Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Celebrating the Sabbath

What an amazing day in Uganda!  We spent the entire day serving and being served by Pastor Isaac and his staff here at Canaan's Children's Home.  After another great breakfast, we headed to Sunday school.  We split the team up into 3 groups to teach Sunday school to 3 different age groups.  The team did an amazing job teaching and sharing the word with the kids of Canaan's.  I selfishly snuck out of the back of my classroom (as the team leader can do), to be served by attending Pastor Isaac's Sunday school class to the adults of his congregation.  He taught out of Ephesians Chapter 6.  Interesting that I was reading the exact same message on the plane ride to Africa.  I guess God wanted me to make sure I understood that I need to continue to "Put on the full armor of God" to protect against Satan's attacks.

Then we moved into the worship portion of Sunday service.  Man do these people know how to worship!!  Ninety minutes worth of singing, dancing, clapping, praise and worship.  Truly a sight to behold.  Finally, after 2 and a half hours of church, the actual sermon began.  It was great also and our team was so blessed to be able to share this moment with Isaac and his congregation (ended up at 3 hours and 45 minutes worth of church - a record for me).

Our afternoon was spent touring the primary school, seeing the foundation for the new church and new preschool, and then fellowshipping with the kids.  Papa Isaac also shared his amazing testimony.  If you aren't familiar with him, please check out his testimony here.  You will be moved.

After dinner, the real work began.  Isaac, Roger, Jeff, Eric and myself began a great discussion about life, Man Up, servanthood, and future plans for both Canaan's and Man Up.  These nights are nothing short of amazing.  Being in the midst of iron sharpening iron is what makes our trips so special.

My love for Isaac and the kids here continues to grow.  He has a desire to raise young men of God, as we do.  We share the same vision of going deeper into men's lives and truly investing in them.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to work and serve alongside such amazing people.

As great as this day was, I am so excited for tomorrow.  I get to see my amazing friend, Pastor Andrew, and see our school for the first time in person.  I'm already getting emotional thinking about it.  I am so blessed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Travel Day

Once again, I am behind here, but I'll post each day in order...

Today is the day we officially say goodbye to Ethiopia and hello to Uganda.  It is always bitter sweet and I have to say that we didn’t spend enough time in Ethiopia.  Hopefully the stars will align soon and Shannon and I will be back very soon to visit our friends when we travel to bring Zion home.  I am, however, ready to be done with the rainy season in Ethiopia.

The flight was uneventful, as was the trip through immigration and customs (just the way we like it).  Our favorite Ugandan bus driver, named Abus, was ready and waiting to take us to our home base of Canaan’s Children’s Home for the next 4 nights. 

The travel from Entebbe airport was filled with lots of scenery, traffic, motorcycles and potholes.  It is always great to get to see Lake Victoria (the second largest lake on Earth) and all of its beautiful wildlife. 

As we pulled into Canaan’s, we received the normal rock star welcome.  The kids greet us by surrounding the bus and cheering until we open the doors and enter the mob of young people.  It was so heartwarming that I was the first off of the bus and immediately spotted my good friend Richard (age 9), and shortly later my boy Stuart (7).  Both of them became my good friends last year and we haven’t missed a beat.  We quickly reconnected.  Shannon and I sponsor Stuart, so our family is directly tied to him in more ways than 1.  It means a lot to us and them that both Shannon and I can visit them and love on them at different times throughout the year. 

We were also greeted by one of my favorite people in the world, Pastor Isaac.  He really is one of the greatest men that I know and truly a Man of God.  He teaches me so much whenever we talk and I treasure the time we have together.  He inspires me to be a better father, husband, and overall man. 

The day ended with a tasty meal made by Momma Rebecca and some of the girls here and then some fellowship with the team and leaders at Canaan’s. 

This day was a nice mental break for the team and allowed us to recharge a bit.  Tomorrow is church in the morning and serving the kids of Canaan’s in the afternoon.  

Last Day in Ethiopia

Sorry I have been delayed in posting.  But, I will continue to post the days in order.  This is the post for August 17, 2012...

Our last day of service in Ethiopia was another great day of serving Men, Women and these precious children.  We started the day back in Korah.  As usual this time of year, we fought through the rain and mud to find our home base for the day. 

The day began by painting the inside of the new “Man Up Cave.”  This is the new dorm and meeting area for the young boys of Korah.  Roger has been doing such an amazing job of serving and discipling these young men and Great Hope Ministries has blessed them with a new place to call their home.  The boys painted along side of us and you can see how excited and proud they are of their new cave.

Then, as the team helped Roger with the daily bible study, my dad and I snuck away for some home visits to some of my favorite people in Korah.  They were short and sweet, and unfortunately too short to enjoy any homemade boona (coffee) from the ladies.  We stopped quickly to see “Brady’s Girls” (2 beautiful little girls that love Brady Stark) and their family.  All of the family was there, so it was nice to see everyone.  Momma is so sweet to us, and I hate that we couldn’t stay longer.

Then we moved on to Sintayehu’s house.  This is the home that my Man Up group from last year blessed with a home makeover.  Sintayehu has become very special to me, as has his mom.  We shared some pictures from last year and talked about how everyone is doing.  I was able to bless them with 600 birr (a little over $33 – likely close to 3 month’s rent) in hopes of keeping his mom off of the dump for the afternoon.  She is one of the many people here who supply for their family by digging through the city trash dump.

We did some shopping at the Post Office (I enjoyed sharpening my negotiating skills) and Tamoca for some coffee.  Then it was off to Hope for the Hopeless about an hour outside of Addis. 

When Shannon and I were here in December, we visited Hope for the Hopeless in Addis and had a great time with their kids.  I was told that they were not connected at all.  The facility is home to 52 young men and women ages 7-18.  We spent some time fellowshipping with them, playing games, and throwing the American football around. 

Roger and I connected with a young man named Donny.  He was very articulate and had a smile that would light up a room.  As we talked more, it became apparent that the facility in Addis was connected to this facility and he lived there for 6 months before coming to the permanent orphanage.  I showed him some pictures from our earlier trip and he was happy to see some old friends.  I do remember that the Addis facility is a transitional and rehabilitation facility, so now I have seen where those children end up.  It is a pretty nice facility, but needs the attention of more teams.  There just isn’t enough love for them.

We finished the night at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant.  I had my first ever Honey Wine experience (notice I didn’t say I enjoyed my first every honey wine experience), and the team was able to see another side of Ethiopia.

Another long day is now in the books, and I have to say that the physical toll of this trip is beginning to wear on me.  I need a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Man Up Day #2: Korah

It seems funny, but I shared with my dad today as we were traveling around the city of Addis Ababa that I feel very calm, relaxed and at peace here in Africa.  It may be just that my cell phone doesn't work, I don't have to drive, and I'm not in a hurry to do much of anything.  Or, it could be that God is telling me that he loves that I come to serve and He wants me to continue.  Whatever the reason, I like it.

The day started with my visit to our adoption agency's office to pick up paperwork.  It went very smoothly and they were very helpful.  My goal for the morning was to not do anything that would land me in a third world country's jail.  I accomplished that and got my documents, so all is good.

Then it was off to Korah for the day.  Korah is the leper colony where many people live off of what they find in the city dump.  With this being my 3rd time there in the last year, it is becoming a second home.  We went on a tour of the community for a bit and I was able to say hi to all of the kids that I have become friends with.  They have become so special to me.  The older kids are home from boarding school, so I can see everyone.

My good friend Sintayehu lives in Korah when he isn't away at school (he's 17).  Last summer, the Man Up team performed a home makeover for his family and I bonded with him and his family.  Shannon and I were able to visit him in December as well, so I really like him and enjoyed spending time with him again.  He wrote me a really sweet letter tonight as something to take home with me.  I will cherish it for years to come.

We visited with the women of Mission Ethiopia today as well.  These women have incredible testimonies and work very hard to create beautiful handmade jewelry.  I know many of you have supported them and some of our projects by purchasing beaded necklaces.  These women are simply amazing and our team was blessed to be able to speak with them and worship with them as well.

As the day moved on, we stopped for pizza at my favorite place to eat in Addis, Island Breeze.  It seems funny that their brick oven pizza is so good, but it is nothing short of amazing and they never disappoint.

Tonight be made our way back to Korah for Roger's daily bible study with the boys of Korah (in the Man Up Cave, as they call it).  The group started with 7 young men and has grown to over 30 tonight.  Seven young men came to know Jesus for the first time tonight and the Man Up team was happy to help Roger with that part of his ministry.  He is really doing an amazing job.

After bible study, we had a bonfire, popcorn and soda with the boys.  It was a great way to end a wonderful day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Man Up is in Ethiopia!!

After several days of travel for 12 Godly people from around the US, the Man Up Team is officially on the ground in Ethiopia and serving orphans, widows and men.  The travel wasn't without a few hiccups, but at the end of the day, we are here and had a great first day of serving.

Selfishly, our first stop was the Help for the Needy Orphanage.  This orphanage just happens to be the location for our precious baby Zion.  As team leader, I get to do these kinds of things and schedule stops for my benefit (as well as the other kids of course).

Our team did a wonderful job of serving the 55 children that live there and assisting their caretakers with their daily tasks.  We were able to bless them with diapers, formula, and some new toys.  These children range from birth to 7 years of age.  They are all starving for attention and were anxious to just soak up every bit of love we could provide for them.  Their smiling faces tell us all we need to know about why we are here.

As many of you know by now, our adoption has not gone well in recent weeks.  We are still struggling to get his clearance from the southern region and the blame game going on between our agency and our third party consultant is enough to make me sick at times.  All we are asking is that someone bring him home.  We are providing every resource necessary on our end to make it happen, but we still struggle to get it done.

With that in mind, my 4 hour visit with Zion today was just what I needed (while being excruciating at the same time).  At the end of last week, I had become emotionally drained by the process lately as everyday something else has gone poorly or at least not gone as planned.  With the stress of leading this team, dealing with the adoption, and the other rigors of daily life as a husband, father, employee and entrepreneur, I had been drained.

But, in steps Zion.  I arrived to him sleeping in his crib.  I'm not sure there's much more peaceful in this world than an infant sleeping.  As he began to awake, I picked him up and we enjoyed just being together with some relaxing, quite time.  At that point, he was able to finally meet his Grandfather and his Uncle (both Man Up team members).  As the day moved on, we played, crawled and just got to know each other again (I haven't seen him since December).

As the time started to come to an end, he reached out with his little brown hand and grabbed my thumb as hard as he could.  He then relaxed his head into my chest, as if to tell me that he was at home.  We cuddled there quietly for almost an hour until it was time to go.  I sent the team to the van, and began the difficult task of actually putting my son back into his crib (1 of 8 cribs in the room, but at least he is lucky enough to have his own and doesn't have to share).  With tears rolling, I put him into the crib, only to have him reach for me with tears in his eyes.  No matter how much I prepare myself for this mentally, I can't explain how difficult it is.  Especially now.  We have worked so hard and still don't have the results we need.  We are being told that someone will get things done so we can bring him home to us, but there are no guarantees.

We are amazingly blessed by him, though.  He is a beautiful little boy.  He has great hair and wonderful skin.  His smile is priceless with his 4 teeth coming in and he has so much love to give.  He has blessed me with a new sense of energy.  I am now more convicted than ever to bring him home and if the people that are standing in my way think that I've been fighting hard up to this point, they haven't seen anything yet.  That starts tomorrow with a visit to our agency here to look at paperwork.

Please keep Zion, our team, and our families at home in your prayers.  This is all a wonderful and difficult time all wrapped up into one.