in very close and difficult (to put it lightly) situations.  Korah is where the people of Addis go when the city wants to forget or ignore them (i.e. Lepers).  As my good friend Maste says, “No one comes here, not the police, government…no one.  That’s why it means so much to them when you come, even just to visit”. 

They are such wonderful people in the most difficult of situations, but they don’t complain and for the most part, they aren’t looking for a hand out.  They are just seeking love, hope, and a little bit of help to find their own way out.  I can’t put it into words the amount of happiness it gave me to return and to share Korah with my wife.

The day finished with something else that brings me great happiness…Island Breeze.  For whatever reason, this local Ethiopian restaurant makes the most incredible brick oven pizza (not to mention onion rings and nachos, and I’m sure a whole lot of other things that I haven’t been able to taste yet). 

As much as I loved the day, I know it will only get better tomorrow.  We finally get to meet Zion!!  According to the schedule, we will have almost a full day with him (much more than anticipated).  I remember meeting Landri for the first time and if this experience is half as good as that, I won’t be able to contain myself.

Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we travel, meet baby “Z”, and try to serve these people and God in some little way.

With great Love, Mitch.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 1...

Our flights went well, LONG but well.  By well I mean no major delays and the gift of an exit row.  I was wishing I were one of those people who can just sleep anywhere, in any position, like the guy next to me, or like old men at the mall.  We got to the guesthouse around 11:30 pm and crashed. 

The first day of our “court trip” in Ethiopia started with breakfast at the guesthouse.  Banana bread and coffee.  Then our driver, who we will call “Z”, took us to a boy’s orphanage.  It is called Mark 10, named for Mark 10:14 which reads:

Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as they”

What an amazing group of young men!  Ages 10-17, they were invited off the streets and are choosing to better their lives through school and worship.  Mitch played some futbol (soccer) with them.  Quick ‘lil guys, he got schooledJ  Such a  humbling experience to see these people who are so poor in material things but rich in the greater things, love and hope. 

We then went on to a town favorite, Kaldi’s Coffee Shop.  Delicious frappuccino!  
Next, we went to a transitional home for Children’s Hope Chest.  This home had 15 boys and 2 girls. They are there to depart from the drugs and crime on the streets, in hope to return to their own families or on to a long-term orphanage.

Mitch really enjoyed playing foosball with them.  I taught them a clapping game and my heart melted a little more with each of their giggles. 

We rounded out the day with a little souvenir shopping and came back to the guesthouse for dinner. 

This being my first experience of “mission work”, it was a difficult, painful yet rewarding day. A few promises were made:
I promised to those young beautiful faces that I will be back to see them again. 
I promised to those warm little hearts that they are worthy and deeply loved.
I promised myself that I will always pray for them to the Lord our God for peace and comfort.
I promised God that I will continue to support those in need, however I can.  My work here is not done.
I promised Mitch that my life is forever changed……….for the better!

Love,  Shannon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Heading Back...

It has obviously been a long time since I have posted.  This is for a variety of reasons...busy life, still working through some emotions of my time in Africa, laziness, and at the end of the day, I'm just not really the type of guy who spends a lot of time reading or writing this kind of stuff.  But, at the end of the day, I fully realize that this is not only an opportunity to share my experiences with my family and friends who I don't see everyday, but it is also a way to chronicle my experiences and hopefully my kids will be able to read and appreciate and be proud of some of the things that I have done in my life.

Tomorrow, Shannon and I head back to Ethiopia.  This trip is for a very different and exciting reason...to meet baby Zion!  We have held pictures of him for several months now and we finally get the opportunity to meet him and appear in front of the high court of Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, our time with Zion will be very limited and we can't bring him home this trip, but just meeting him and holding him will be an amazing experience.

We are also going to be able to visit Korah while we are there, along with several other ministries.  If you read this blog while I was there in August, you have an idea as to what kind of affect Korah had on me, so the chance to return and visit our friends and worship with them in their church on Sunday morning is an amazing opportunity.  Obviously I have some mixed emotions as to whether it will be the same as my last visit, or will it be better?  Will we be received as well as the last trip?  Will Shannon embrace the culture like I have?  Only time will tell...

We are also blessed to be visiting a couple of orphanages that were recommended to us by my new, good friend Caleb David at One Child Campaign.  I don't know much about these ministries, other than they are for former street kids ages 8-15 and we will be able to meet them, talk, play, and serve them.  They have asked me to talk for a few minutes, sharing God's word and encouraging them to work hard to achieve all that God has in store for them.  This isn't something I feel very good at, but I'm sure He will help me out when I get there.

It was rather interesting packing our bags tonight.  It definitely had a lot of the same feel that I had last summer, but it was also rather different.  A lot less unknowns I guess, which leads to less anxiety.  And, a lot of excitement - to meet Zion, serve others, serve God, and spend some amazing one-on-one time with my wonderful wife of 9 years with no interruptions.  While I don't know if I could live disconnected all the time, because of the way we live here, but it sure is nice to step away from technology for a few days, slow down, and appreciate life.

As I have told many people since returning the last time, for all of the things that Africa has wrong, they also have a lot of things right.  They are a relationship dominated society which cares much more about spending time with friends and family than they do worrying about the next event they need to attend.  That is why I feel that I developed a much better appreciation for Love while I was in Africa last summer.  The people we worked with showed me how to Love Big (to steal a Roger Gibson line).  I hope some more of that rubs off on me over the next week.

Please keep us in your prayers as we make the long trek back to Africa.  I will do my best to keep you posted on our adventures...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Our Last Days...

Sunday August 14, 2011

As I sit here on the plane typing in the midst of our 17 hour flight, I find myself reflecting a little bit on everything.  Overall, it is hard to piece everything together. 

I absolutely can’t wait to see my kids and Shannon this afternoon.  I want to share my experiences with them and give the kids everything that I bought for them.  I don’t know for sure how I will be able to share everything with them though.  I truly believe that until you experience the amount of emotions, love and heartache that we experienced in the past 2 weeks that you can’t quite comprehend was it is all about.  I know Shannon will be very interested and supportive as I sort through everything and I love her for that.

I really can’t imagine going to back to work tomorrow.  That’s a pretty crazy statement for me, because I truly love what I do and have so many wonderful and supportive people at work.  But, I have been in such a different world for the past 2 weeks where everyone seems to be happy, time is not important, and there is no pressure to do anything, and that is a different world from what I’m used to.

I hope I can somehow relay to my kids what my trip was all about.  They are very young and I doubt that they will be able to comprehend any of it, but the earlier they learn about the issues of others in the world, the better off they will be long term.

The team has talked a lot of “decompressing” after the trip.  At first, I kind of blew the concept off, as usually I can analyze situations and make decisions pretty easily.  But, I will admit that right now, I’m not sure what the next step in my life will be with regards to serving God and the underserved.  There are so many opportunities that are available that I’m not sure what is the best match for me and my family. 

Sponsoring kids is always an option which is easy and very cost effective.  I will say that I learned on this trip that if we decide to sponsor a child (and this goes for anyone reading this) that sending money is not enough.  These kids are starving for love and they take letters and pictures from their sponsor very seriously.  They badly want to be involved in someone’s life and feel loved and cared for. 

We are going to explore the option of bringing older orphans (18 years old) over the states to give them opportunity and help transition them into a productive adult.  And, adoption of younger kids is obviously not off the table for our family.

I can’t imagine that missions work will not be a part of my life in some capacity going forward.  I do think that I gave the people I came in contact with some hope and love, but I assure you that I received far more from this than they did.  I truly learned to love people while in Africa.  Everyone we touched loved us and wore huge smiles, whether at a facility or on the street.  I hope this makes me a better father and husband.

I also learned that I’m nowhere close to where I need to be with regards to my faith and my spiritual walk with Christ.  The men on this trip amazed me at their knowledge and devotion to their faith and they were great role models for me.  I have a new dedication to knowing Christ and improving my faith.

Other than that, I will continue to think and pray over the next few weeks as to the next step in life.  Thanks again for following this and contributing to my life.

Saturday August 13, 2011

Today was our final opportunity to love on orphans in Africa.  It was also the only day that we would be visiting a Catholic orphanage, so I felt a little bit closer to this institution.  Being the only catholic on the trip, everyone knew I had a little soft spot for the 4 nuns that run the place. 

It is home to about 110 kids, ranging from small babies to high school age.  They are also the only place we visited that had special needs children.  While it was hard to see so many kids in their orphage in somewhat difficult circumstances with very limited resources, the visit was good.  We had a blast with the older kids.  They got the opportunity to experience their first high stakes game of dodgeball.  Their playground was set up perfectly for it and we had a lot of fun teaching them the finer points of the game (I was the one getting drilled in the eye with a nerf football).

It was a short visit with them and time to head for lunch.  We visited a local place that serves a variety of food.  They weren’t prepared for 40+ Americans to raid their place, so the wait was lengthy, but the pizza they made was out of this world.  I wish we had an Island Breeze pizza place in Springfield.

We finished the day with some quick shopping, then packing, and off to the airport for our 10:15 flight.

Friday August 12, 2011

The day started off with a fun note.  I was called outside my hotel room by my good friend Jason to see the monkeys which often visit the trees above the parking lot of the hotel.  Jason had begun treating them to Wheat Thins.  After several minutes of tossing the crackers to the monkeys, we earned their trust and we eventually had them literally taking crackers from our hands.  It was a ton of fun and certainly something we don’t see in Missouri.

Roger and Rob then treated us to a very nice breakfast buffet at a gorgeous lakeside resort next to Lake Hawassa.  The scenery was beautiful and the food was just as good.

Then it was supposed to be off to a transition home in Hawassa.  But, we were informed by the director of that facility the morning our visit was scheduled that they had no kids.  At first it was disappointing and a little bit confusing, but after some questions for him, we learned that he shipped 79 babies and infants to another transition home in Addis to be adopted out to American families.  I certainly can’t be disappointed about that. 

He was kind enough to take us to another transition home located nearby to see their kids.  It was comprised of all babies and it was a very nice facility.  Every baby had their own bed and everything was very clean.  I would estimate that there were 4-5 babies for each caregiver, on average.  It was nice to hold some babies as we had not seen any babies along our trip (even though I got puked on twice and peed on once).  I wore the markings proudly. 

I struggled a little bit emotionally because I kept looking at every child I held wondering if I am holding my next child.  The ladies that we spoke with did not know specifically what agencies they worked with to know if by chance we were looking at Holt kids.

It was then time to pile back into the vans for the 5 hour ride back to Addis.  It was brutally rough, but overall the trip was worth it.  Once back in Addis, we showered and put on the best clothes that we had left to go out for a nice meal, Ethiopian style.  We went to a high end restaurant that served traditional Ethiopian food and had singers and dancers performing for us.  After dinner, we hit a small cafĂ© for desert and it was off to bed.  Overall, another good day was had by all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

True Africa...

Today, we headed out to Chuka to see the site of the deep water well project which has been spearheaded by Rob and Julie Neal.  After 7 hours of 12 men being crammed into a tiny van, we were beginning to wonder if it was going to be worth the trip.

But, at the point that they stopped the vans so we could get out and load into Land Cruisers, we began to feel that it was going to get better.  The only way in and out of the village is in a Land Cruiser and I happened to get a truck version and fought hard to be allowed to sit in the back to get the full experience.  It was a blast.  For a bunch of men, this was the ultimate adventure.  We were up and down hills, over rocks, through rivers, and tons of mud.  It was just as you envision the African wilderness with heavy vegetation and nice wildlife (I can hear the monkeys on the roof of my hotel room as I right this).

When we finally reached the village, they were prepared for us.  I have never experienced rock star treatment, but this must be what it feels like.  The entire village was lined up singing and clapping for us.  They gave us a very warm welcome.

Rob was the man of the hour.  He was able to connect with Cruise's birth family and as the leader of the well project, the people of Chuka were very appreciative of him.  Several village leaders spoke and then they gave Rob a very nice gift of some traditional dress clothing.  It included has handmade sport coat, tie, and hat.  He looked as goofy as it gets, but it was truly a wonderful gesture and these poor people combined all of their resources to give him the "key to the city."  I am truly honored to call Rob Neal a friend of mine.

They gave us a tour of the village, well site, and the stream where they currently get their water.  They say that 80% of the deaths in this area are due to unclean water, and based on their stream, I can see why.  Several of us were then able to make a pit stop at Cruise's birth family's hut.  It was pretty cool how they construct their buildings out of the local resources and it was very special to be standing in the place where he was born (right next to the 2 family cows that stay inside).

The men of Chuka made it obvious that the women of the village were not all that valuable, which is frustrating and leads back to the Man Up mission.  They laughed and asked us why we kept holding and carrying their kids.  They couldn't understand why we would want to interact with kids (much less black kids).  We love them all and enjoyed the opportunity.

The day ended with another off road safari and back to our hotel about 2 hours away.  Overall, the day was a perfect compliment to yesterday's rough day at the dump.  It allowed us to decompress a little bit and we had a lot of fun.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Here we go...

For those of you who are looking for the latest “postcard” from Africa as to what we have been doing, here you go…

Tuesday August 9, 2011

Today was Day 2 in Korah.  I spent the day with Brady installing solar lights.  We put them in Mercy’s house (a girl with a very special story that I won’t get into now) and then in the girl's and boy's dorms.  This will be especially helpful to them when they lose power (daily).

The night finished with some bowling.  It was a great time doing some team bonding and teaching the “Brothers” to bowl.

Wednesday August 10, 2011

Today was day 3 in Korah.  The day started with prepping the goats we purchased to feed the kids.  Then it was on to finish the home makeovers for our 4 families.  Addis (the woman who lived in our house with her 3 kids) then performed a coffee ceremony for us.  If I could get coffee like this at home, I would be a coffee drinker.  After lunch, it was off to another coffee ceremony with Brady and his son Tanner.  Brady and Tanner have made a great bond with 2 little girls and their mother invited us into her home as a sign of her appreciation for us. 

Then it was time for some mud soccer (after the day’s rainstorm).  Finally, we headed to the dump to get a view of how the people of Korah provide for their family. 

For those of you who are interested in at least attempting to grasp what we are doing and willing to tolerate listening to me open my brain at this point, keep reading…

I have not actually seen the movie “The Bucket List,” but I’m pretty confident that I have a good grasp on the concept.  While in Africa, I have scratched a couple of things off of my bucket list (most of which I didn’t know were on it, but in hindsight should have been).

·      I have opened a bottle of Coke using my wedding ring as a bottle opener.
·      I have eaten lunch in a third world prison.  I not only ate lunch with the inmates, but they prepared the food.
·      I have played a pickup soccer match with a bunch of Ugandans who we met on the side of the road.
·      I have danced in a hula skirt in front of a hundred small children in the name of a good laugh.
·      I have bowled in an African bowling alley.
·      I have ministered to some of the poorest people in the world in their homes.
·      I have visited the start of the Nile river.
·      I have mudded the walls of a house.
·      I have drunk coffee and eaten bread and popcorn prepared by amazingly strong and courageous women who have little hope of improving their situation, but choose to honor us for the little ways we have tried to help them.
·      I have observed a goat being killed to provide an extra meal with meat for a bunch of kids (they only get meat 1 time per month).
·      I have prayed with some of the most inspiring spiritual leaders that I can imagine coming in contact with.
·      I have participated in a truly inspiring worship service with young prison inmates.
·      I have been in a Dude Perfect video clip (actually 2, and counting).
·      I have spoken with and hugged lepers.
·      I removed the shirt off of my back to provide for someone else.
·      I have walked onto a city trash dump, filled with the trash of a booming city, holding hands with a young boy who spends his days there searching for scraps of food to help provide for his family.

I don’t think that anything I say in this blog or anything else can even come close to doing what we saw today justice.  The film won’t do it justice, nor will the YouTube clips from Dude Perfect. 

I will admit that the past 3 days in Korah have not hit me as hard as some of the other areas we have visited until today.  The people of Korah are fairly happy, engaging and proud, just as we have encountered other places.  But, most of them have shelters (keep in mind that is a loose term), almost all of the kids have some clothes which look to be in somewhat decent shape, and there are a number of groups which are working in this area.  So, on the surface, the people here appear to be on par, if not slightly ahead of the curve with regards to what we have encountered on this trip.

Then today, we actually saw what many of these people do to provide for their families.  With all of my years of construction, I have visited several trash dumps.  They all have a horrific smell and are filled with similar items.  They have rotting food scraps, general trash that people have discarded, birds flying above, and a busy system of trucks dumping and loaders moving the rotting trash around.  Until today, though, I have never witnessed 1000 or so people rummaging through the trash in search of food. 

I have made a conscious effort to not make my trip or this blog about the “poor people of Africa” so we ugly Americans feel sorry for them.  Because at the end of the day, these people don’t want that and they would be hurt by me doing that in a public setting.  But, sometimes I just can’t help but call it like I see it.

The people of Korah use metal hooks to pick through piles of garbage.  They surround the incoming trucks to get the best trash possible and fight each other for everything they can get.  They closely follow the tracks of the loader because as it moves, it turns up trash others may have missed. 

They do all of this while keeping an eye on the dogs they are competing with and the hyenas which are very aggressive and dangerous, especially for kids.  When I say “they,” I mean everyone; kids, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.  I watched one woman carrying her baby on her back while picking through the garbage.  I also observed an old Leper with a single wooden crutch picking through trash with his nubs for fingers.

While in Korah, I befriended David, a 15 year-old young man who is a tremendous boy.  His English is above average and he was very helpful to me when we worked on the house we remodeled.  We spent a lot of time together this afternoon.  He was very interested in learning about my family and my life.  We sat together and looked at the pics I have on my phone.  He loved to meet my family through my pictures.  He commented about how beautiful my wife is and that he wants me to tell her hi from him.  He loved the pictures of our house (which I struggle to show these people, because I feel a bit gluttonous having what we have as compared to them).  He shared with me that he has a sponsor and attends boarding school when it is session, so I felt very good about his opportunity to get out of his situation.

When we left the village of Korah in our vans, he knew we were headed to the dump, so he walked over to meet us there to spend a few more moments with us.  After visiting the site for a while and shooting the Dude Perfect shot, we made our way out.  David and I were walking near each other and I watched him spot a sugar packed amongst the trash.  He promptly picked it up, opened it, and drank it down.  That’s when everything really hit home.

My mind is spinning circles right now as I search for answers to questions that I can’t wrap my head around.  I’m angry, sad, hopeful, and confused as I sit before my computer looking through the tears that are and have been running down my face off and on for the last few hours.

If anyone has any answers to the following, I’m all ears.

·      Why as humans do we allow people to live like this?  Is it because people don’t know?  Is it because people don’t want to know?  Is it because people don’t care?
·      Why can’t Americans seem to be able to get off of their fat asses and solve our obesity issues when there are people literally eating trash to survive?
·      Why are these people so appreciative of several day old food scraps, but we are willing to throw them away because they may not taste quite right?
·      Why do Americans argue about the welfare system when we really don’t understand poverty like these people do?
·      Why do Americans who are on our welfare system complain that it isn’t enough for them when they aren’t actually working for the food on their table when these people are truly working and risking life and limb to put food on their tables (if they have a table)?
·      Why can’t people realize that for $250/year, they can send a kid to boarding school and get them out of this situation?
·      Why can’t they build more boarding schools for these kids (even if you want to sponsor a kid, there is no room at the school)?
·      Why is it that Canaan’s can feed 112 kids on $1300 a month, but they still struggle to make ends meet because they can’t ever seem to find enough funding?
·      Why does the Ethiopian government put resources into regulating who can visit their trash dump to make sure that they don’t get too much bad publicity for how their people are being treated instead of investing those resources into getting people out of the dump?
·      Who has a stronger faith, those of us who have been blessed with great riches in life, or those who have nothing but are immensely grateful for anything that they get?
·      Why can’t I be truly grateful and glorify God for everything in life that he has given me?
·      Why isn’t it required for every man and woman to see what I have seen in the past 10 days (I bet it wouldn’t’ be a problem anymore)?
·      Why was it a debate as to whether or not to shoot film of the goats who were killed to provide for hungry kids out of fear of what PETA might say, but no one will have a problem watching a film about hungry kids searching through trash for food?
·      Why is that some things that I used to think were crystal clear are now foggy and the things that used to be foggy are now very clear in my mind?
·      If you believe that the world will get worse and worse until Jesus comes again as the bible suggests, does that mean that the end is coming soon?  Our world is pretty jacked up right now.

I guess I can only pray that these answers come to me/us soon.  The good thing is that thanks to the great people that are working tirelessly in the ministries that we are working with every day are making a dent.  We are also raising awareness with the movie and Dude Perfect clips, so things can improve.  I love and appreciate all of the good things that people are doing here.  They are true heroes.  We are only here for a short time.  They live their ministry.

May God bless all of us.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ethiopia Here We Come!

Monday August 8, 2011

Our first day in Ethiopia went well.  The day started at Korah, which is the part of Addis Ababa which is full of 170,000 people who have been shunned from the rest of society.  It is fully of the poorest people in Addis, Lepers, and others who are deemed worthy to live with the rest of society.  The vast majority of the people here support their families by picking food from the dump nearby.  It is also where our team leader Roger's daughter Zoie was born.  Obviously, he has a special place in his heart, and as an adoptive father myself, I can relate as I thought about getting to visit Landri's home village.  Also, everywhere we visit in Ethiopia is an opportunity to see and think about our future child from this great country.

We met up with the Band of Brothers, who are our hosts for our time here.  They took us to their church (constructed of bamboo sticks, tarps, and plastic flooring).  We sang a few songs with their kids and then went for the tour of Korah.  We saw their orphan home (houses about 50 kids and run by the great people at Project 61), visited a couple of lepers in their home, saw the neighborhood school, and finally visited the Leaper hospital which was built by the Germans many years ago.  They are amazing people.  Despite being severely handicapped, they are happy to speak with us and shake hands (few people here ever touch them), and they make some amazing crafts.  They begin by taking raw cotton and spin it by hand into string and eventually make blankets, quilts, tablecloths and all kinds of other great items.

After lunch we began the extreme home makeovers.  We mudded the walls of a family's home to repair the holes.  We also gave the mud a quick skim coat with plaster to prep it for paint tomorrow.  With all of my construction background, I have never done any of this before.  The home is about 8 x 8 with a small door and no windows and it is home to a family of 4.  They only have 1 small bed and their coffee table is their kitchen table.  It was great to be able to give back to these people.

The evening ended with some great food back at the Ethiopian Guest House and relaxing with good friends.

Sunday August 7, 2011

Travel Day...

Uganda has been amazing, but it is time to move on.  It was hard to say goodbye to Canaan's Children's home.  Pastor Isaac is one of the most amazing men that I have ever met.  He has so much love for everyone and his joy is contagious.  Everyone wants to be around him and be more like him.  I hated to say goodbye to him.

It was also hard to say goodbye to my little guys, Richard and Stewart.  They were attached to my hip for the past few days and we spent some treat time bonding.  It is heartbreaking seeing a 10 year old little boy cry when you leave him.

The travel was a little bit like planes, trains and automobiles, but we made it to Addis.  After being exhausted and drained for several days, it was great to have a little bit of an emotional break.  We hit the ground with renewed energy at the thought of a new country and a new challenge.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Last Day in Uganda...

A wrap up day in Uganda…

Today was fun and predictable for the first time since we’ve been here.  We were able to sleep in a little bit and then all of the kids put on a show of singing, dancing, and competing for us.  The highlight had to be the 3-4 year olds who stripped to their underwear and then raced to see who could get dressed the fastest by themselves.  What a hoot!  The show went on for 2 hours and all of the kids did great.  They have such a great program here at Canaan’s. 

After lunch it was time for the first Dude Perfect shot of the trip.  We had a basketball rim, but nowhere to attach it and 3 bolts with nuts and a pile of salvaged lumber.  So the Hauschildt ingenuity kicked into gear.  Uncle Phillip (the worker in charge of the workshop) cut off a board and punched 3 holes in the board with a mallet and chisel.  Then Jason Crocket and I climbed to the top of the largest water tower on the campus (about 2 ½ stories tall) and we rigged it up to mount the rim at the top of the ladder.  I will admit that I wasn’t all that comfortable climbing a steel water tower that was built many years ago which was covered with rust and is not used anymore for some unknown reason.  Not to mention that the largest man here was sent up.  Anything for the shot, I guess.

Surprisingly, after a couple of trials, we got it mounted very securely.  The only problem was that since it was mounted on the ladder, I was stuck at the top of the water tower until the shot was made and the video production was complete.  Cory did great and it only took him 8 shots to make one.  Hopefully I’ll get some sort of a benefit from the YouTube fame of being next to the rim at the top of the water tower for Dude Perfect.

After the shot was done, we had some good bonding time with our kiddos and watched some kids play some great soccer.  Then Pastor Isaac (the founder of the Children’s home) shared his life experience with us.  It was an amazingly powerful testimony of God’s work and he is a great storyteller and I was lucky enough to sit right next to him for a front row seat.

The story took well over an hour to get through, but the basics were that back in the mid 1970s, the Ugandan government began persecuting Christian pastors, and he was known as one of their leaders.  The military came to his house, kidnapped him and drug him and 24 other pastors in.  Over the next day or so, he was chained, beaten, and tortured for his love of Christ.  Then, the pastors were lined up and shot. 

As the other pastors were being killed, they were falling quickly and knocked him over.  He was shot in the shoulder and leg on his way down (instead of in the chest like it was intended).  They took the bodies out of town and dumped them into a mass grave.  As he was clinging to life, God told him to climb out from under the bodies and his mission in life was to father the fatherless. 

After many people helped him to begin to recover from all of his injuries over the next 3 months, he escaped to Kenya until 1978.  He was reunited with his wife over 1 year after she thought he was killed.  He eventually made it back to Canaan’s and began his church and ministry to orphans.  It was truly a great testimony and I don’t know that you would believe it if you don’t hear it from his mouth and see all of his scars. 

After dinner we spent a little more time with our new friends and then it was time to pack up so we’re ready to depart for Ethiopia in the morning.

Uganda has been great!  I will miss the Man Up dorms. 

I hope Ethiopia is ready for us!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Uganda Day 5 (I think)

Friday August 5, 2011

We keep waiting for 2 days that are somewhat alike, but not today…

The day started bright and early with a full set of drums playing in the street outside our window at 4:50am.  Then, the Muslim prayers ensued outside of our window.  As part of Ramadan, they play the drums loud to awake everyone to eat before sunrise.  Then, they have extra long prayers (75 minutes).  Needless to say, on the first day that I wanted to sleep til 7:00, we had no luck.

After breakfast, I have to admit that the African bacteria apparently started going to work on me.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say my GI system is not working so well.  So, bring on the Cipro.  I don’t know if it was coincidence, but I felt much better within a couple of hours and hit the French fries (the first American food we have had) very hard at dinner.

We started the day of ministry at Pillars of Hope.  They serve about 45 kids who are poor and have no resources.  They perform their ministry with little to no resources themselves.  They are teaching kids several trades, including sewing and making fabric scarves.  Many of the kids were in school, so we only got to play with about 15 of them and we had limited time.  But, they are great people and the men running the ministry are very gifted and have huge hearts.

After lunch it was on to Pastor Andrew and Coming Home Ministries.  He and his church reach out to the poorest of the poor in Uganda.  They are mostly single mothers and widows with absolutely nothing.  We met at his church and then he divided us up into 4 teams and we headed out to their neighborhoods.  This was a first for everyone and I have to admit, I was a little uneasy about being dropped off on the side of a road in Uganda to minister and spread God’s word.  This was totally out of the box for me, but the feeling of discomfort is good for me and teaches me a lot about myself and my relationship with others and God.

We ended up walking along some railroad tracks and back into an area of what we at home would describe as the backwoods.  If you imagine what the poorest of people in the world live like, you probably haven’t gone low enough.  But, despite all of that, they were very happy to see us and are very proud people.  They pulled out their best furniture for us and asked that we sat in them while they sat in the dirt.  Their children knelt in front of us as they greeted us. 

The group was made up of about 20 or so women of all ages and their young kids who were not school age yet.  We sang songs with the kids, and then introduced ourselves, they introduced themselves and shared part of their life, and then we read scripture and prayed with them.  We talked a little more and then purchased some beads and bags from them to help support their families.  Their one request was bibles written in Ugandan.  We promised to work on getting the women their own bibles before leaving the country.

I bonded with one women (she is a widow) and her 8 year old son, Jonathan.  He and I hit it off very quickly and she said that he would like to go home with me.  I told her she would be sad to see him go and we laughed a little bit (he is the youngest of 5, so she would be free!).  She spoke very good English, so our conversation flowed easily.  She expressed to me how much she appreciated our words of encouragement and for being such a positive role model for Jonathan, even if it was only for an hour or so.  She explained how much her children miss having a father and how important it is for little ones to have fathers and she can’t give them that.  I guess our Man Up mission is as important as we think it is.

While standing there, in the dirt, surrounded by shacks that somewhat resembled homes, among the women, children, chickens, and goats, I had another moment of “how did I end up here?”  I never would have imagined several years ago that I would be doing what I’m doing, but I know that I am doing good things and this is very good for me (a true win-win).

One observation that I have made is that despite the conditions, these women were not looking for handouts (like we would expect to see in the US).  They did not ask for the government or put their hands out.  They asked to be closer to God and to help them gain skills and tools to get their children to school to break the cycle.

We finished the day with a trip to the Nile river.  After all that we have seen, it was nice to do a little tourism.  We took a boat ride at the Nile’s origin and relaxed on a gorgeous evening in Uganda.  I got the opportunity to eat next to Pastor Andrew during dinner and learn more about his ministry and these women.  His passion is contagious and I aspire someday be as devoted and dedicated to others as he is. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be a little bit slower pace.  We are spending the day playing at Canaans.  I have my 2 friends, Stewart and Richard who don’t leave my side here, so I don’t know how slow the day will be.  But, it promises to be a little bit predictable at least.

Bye for now.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Everyday is great in a very different way...

Another very different day…

Today we started up with a morning recovery workout (because we were all sore from soccer yesterday).  Then it was off to M2 children’s prison.  M2 is similar to M1 in that all of the kids are ages 12-17.  Most of the kids here have not committed a crime and are awaiting a court hearing.  They aren’t supposed to be at M2 longer than about 6 months, but many of them do.  The facility is home to 200+ kids (mostly boys) and it was designed to hold 45. 

The day was different because these boys were more restricted in their freedoms.  They had to earn the right to play soccer.  We found ourselves involved in many more in depth conversations with young men about helping them get back on track.  Many of these kids are very bright and speak good English.  They expressed to us that they want to be “good men.”  Meaning, they are well educated and have good jobs, but they need help getting to school when they get out.  That is where 60 Feet comes in, assisting them as they transition out of the prison system. 

These kids seemed a little bit more at odds with their faith and life in general.  I met one young man who was there for the first day.  He was obviously lost and looking to find his way.  We didn’t have the kind of “fun” we have been having.  Rather, as a collective group we seemed to be spending more time in one-on-one counseling sessions.  I certainly did not feel prepared for this.  I spent a great deal of time with one young man (ironically his name is Innocent) and my heart goes out to him.  I did not have answers for him, so I put him in touch with the guys from 60 Feet and hopefully they can help to facilitate getting him back into school soon.  I felt rather helpless at times, but took the time to listen to him, encourage him, and pray with him. 

Our visit to M2 finished mid afternoon and we headed to Canaan’s Children’s Home in Jin-Ja.  We were not prepared for what we would encounter.  As the gates opened to the facility, several kids spotted us and the word traveled quickly.  Before we could park the bus, we were surrounded by a ton of kids of all ages cheering and touching the glass, just waiting for us to get out.  What a rush!!

We quickly exited the bus and the kids mauled us.  We all grabbed as many of them as we could handle (within seconds I had 2 adorable kids – one on each arm).  They were full of so much love, it was contagious and the feelings we all experienced were indescribable.  They all spoke very good English and were very interested to learn about us.  We spent the next 2+ hours playing and loving.  Their desire for touch was amazing.  Virtually every kid latched on to someone and literally didn’t let go (except when my 5 year old friends schooled me in soccer).  They wanted so badly to be held, hugged, and touched.  You can’t turn that down. 

The night finished with some great food from the staff here, and off to bed (imagine 8 grown men sleeping on 4 inch mattresses in the same room under mosquito nets).  It really is the ultimate Man Up road trip!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another couple of great days!

Wednesday August 3, 2001

Another great day with the Man Up crew!  The morning workout group grew again today and everyone started off in great spirits.  Today was a visit to M1 children’s prison.  It was the home for 219 12-17 year old kids.  All of them have been found guilty of some sort of crime.  The problem is, many have not actually committed a crime, or the crime they have committed was out of necessity due to extreme poverty, so it’s pretty hard not to feel for these kids.

The visit started with an absolutely amazing worship.  Picture a bunch of kids surrounded by the Man Up team in a dimly lit, run down, hot and fairly dirty room (which was where many of them sleep), singing, dancing, praising, kneeling, drying, loving, and blessing those around us.  We talked tonight and we can’t imagine how these kids can praise God the way they do under their circumstances.  But, to see a teenage kid stand up and pray, testify, and praise the way some of these young men did, was a sight you have to see to appreciate.

Then it was “game on!”  The kids headed out to the yard and we followed with soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs, Frisbees, and nerf footballs to have some fun.  Shortly after the games began, it was lunchtime. 

We had purchased spaghetti, chicken and beef for the kids to eat for lunch.  They rarely have anything other than rice and beans for meals, so it was a treat for them.  They felt it very important that we eat with them.  After some discussion and uneasiness, we prayed for God’s protection and sat down with the kids and began eating rice, spaghetti and beef out of bowls with our fingers, just as they do every day.  I ate about a third of mine and decided to share it with the boys at my table who were still hungry and very grateful for more food. 

Then the fun really began!  We made our way to their soccer field.  It was a nicely flattened spot of ground which was placed on the side of a small mountain.  The view from the field was beautiful.  The game was an interesting contest of shirts v. skins and it was a very large field with a lot of players and had 2 balls going at all times (I still don’t fully understand the rules).  Needless to say, for the most part these boys playing us barefoot showed us a lot about the game of soccer.  It was the most interesting game of soccer I have ever been associated with.

Overall the staff at M1 and 60-feet were great to work with.  While it is a prison, the kids have a lot of freedoms to play throughout the day.  I have a lot of respect for the people who are here everyday working with these kids, because they wore us out in 1 day.

We loaded the bus for the 2 hour trip back to our hotel.  We were on the lookout on the trip for kids playing soccer and we threw them a new soccer ball when we saw a little bit of pick up soccer taking place.  It is great to see their face when they pick it up!  We weren’t quite ready with a pumped up soccer ball when we spotted about 10-12 young men (approx 17-24 years old) playing soccer in a dirty field.  So, when we arrived at the hotel, a group of about 10 of us decided to walk back and give them a new ball (theirs looked like a basketball it was so dirty). 

When we got there, we started talking with them and they were very nice.  They have a club team which was started to keep kids off the street and they are the best club team in Kompala.  Then they invited us to play them in a friendly intercontinental match of 7 v 7.  There was a little hesitation among the group until Jason and I piped up and said “game on!”

It was the most fun I have had in a long time.  I think they initially took it easy on us until we went up 1-0 (by the way their goals were about 3 ft. by 3 ft.).  Then they picked up the intensity.  We ended up losing 2-1, but I can’t believe I got the opportunity to play a soccer match in a dirt spot on the side of the road in Uganda.

What a day!  Tomorrow is M2 children’s prison.  Thankfully their soccer field is much smaller because these “Men” are hurting a little bit today.

Tuesday August 2, 2011

The day started with a great early morning workout with a few team members.  From there, it was on to breakfast and time to load up for a visit to Return Ministries. 

Return Ministries is a great organization organized by Pastor Samuel and he has his hands full and does a phenomenal job.  There are 15 children that live there, plus 50 kids that spend their days there on a regular basis, and many other kids from the community which come in when they want to.  All in all, they have 100 or so kids a day that they service with food, entertainment and education. 

I have to say that if the next 2 weeks are like today, words cannot explain the power of this trip.  Immediately upon our arrival, we jumped in and started scooping kids up.  Their love and desire for physical touch was incredible.  All day long, I had anywhere from 2-8 kids surrounding me, sitting on me, or hugging a body part.  They simply wanted to be loved.  We played and played with them. 

It became apparent that many of the things that I have learned up to this point, were actually intended for this moment.  The hours my dad spent with me over the years teaching me to quickly tie and untie knots to keep ladders on the truck came in handy today as I quickly had to develop a quick way to create cross necklaces with 2 popsicle sticks and some yarn.  Every time my kids come home with a balloon dog that they decide to take apart one minute and then want it back together the next, prepared me today to make balloon dogs for 100 kids.

We helped serve lunch to all of the kids (mostly rice with a few beans), and then washed the dishes so the women workers could relax a few minutes.  They have no running water, so we filled jugs from a nearby spring and went to work with a bar of soap and a piece of knapsack for a washcloth.  The women had never had, nor seen, a bunch of men washing dishes so they could relax for a few.  It was enjoyable to serve them as well and demonstrate to them what Men can and should be doing in their lives.

I was struck by the fact that despite no running water, a hole in the ground for a bathroom (which was kept locked so the kids didn’t use the “good” restroom), and very, very little for clothing, everyone was very happy.  The kids were full of joy and loved to be hugged and tickled and tossed around.  The workers were constantly dancing and tending to the kid’s needs with a smile.  Everyone was very polite and respectful. 

I’m sure that Randy got some great footage of several of us men (me included) dressed in a hula skirt dancing for the kids.  After all of dancing, playing and loving, it was hard to leave, but tomorrow is another day of loving big on orphans.