No Ordinary Love Ministries is just one of the reasons we love returning to Ethiopia over and over again . To see children removed from the horrors of the world, restored through intense counseling and education and eventually returned to their families whenever possible, is truly the best way to protect and serve children in Ethiopia. During the team trip last February @Angela Wu was able to capture this beautiful story of a child returned back to the life of being a child.
We are pleased to introduce you to our new Project Coordinator for the Children’s Hopechest Chapa Carepoint. Agegnew was born in the Sidama region of Ethiopia which is the same region (similar to a state) where the Chapa village is located. He attended Awassa University, graduating with a degree in Agricultural Economics and Management. Agegnew is an active member of the local Makaneysus church and is very excited about his new position as Project Cordinator impacting hundreds of children in Chapa.
Everything about her is changing. Like the newly emerging flowers and budding trees ready to burst this spring, she is beginning to blossom into a little lady. We can see it as she searches for independence and boldly professes her ideas and opinions. It’s a miracle to watch happen right before our eyes.
Today she turns seven and marks for us all a new season, a fresh start if you will. I think it’s what I love about birthdays. It’s a day to reset, reflect, to explore and dream of what is next. Tonight we will celebrate the gift that this child is not only to our family but to all who know her. We’ll celebrate her birthplace and pray for the woman who gave her life in spite of harsh circumstances. We will embrace all the changes we see on her horizon and discuss the ways we see God working in and through her little life.
With spring sports and two of our kids in lead roles in a musical (Footloose) opening next week we have been a tad busy and frankly planning a bday bash fell off the radar. When we finally dug in she insisted all the girls she knows be invited. She is a wee bit social so you can imagine the list. We love hosting birthday parties but all those gifts? We have grown to wish birthdays could be less of a lavish affair. “Ava for your birthday what if we shared the story of the Chapa children who need sponsors in order to grow up strong and educated just like you?” I said, thinking aloud. ” We could ask friends to consider sponsoring a child from Chapa or making a donation toward new uniforms or shoes instead of gifting something to you.” Ava did not hesitate.
So this weekend when we host our two hour basement dance party birthday bash we have asked that kids (parents… thank you) do not bring a gift. Instead we are spreading the word about these 17 children of Chapa, Ethiopia who long to be part of our sponsorship program.
The children of Chapa long to have someone walk alongside them. To bless them with letters, prayers and loving support. We are asking you consider giving to them in honor of Ava. Give to them in honor of your own child and the growth you see as you are watching them bloom this spring season.
Peace on the journey,
The last leg was O’Hare to Grand Rapids. She was sleeping when we boarded the tiniest of planes for the last thirty minute flight before she would meet her forever family. My sister, Shannon joined me during the second trip to Ethiopia to pick up Ava from her transitional home and spend five days waiting for the proper paperwork to allow us clearance to travel home. Shannon was already taking her place as an exceptional Aunt who would form a deep connection to her niece. Our time, the three of us in a hotel in Ethiopia was spent fighting complete sleep deprivation and frequent meltdowns and crack ups. Ava cried frequently as she was beginning to bond with us and we were struggling to feed her and understand her patterns of sleep. Someday there will be so many stories to tell about trying to find clean water for bottles and our outing when Aunt Shannon became trapped in a car with her screaming niece during heavy Ethiopian rains. Our first days with Ava and the other adoptive families in a hotel were hard but we shared so many laughs as we were beginning to nurture and protect our dear children.
We exited the plane and took our first steps onto land, in Grand Rapids, her second and forever home. She was cozily sleeping, wrapped and attached to me. The sense of victory and relief was overwhelming as we walked the hallway leading to the arrival gate where we could finally see friends and family. Miss Ava, asleep and so peaceful would land into hundreds of arms, those who would love her fiercely and deeply, grateful that she was home.
Meeting our daughter for the first time… forever etched in my mind was her smile just seconds after they placed her in our arms.
The before Ava Strobel clan. Look how young everyone looked.
One month home.
Six years has flown by and watching Ava grow has been one of our greatest treasures. She is confident, kind, nurturing, sensitive and deeply rooted to God in a way I cannot explain. Ava has surprised us on so many levels and continues to thrive fully aware and proud of her heritage but also so connected to her brothers and us as parents. Ava is a sassy singer, belting out lines and songs from every musical her brothers have been a part of. Ava is strong and witty and quickly becoming a true negotiator just like her bestie and brother, Owen. This child takes life by storm not wanting to miss a thing and almost always brave and willing to take on a new challenge. Now six years home she has mastered reading and her two wheel bike this summer and rocked out her kindergarten year filled with pride that she is becoming fluent in Spanish.
six months… priceless!
Adoption of course is bittersweet and there will forever be a hole in my heart for the woman and the family that was not able to raise her. I grieve with her and long to tell her that the precious one she could not raise is loved and thriving. While I will likely never have such an opportunity, I do know that I can raise Ava to feel empowered by women throughout the world who are forced to make extremely painful decisions every day. They are not selfish women but instead selfless women, often trapped in circumstances we may not ever understand. I want her to know that her birth mother was a strong and selfless woman who carried her for nine months and into this world. Adoption has taught me not to judge and question but to love with open eyes. Love wins. God has carried Ava and continues to work through our family to teach us ways to provide for and nurture her. Ava is a beautiful work of His powerful redeeming grace.
Peace and grace on the journey!
We took an early morning walk through the Awassa fish market and surrounding park where the monkey’s (or at least a few) are under training by a few locals. Traveling with kids is such a gift and I pray every day for the eyes of my children to be opened to our belief that most on planet earth are seeking the same things. Our mission is to accept and love, to show mercy and interest in other cultures and to invest where we can with who we can along the way. Grateful for the journey back to Ethiopia this summer. It is a splendid land filled with wonder.
Peace on the journey…
When the daughter you never knew you might have is born in a land rich in both beauty and history, it is difficult to not become quickly attached. I could never have predicted I would be returning as many times as we have in the last six years but what a blessing to have others join us to catch a glimpse of the allure and need we see when we spend time in one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. Did you know that Ethiopia is mentioned 45 times in the bible and home t the oldest living human remains found in the Afar region dating back 2.8 million years? Did you know that Ethiopia has thirteen months in a year and the only African nation never to be colonized, defeating the Italians twice? It’s such a gift to be raising our Ethiopian daughter to be proud of her birth country. May she always know how much we respect all that her culture brings to the world and may she always see us striving to make an impact in a land where the needs are very complex. Thank you Ryan for showcasing stunning Ethiopia in all her bountiful and ancient glory:
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I love the power of story. “So tell me your story,” is one of my favorite phrases. This is a message of trusting that God will write a story in your life when you least expect it or feel less than equipped. I am proof that He will take your biggest question and ask you to go far beyond it in order to fully surrender to Him. This is also a clear message that God uses the most ordinary people to be the voice for those who have lost hope in believing his or her story will ever be heard. This is a story of quiet perseverance in the face of wonder and doubt.
It was the smile in their eyes contrasted with the extreme conditions where they sat crouched on the streets gripping babies that immediately drew me to want to know the story of women during my first moments in Ethiopia. As a couple who first visited Ethiopia to meet the child who would become our daughter through adoption, we were quickly faced with the harsh reality that women make the most painful and difficult decisions surrounding survival every day. I returned home after that first trip filled with the notion that I was being called to the plight of the widow and the orphan, the lost and the least in Ethiopia. There were few words to describe it but somehow I knew. I knew that something in me had been changed and been drastically rearranged. We began to pray for clarity asking what was next and soon after our daughter’s arrival home, we were lead to the unique ministry model of Children’s Hopechest as well as One Child Campaign.
The idea was simple, the results beyond extraordinary, but would you believe it if I told you that feet were the catalyst for our initial connection in a rural Ethiopian village? It began with dialogue with my sister about how to connect with the kids of the Chapa carepoint. We would be leading our first sizable team and we brainstormed how we could go beyond borders and language to not only connect but to truly begin to understand their needs.
The idea of washing feet and general foot care started it all… That first year our team knelt removing shoes, soaking feet and checking for health concerns. We watched as puzzled faces melted into smiles and before we knew it many were giggling. Before we knew it we had Ethiopian leaders asking to serve by way of washing the children’s feet. By the third day of play, medical foot checks and some education we decided to invite the local leaders and caregivers to come to the carepoint to meet and to pray.
What we never expected were the warm words of welcome and the praise they gave for our actions as examples of how to care for their children. During that meeting several stood asking us to teach them more about how to parent and love their children. They also openly thanked us for returning. “You came back,” were the words that pierced my heart and from there a vision was born. We needed to say less and listen more to what the people of the Chapa village desired for their families and their lives.
We needed to return in order to be in relationship. That day I knew God was handing me a story to tell. It quickly became clear that my mission was to return home to encourage others to connect and to give, one community partnering with another community to establish sustainable change.
Fast forward to our next annual team trip to the Chapa carepoint and my desire to go deeper with the women. I longed to hear their stories. I wanted to be able to understand how we might support them to allow them to further impact their children toward change and advancement. Understanding the plight of women in the developing world is vital to knowing how we change poverty. We wanted to inspire the women to equip their children to dream, create and advance through education.
It seemed to take forever but we were slowly gaining momentum in getting the Chapa children sponsored yet still I asked how we might do a better job of empowering their caregivers? We invited the village women for a conference of sorts. I sat speechless, nervously unsure what to say as they sat smiling at me from the grass. Finally the words came to me. “Tell them they are seen.”
In those moments shared together our team of women did our best to enter into their daily lives by simply asking questions and carefully listening. We reminded them that God sees their pain and he knows their hearts for their children. Our exchange that day was powerful as we stumbled through honoring their hardships with our time and prayer. The women shared their losses of husbands and children. They told of days without food during pregnancy. They explained the choices they are forced to make daily when they cannot send all of their children to a doctor or to school.
One woman stood and bravely shared that for nine years the women met as a community of believers praying for God to send someone to help them help their children. Next, several described their deep desire to be educated, skilled in something that would allow them even a simple job. The tears of our team members flowed and deep inside I was celebrating a great God who I knew would use our time to convict us toward advocating on their behalf. That day we closed our time together promising nothing except the simple idea that we would return home to share their story. They needed jobs and many people willing to pray for a door to open.
We are certain our connection to Mallory Brown did not happen by accident. She was looking to return to her favorite African nation to conduct a Crowdrise fundraiser for her 30th birthday and I was introduced to her Father who upon asking about my work , suggested I read about his daughter’s work. I was intrigued and decided to reach out, asking if she thought of returning to Ethiopia. The timing was ordained and with little hesitation she messaged me back agreeing to work with us in Ethiopia.
I would love to say the rest was simple but next came the arduous task of determining how the Crowdrise style and fundraising platform could work within the parameters of Children’s Hopechest. While our new organization, Begin With One, was finally in place, I knew the struggles of trying to implement jobs without our exceptional team of Hopechest experts on the ground. We needed to all be in agreement, partnering in the development plan of how best to educate and implement to support the most needy women in the village. How could we move forward without false promises or exploitation? Mallory was needing to determine her in-country plans and I was battling daily to secure final funds for our classroom project to move into the next phase of income generating for the women. Simply put, there were so many questions and concerns I could not address and I found myself asking, “God, is this really the plan for Chapa and the plan for our family to travel back to Ethiopia to share the story of the women of Chapa?” There were just so many doubts related to details and how to’s and even when I could not see it God was overseeing it all and showing us the need to surrender to our own ideas so that we could best understand His provision, purpose and timing.
Just days ago we returned home from the adventure and the story of a lifetime. Myself, my husband and two children were joined by fundraising expert, Mallory Brown and talented videographer, Ryan Doyle, as we journeyed back to the Chapa Carepoint for her surprise fundraising campaign to allow us to create 30 jobs for 30 women by raising 30K.
The experience was far more than we could have dreamed and I invite you to read all about it here. Mallory and her fundraising platform are brilliant. Ryan’s storytelling is stunning, but what I want to share is where God stretched us as a family. There were many lessons learned in surrendering ourselves to allow Mallory to do her thing. She has a strategy and a template for creating a video to showcase the need and then creating a video which shares how the dollars raised will be implemented to meet the need. She is the storyteller, a celebrity of sorts, the main character to quickly share the mission and ask people to donate for a big impact. This meant we as a family needed to step way back, not sharing our connection to the village and the women, but instead allowing Mallory to share her new experience in meeting the women with the world via the crowd rise campaign.
The week in Chapa provided deep conviction that God has richly blessed our call to share the powerful stories of those living in difficult places throughout the world. Life is messy. People are flawed, desperate and broken. Some of us have been asked to enter in to the messy in order to be a conduit of change. If you are one of those people stay the course, find your tribe and work together, keep speaking up and out and keeping asking God for provision. Even when it feels like forever before the dawn trust that God is in the details even when we cannot see or understand. Thank you to so many who supported our journey and the crazy idea that we could raise 30K for the women of Chapa. You did it and you did it well donating 41K and counting! You blew us all away! There is more to the story so please follow along as the women of Chapa are trained and their new jobs unfold.
Peace on the journey…
*photo credit: Ryan Doyle
Empower a woman and change a village…
We have BIG NEWS!
Join us as an answer to prayer begins. This week four of us travel back to Ethiopia for a 24 hour impact fundraiser for women we have grown to love throughout the years within the Chapa village. We are being joined by @Mallory Brown of Worldclothesline and Crowdrise to be on the ground in Ethiopia ready to share the plight of women. We hope you will all be following Begin With One as we share how you can encourage and empower a woman in Ethiopia. Mallory Brown is seeking to raise 30K to allow us to work directly with Children’s Hopechest staff on the ground to implement a job plan which will employ 30 women. Many of you know this is a dream come true and has been on my heart for several years. We know that generating skills and jobs for women directly impacts families remaining in tact, children attedning school and the overall effect of an entire village rising! Thanks to so many of you who have prayed, visited and contributed to the beautiful and ever welcoming people fo Chapa in southern Ethiopia.
From Classrooms to Jobs:
Our Chapa community classrooms are fully funded and we are eager to move into the next phase of development. The women of Chapa are so deserving and have prayed for nine plus years for help with educating their children as well as opportunity to learn new skills that would allow them to have jobs that provide for their families.
The second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa at 85 million people, Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest nations. Some 29.6 percent of the population lives on less than US$1.25/day. Life as a woman in Ethiopia is very difficult as many live in rural areas with no opportunity, medical care, education or way to earn a living to support families.
We adopted our daughter from Ethiopia in 2010 and felt an immediate connection and call to provide a voice and mercy wherever we could throughout the country. We later brought a teenager home to us on a student Visa to help him obtain his education and grow within our family. The effects of poverty and lack of education gripped our hearts, inspiring us to be the voice wherever possible.
Within the Chapa Village sits a small block of classrooms very near to the Chapa School called the Aroma school. The Aroma school is run by the government and is the only option for kids to progress in grade level, currently educating kids up through grade 10. It was an honor to spend time this year with both the students and the leadership of the Aroma school to better grasp how valuable an education is to those living in the rural community of Chapa and to understand how we can partner to help advance and improve education.With a population of approximately 26,000 people and 5200 households spread deep into the mountains, children have one nearby option to advance in their education and that is the Aroma school. Many of you are familiar with the original block of classrooms developed within the Chapa Carepoint Compoud in conjunction with the Hiwot Brehan church over the past three years. These classrooms provide education access to the most vulnerable within the community through sponsorship dollars. The Chapa classrooms are divided not necessarily by age or grade but by ability as many of the most vulnerable children have never attended any school prior to being enrolled in the Chapa Development project. This means the Chapa children will eventually be eligible to feed into the Aroma school and we want to be certain space, supplies and curriculum is not an obstacle to a stellar education deserved by all. You can see here just how populated the current classrooms are. Here is the need. The Aroma school is completely lacking classroom space to allow more students a full day and a full academic experience. This is vital to allow all children to complete his or her academic dreams. With up to 3,500 students unable to reach another school, all must attend Aroma currently in shifts which means less than four hours of education per day. Each teacher is very overloaded often managing up to 80 students at a time. This of course does not allow a proper education or the ability for most to obtain the goal of someday advancing into University. We so desire education for all Chapa children of every grade level and together I know we can meet the goal of completing the Chapa Community Classrooms.All we need is 24K and we have a donor who has generously come forward to offer a dollar for dollar match up to 12K. With over 150 sponsored Chapa children who will soon benefit from moving up in grade level to the Aroma school we want them to have classrooms, desks, blackboards and of course trained teachers. We want this opportunity for the entire village of Chapa.Help us meet this need. The staff of Children’s Hopechest on the ground in Ethiopia has full plans ready to go that have been approved by the Ethiopian Government, our Begin With One board and also the staff of One Child Campaign. Being on the ground year after year has shown us just how valuable education is to meeting the needs of children, families and ultimately raising up a community. Being in school protects children from a life of migrating into the city in search of work often ending up trafficked and a girl enrolled in school is far less likely to be pursued as a child bride. Education is everything to those in the developing world.
GIving is easy and from now until June every dollar given will be matched up to 12K. CLICK BELOW TO HELP US REACH OUR GOAL:
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There is no talk of menstrual cycles or the glorious wonder of a women’s body as the giver of life. There is no understanding of what to do when a young lady begins menstruating and many girls suffer in silence and despair missing up to a week of life’s opportunities every month. That is three months of life a year.
No wonder the room of young girls sat wide-eyed as we unpacked supplies and began educating them with simple drawings on the blackboard.
They are young yet old enough to be curious about the changes happening to their maturing bodies, and for many they are statistically speaking already experiencing exploitation or gestures of sex in exchange for hygiene materials or permission to remain in school while menstruating. According to the World Health Organization as many as 74% of African girls are exploited by the age of 12 and many are “taken” to become child brides before their 14th birthday. Educationin remote areas in non-existent and so are the solutions to the problem of girls missing out on education and opportunities and eventually work days when they become young ladies. The Chapa Village is no exception. Until we were granted permission to begin educating women and girls, there was no hygiene or health training, no safe menstrual supplies and no unity among the women of dignity and strength surrounding menstruation. At the Begin With One Chapa Community Carepoint we are working to change silence and provide women with deserved dignity and hope. Through our Woven Dignity education and the delivery of hand-made menstrual kits we are seeing tremendous change and we know from the feedback of the girls that they are less likely to avoid school or drop out of school altogether due to infection and or lack of proper menstrual supplies.
This year we were able to bring 75 reusable/washable menstrual kits to the women and girls of Chapa and each person who received a kit was trained on her body, what a menstrual cycle is and how to properly use the kits.
A heartfelt thank you to Board Member, Kristi Herstein and her daughter Hannah for serving the women of Chapa so well through excellent hands on education. What an honor it was to see the women and girls leaving the Chapa Carepoint clinging to the small token of love, education and restored dignity wrapped in a brightly colored cloth bag. Thank you to the many hands who generously donated materials, sewed pads and bags and to those who prayed for our journey to empower the women we have grown to love in Chapa. We look forward to next steps and we are dreaming big about teaching the women to teach other women not only about their health but also about how kits can be made.
To learn more about ways to get involved in empowering women visit: www.daysforgirls.org and take a look at this startling video: