Tuesday was our fourth day in Ethiopia and I couldn't even allow myself to think about the fact that tomorrow I would have to say goodbye to my children without knowing when I would be able to come back to take them home. Despite the sadness that was starting to overwhelm my heart, it was an incredible day. Before I get to my kids though, I'll share about how Yesus On The Streets went.
Avery had asked one of the hotel's receptionists if she could help us to take the Yesus On The Streets bags to her church. She came up to our room to see exactly what we had to give away and when she saw all of the bags she was completely astounded that we were giving it all away. She just kept asking us why we were doing this. We told her that when we had told the people in America about the people in Ethiopia that they wanted to help. We explained that each photo was of the person who had made the bag. She had tears in her eyes as she looked at them. We told her that she could have one and she was overwhelmed at this. She looked through the bags to choose one like a little kid on Christmas morning. As we saw how deeply she was touched by the gift, we had the idea to allow the hotel employees to have them first, then to take the leftovers to the church. You see, we knew that the employees of this hotel, though employed, made very little. Hana (the receptionist) was one of the highest paid employees and even she was overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing a bag filled with makeup, jewelery, medicine. When we asked Hana if this would be okay she exclaimed with tears, "Nothing...Nothing like this has ever happened at this hotel before!"
She had all of the bags carried down to the ground floor where she helped us to lay them all out on a table. We told her to allow everybody to take one for themselves and one for their kids as well. We asked her to take charge of the distribution and to make sure that everybody understood that though we were the ones who had brought the bags that they were not really from us. We told her to make sure the employees understood that the people in the photos had made the bags because they understood how much God loves the people of Ethiopia. We put a little card inside each bag that said, "Exhiabihair kananta gar yehun" (God is with people everywhere---this is the best translation I can offer. Abeba wrote it for me).
As the maids, cooks, wash people, waitresses, etc. began to file into the room to see the gifts that the ferinj had brought, the scene was truly sacred. We had our camera with us, yet we couldn't bring ourselves to take a single picture. It felt like we would have been completely intruding on a very private moment of joy. As much as we wanted everybody in America to see how much their gifts had touched the recipients, we just couldn't do it. People began excitedly shouting at each other in Amharic as they would hold up their bags to display the incredible treasures contained within. Hana was explaining to them how to use the various medicines and they were in awe that taking just two advil would make their fever go away. Or that giving their kids Pepto Bismal would make their diarrhea stop. One maid held up a size 3T boy's T-shirt and exclaimed to another, "For your baby!" They kept coming up to us gushing with gratitude and we just kept pointing up and saying, "Amasegenalo Yesus! (Thank you Jesus). They would look up toward Heaven and say with great emotion, "Amasegenalo Yesus!"
One maid seemed to be acting quite selfishly, as she was hoarding bags in a corner and chasing away anybody who tried to go near them. Hana was handling things though, so we just stepped back feeling confident that she would do what was right. Later, we saw this same maid congregating on the 3rd floor with all of the maids and wash people who hadn't been able to get down to the ground floor in time to choose a bag. The "selfish" maid had been thinking of her coworkers the entire time! She gave all of the bags away.
These are good, hardworking people who were created in God's image. And yet because they were born in a 3rd world nation instead of America, life is so hard for them. And despite their difficult circumstances, we saw such contentment and happiness on the faces of the people we came into contact with during our short stay in Addis.
This project didn't turn out anything like we expected, but we know that it turned out exactly as God intended it. To all of my readers who sent bags, please know that your gift gave these people hope that God has seen them and cared for them. I wish you all could have been there to see with your own eyes.
Now, since I've received many emails from people who would like to do this project, this is what we learned. This particular project is not something that will work for street people. I've already talked about this with a few people who seem to know a lot more than me, as they kind of already knew this. But, some of us seem to have to learn these things the hard way! (US!). Anyway, even though this didn't reach the street people, this really showed God's tangible love to many employed Ethiopians who though they have an income, still struggle just to survive in an unfair world. I would absolutely recommend this project to people looking to reach this group of people. However, we have found out just how imperative it is to have a person, church, or organization in Ethiopia that can assist in the distribution. God, (because He knows Avery and me so well!) was good enough to provide Hana to us. But I wouldn't do this again without a solid plan in place ahead of time.
I forgot who sent me this idea, but one of my readers shared that they bought ALOT of bread and drove around in a taxi for 2 hours distributing it to the poor on the streets. She said that she was amazed at the selflessness of those who wanted the bread to be given to those who hadn't eaten, as they had already had bread that day. I don't know if we'll have time when we go back to Ethiopia to bring Yosef and Mihret home, but if we do, this is something we'd like to do.
I'd love to hear from anybody else who has done a successful project like this. The more of us who are working toward helping those who are less fortunate than the majority of Americans, the better place this world will be.