He had studied English less than two years total when he set foot in America.
It would not take long to see him grow weary during conversations and for a solid year he would nod yes to something and truly have no idea what we were asking him to do. We laugh about it now but at the time well you can imagine the challenge. Yesterday marked one of his final high school celebrations. We arrived at school early as the night before I had gone to bed in tears when I could not locate his senior presentation that just hours before had been changed to fit the fifteen minute timeline requested. So many people had asked Tadesse to please share his testimony with the entire student body and the parents of the Seniors during their final chapel at Northpointe Christian High School. For weeks he declined the offer but after sharing the opportunity with us we began to push and pray that he might reconsider. “Maybe it’s time to have your class know who you are and the circumstances you have endured through faith and hard work, ” we reminded him.
He would speak using his new language to tell of his harrowing years of living moment by moment trying to survive in his native country, Ethiopia. He had to leave an abusive Uncle in order to honor that somewhere down deep God had gotten ahold of his heart, and like many other children he waited for his circumstances to change fixing his eyes on God and wondering where God was in such times of hunger and pain. In his testimony he describes that he knew he was a Christian after hearing the story of Jesus from missionaries who came to Ethiopia years ago. Yes a firsthand account of God using everyday people like you and me to share the gospel and the very answer to why we are called to go out into all nations. Tadesse’s story is one that should stick to our ribs when we wonder down deep if going to unreached people matters.
We arrived at school early with the hope that someone had the skills to find our lost file and his cap and gown that in spite of purchasing it weeks ago had not arrived for the awards celebration. It was just another day of realizing that the enemy does not want the story of the orphan crisis shared and he does not want solutions to helping hurting children to inspire other families to act. We have felt this many times throughout the last few years and yesterday morning was one of those times. Instead of folding I woke up early, I tightened my armor and declared God to be greater. I let so much go and basked in the glory of Tadesse’s yes no matter the challenges or the fear. He was going to open his heart and share the plight of so many around the world with his peers and also their families. It was another act of healing and certainly a way to encourage others to seek to know more about ways to engage and ways to help.
I made my way into the chapel and watched as baby pictures and senior pictures of all the graduates flashed across the screen. Just weeks before I had to answer an email saying I am sorry but there are no pictures of Tadesse when he was young. That is something that gets me every time as photography is such a treasure and a way to recall the adventures and most cherished times of one’s life. I have nearly every day of my other children’s lives documented and oh how I wish I had the luxury of recreating at least a few photos for Tadesse. I sat down and I waited just praying that behind the scenes the staff was getting him all set up. Next the seniors all entered the chapel to a spunky song doing a dance filled with such enthusiasm and confidence. They were all seated and still there was no Tadesse.
And then a moment that literally stopped my breath. He entered the chapel wearing the traditional cap and gown complete with a gold stole and blue and gold tassel. My heart raced and chest heaved. Perhaps it was relief but I breathed out as if I had not properly breathed for nearly two years. The sight of him drew me even closer to God who had given me the mandate on Ethiopian soil that we were to be his family. The direction was clear but we would not be privilege to knowing what it would look like needing to strengthen our faith and obey in spite of the sacrifice and endless hours of work on days when we longed to return to easy.
During the year we planned for Tadesse to come to the USA, every door opened after hours and months of hard work and many questions. Two years later I look back to see where God gave us blind love, so raw, so pure to connect us to this child in need. It’s indescribable even now but we gave it all to God trusting that he would use us to change a life. Often people compliment us on being so amazing and what I wish I could say is this. We are far short of amazing. Instead I would love for others to see us as obedient, answering the call to adopt which lead us to Ethiopia, our daughter, Tadesse, engaging others in the needs of vulnerable children and now to dedicate our voice to the least of these. This all happened and is still happening at a time where God was breaking us all the way down in order to build us back up to be His. We are far from amazing and in fact in managing five little lives all so unique in their needs, has shown us every mole, scrape and stretch mark others would care never to see. Truth be told we wonder daily if we can stay the course to see all this through. On the days when we have felt like we can’t we trust that God can.
There are few words to express the exhuberent joy I felt as I listened to those in the audience sniffle as he talked. The computer failed at one point and he pressed on making everyone laugh about how they would be OK. His gold stoll slid off his gown and the microphone, all new to him, began to give feedback, and still he pushed on. He is a survivor and a servant and after the talk a woman walked up and said, ” Are you his family? ” I nodded as I was wiping tears and then she said. ” he has no idea how much he just blessed everyone in this room today.” I smiled and nodded. “And that is exactly what all of this the last few years has been about. We are called to bless the one so he or she may bless another, ” I said. Funny thing is that saying yes to the hard richly blesses us more than we can know until God carries us through it and sees His plan through to the end or perhaps a stunning new beginning…
When I met Tadesse just four years ago I could have never dreamed that he would be sharing God’s great work in his life in front of hundreds of people at his high school chapel ceremony in the USA. In just two weeks he will wear his cap and gown again to walk across the stage to accept his degree. This chapter is nearly over with the new and intriguing road of college just ahead.