I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I would say about Ethiopia. And I am blank. I’m not sure what to say or even how to say it. Do I tell you about the amazing amount of people we saw there? How they walked the streets at any time of the day or night? Do I tell you about how when we would start to speak people would crowd around to listen….how there would sometimes be groups as large as 40 or more surrounding just one or two of us? How I felt incredibly small in that group and inadequate, but somehow extremely comfortable, calm, unafraid and unashamed ….that I knew God was with me in that crowd. Do I tell you about the little girl with no shoes who stole my heart? Who’s face I still see everyday….
Let me back up just a bit….
The first Sunday we came to Ewing Road the Ethiopia trip was announced. I felt God tug at my heart that very moment, but my mind said that going would be impossible. At that time, Andy was only “subbing in” and we were just visitors at your church. When we got in the car that day I said “If we were members of that church, I would want to go on the Ethiopia trip.” If I hadn’t said it out loud, I wouldn’t have believed I actually thought it. And God answered that prayer….almost a month later we came and joined at Ewing Road. And my heart screamed that I was supposed to go even though I had no clue where the funding would come from….even though I knew my husband would not be able to join me…..even though my mind told me I was crazy…..I heard God louder than all of that! He said “don’t worry about the details….just GO”. And while I could not wrap my human mind around the details….I committed to go.
Then I was confronted with the fund raising part of the trip. Now I do not like asking people for money….I do not like the idea of fund raising. It’s a pride issue and I know it. (I don't mind others asking me for help but I hate to ask for help...see my blog post here for more about that) At the time I committed to go, Andy and I had enough money in savings to pay for the trip….but then things started happening to deplete that funding…..We needed new tires on the RAV4, our tenant in our house in Grayson was late with her payments, and we encountered furlough days ….the money I had counted on to pay for the trip dwindled. And I was put in a place where I had to ask for help or I couldn’t go. So, I sent out support letters, and I was blessed beyond belief. God supplied all the money I needed except for about $400. This even included the money I spent on shots.
When we got to Ethiopia, I felt prepared for what I would see there….for the most part it is like what you see on the discovery channel or the “help the children” commercials you see on TV. But this was real. I looked into their eyes….I saw, walked, and smelled the areas where they live….I worshiped with them. And oh how we worshiped! I saw a little boy who appeared to be around 7 or 8 worship with more passion than I have ever worshiped with in my life. It never failed that during every night worship service that the lights would go out….but the people did not even hesitate in their worship. In the complete darkness, they continued to worship He who is the light. Why? Because it’s how they live every day…..surrounded by “the darkness”….facing sickness, hunger, lack of work, homelessness, and persecution...the main area we served is 90% Muslim. They rely fully on God and the hope He brings. (I know there is a lot of recent controversy over Muslims... controversy aside, the people there are persecuted by them. One church even had a security guard that slept at the church b/c the Muslims had been coming at night to tear down the church).
And when we were out and we spoke of His hope, people listened. Every once in a while there would be a “heckler”….mostly a person who was talking loudly and while you didn’t know what they were saying, you could imagine what they were saying….even then others in the crowd, not even people with our team, would start quieting them down. They wanted to hear the message of God’s love.
I can tell you that before the trip when people would ask, “So what will you be doing in Ethiopia?” And I said “sports evangelism and teaching kids English” I would normally be met with a “that’s nice”…..it was almost a sort of half-hearted “glad you’re going to Ethiopia to 'have fun'”. Not that everyone was like that, and that may have even been the Devil trying to make me feel like what we were going to do was not going to make a difference….but still that is how I heard it.
God WOWED me with the way He used sports evangelism to speak to people and share the message of His gospel and love. God took a simple baseball game and made it so much more. People flocked to the baseball games by the hundreds. I cannot say enough about Taylor (the youngest member of our team at 20 yrs old. He prepared all the baseball materials and taught the game with the help of a translator) and how God used him to patiently explain the game of baseball…….somehow even though there were language barriers, even though there were people crowding around from all angles, even though they were learning a sport they had never seen, and playing a game with people they had never met…..the game of baseball was not only learned, but the people accepted it and enjoyed it. While some were playing, members of our team would be sharing with large groups of people all around the field. One day it even started raining and while everyone bolted for the bus or the locals bolted for shelter, Cheryl (Taylor's mom) braved the rain with a small group and continued to share the gospel. After seeing her passion, the rest of us slowly came back off the bus to share as well. The sun came out and people gathered around to watch Carrie share a large evangi-cube (Think a cube that shows the gospel in pictures....an excellent tool in a language barrier situation...ours was much larger than a normal cube). AND THROUGH A SIMPLE GAME THE GOSPEL WAS SHARED.
God WOWED me again with the way He used teaching children simple words and phrases….with the way He used a simple VBS….to share His love with children. Carrie and Sandy beautifully shared the daily lesson, Cheryl wonderfully demonstrated the crafts, I played the best game of Simon Says ever (which is hence forth known as “Michelle says”), and the guys joined in to help wherever we needed them to. We were able to send the children home every day with a little craft or candy, but most of all we sent them home with hope and the message of God’s love. THROUGH A SIMPLE VBS AND TEACHING A FEW ENGLISH WORDS THE GOSPEL WAS SHARED.
Why did these “little things” matter? Because through the small act of playing a game we were also saying “we care enough to spend time with you.” Through the simplicity of a VBS and teaching a little English we were saying, “We care enough to come half way around the world to teach you.” And then we also got to share why we care…..because the God we know and love cared enough about us to send His precious one and only son to die for us.
We have no idea really how many accepted Christ into their hearts during our trip, but we do know that through members of our team sharing with them hundreds of seeds were planted. We know that several local Christians were encouraged and strengthened through the messages Jack delivered in the church every night (and that several of them surrendered their lives to Christ). The most beautiful thing is that we really didn’t do anything at all…..God did it. He paved the way for our every action. He provided the money for our trip. He provided us safety throughout the trip. He gave us the words to say, and He provided us with the people who needed to hear it. GOD DID IT ALL. And while I had hoped God would use me to minister to His people…..they ministered to me. The words “Break my heart for what breaks yours” have never been so true…..and I have never felt God’s love for me so strong as I do now. And every day I don’t know what adventure He’s calling me to next, but I look forward to any opportunity He gives me to serve Him or to share His love.
Forever I will be grateful to Ewing Road for being mission minded enough to send a team all the way to Ethiopia. Truly this trip blessed me more than I can ever express.