Six Years Ago Today…

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.

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Meeting our daughter for the first time… forever etched in my mind was her smile just seconds after they placed her in our arms.

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The before Ava Strobel clan. Look how young everyone looked.

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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.

 

 

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six months… priceless!

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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.

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Peace and grace on the journey!

 

Impact… reaching our audacious goal!

Impact within the Chapa village!

Back in February our team visiting the Chapa community spent time with the leaders of the nearby government Aroma school. This is the school that is technically free if you can afford exercise books, shoes and a uniform.  The Aroma school houses hundreds of kids of various ages all trying to get their education completed. It is the school where our sponsored Chapa kids will advance in grade level.  We returned home convinced we could share the need for more classroom space and the funding would come.

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Take a look at this…

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This is the layout of the new blocks of classrooms.

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It was an honor to meet and pray with the construction crew while we were recently back in Chapa.

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It is an honor to work with Children’s Hopechest.  They do what they say they are going to do and they do it so well. Thank you to the many who made this audacious goal a reality. Thank you for partnering, donating, praying and believing that the children of the Chapa community are so deserving of a solid education.  We look forward to accommodating more students and lessening the student to teacher ratio.

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Together is the best place to be.

Peace and grace on the journey,

Melanie

 

Monkey Business

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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…

Melanie

We did it… {the power of story}

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Melanie

*photo credit: Ryan Doyle

Empower a Woman… Change a Village

Empower a woman and change a village…

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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.

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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.

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Why Ethiopia:
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.

Visit Begin With One to learn more and
go here to donate directly to jobs for women in Ethiopia.

Ready. Set. GO. {Announcing our Chapa Community Classrooms Fundraiser}

Chapa-CH-217Within 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.DawnVictoriaPhotography-1-136With  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. DawnVictoriaPhotography-1-135Here 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.bwo (8 of 9)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:

https://www.purecharity.com/chapa-community-classrooms

Thank you and please consider sharing this through your social media platforms.

 

Help me help her {everyone deserves a family…}

To know her is to know I must speak up and out on her behalf.  This new year I am believing that perhaps somebody will see or hear her sweet plea and know she is the child they have waited to parent and love.  As a support person for the Bethany Operation Forever Family Program and Michigan’s waiting youth,  I have been honored to spend time getting to know Tiffany. She is a sweet somewhat shy strawberry blonde young lady who has been waiting five years for a family she can call her own. I want to introduce you to Tiffany and hope that perhaps you or someone you know might feel as I do, that she is worthy and so deserving of a family. Here she is:

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Tiffany is seventeen years old and in 10th grade. I would say she is shy but funny with a dry wit and charm. She can be reserved but also playful after getting to know people well.   She loves nature and being out in the woods. On Christmas day we had the honor of hosting Tiffany for the day and we spent a couple of hours on a long walk exploring in the woods. She longs for a parent who could spend more time with her outdoors. She enjoys crafts and discussions about God and where she sees God in her life story both past and present. The conversations we have shared in just a few short months are meaningful and heartfelt and I know Tiffany has so many dreams and desires as she prays for a family to choose her. The more time we spend with Tiffany as her support people the more we all agree that Tiffany would really thrive in a  small family where one or more parents could spend one on one time teaching, sharing and pouring in.

Here is Tiffany’s MARE listing: It’s here you can learn more about who she is but I must warn you that she is far more than this listing can begin to capture in so many wonderful ways… http://www.mare.org/ForFamilies/ViewWaitingChildren/tabid/93/view/Detail/Default.aspx?id=10182

SO DID YOU KNOW…

Adoption from the foster care system is free. Becoming licensed to adopt is also free and includes a home study along with background checks and training. The process generally only takes several months.  If Tiffany were adopted she would receive free medical care and free college tuition within the state of Michigan and she is eligible for monthly support. Not sure how many of us really understand the US foster care  or adoption process so ask away should you have more questions. I am always learning too.

Tiffany has a team of people who know and support her and any and all of us are available for questions. Maybe you would like to learn more about fostering or domestic adoption. We can help. A big eye opener for me has been getting to know both the hope and fears of the children on the verge of aging out when he or she turns 18. Knowing a child like Tiffany will eventually age out of the foster care system without a family or legal support person to call her very own,  is not acceptable. I believe that someone would benefit from loving and nurturing Tiffany as much as she would benefit from a strong and consistent adult or family in her life.

Is God nudging you? Do you know someone who might know someone who should meet Tiffany? Maybe you have an idea of how you can be of help to children like Tiffany waiting on the miracle of a family. If so let’s talk. Adoption, foster care,  sponsorship and mentorship all mean so much to me personally and to my family.   The more we actively get involved in the lives of children in need the more convicted we are that every children deserves a champion to call his or her own.

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Please know that I have been granted permission to create this post and share this information from both Tiffany and her team. My hope is that you might do the same. Please share this within your family. Share within your church or wherever you believe together we could find this young lady a family of her own. Join me in trusting that God sets the lonely in families.

Jeremiah 29:11 says:

For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to provide you a hope and a future.  

Peace in the new year ahead,

-Melanie

Weaving Dignity throughout the Chapa Village…

Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

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The night was still and all was calm in my home.  I sat peacefully and prayerfully thinking about the stunning work God has done in and through our connection to and love of the Chapa community in Ethiopia. Tonight I am beyond humbled to share the story of three sisters who spend their days sowing by sewing for women throughout the developing and hurting world. I wish all of you could have the honor of meeting the one and only Jean.  In fact after one afternoon of being welcomed into her home where she and her husband have collected many animals her husband has hunted (and I do not just mean the usual white tailed deer), her prized antique collection and her sewing space, I am craving another time when we gather to share stories and many more laughs.  There is much I could share about the day my dear friend and board member, Kristi and I spent laughing and crying with Jean. She is a scream, passionately filling her days with activities that fill up others in so many meaningful ways.

After my first trip to Chapa almost five years ago we as a family felt a clear mandate to lead others back to see what I saw in the people of the nation where human remains were first discovered and coffee was born in the 18th century. When in Ethiopia it is challenging not to see through the lens of poverty and despair. There are people in need everywhere,  yet I choose to see resilience, strength and abundant resourcefulness at every turn.  Much of the culture smiles from ear to ear, worships with great fervor and welcomes us with multiple kisses on the cheek and tiny piping hot cups of coffee. They are a people so deserving of dignity obtained through education.

The Chapa surroundings were stunning, the church grounds lined with banana leaves, where I stood with only a translator,  singing alone in front of hundreds of students in need of sponsors to support them in school.  That day is forever etched, a perfect blend of fear and complete joy filling my heart and deeply rooting me to the Chapa village. After the first visit I was eager to begin working with Children’s Hopechest and One Child Campaign to plan the next visit where we would invite sponsors and those looking to enter into the needs of those within the margins with the hope of providing basic support and sustainable solutions.  As that planning began to unfold the idea was born that the women and young girls of the Chapa village needed to be educated about the changes that take place as they mature into young ladies.  We learned that many remote areas of Ethiopia and beyond still consider menstruation to be taboo, the girls toxic. Menstruation is something girls must experience in silence, often shamed into staying away from family or school or forced to menstruate over a hole in the ground due to lack of supplies. Even owning a pair of underwear for many is a luxury so it is nearly impossible to utilize feminine hygiene products.  Here is what a girl living in rural Nepal endures.  We have been told that the same is true in Ethiopia.  As educated women it sickens me to learn that young girls endure such fear or shame, but the unknown creates fear and fear results in girls being treated as nothing more than commodities. Their fear is my burden.

What we have helped to accomplish so far within the Chapa village we have done by first building relationships with locals.  We have begun to see small changes in the health and motivation of the children and we have understood emergent needs through our relationship with the local church and village leaders. No matter what our desires we do not want to make things worse for a girl entering puberty. So far the kits have been wildly accepted and the women and teenage girls are beyond grateful. We hold classes with the young ladies, wide-eyed and giggling. We use drawings and demonstrations to explain their anatomy and how to use the kit so that they should be allowed to remain in school and among society. We teach them that their maturity is not a curse but rather a perfect science allowing for women to reproduce. Their wide eyes speak a thousand words and we can only imagine what they are really thinking. We hope to do more to educate men that women should not be devalued or suffer from social stigma.

This year we thought we would be starting from the ground up creating or collecting kits. The kits have become a vital part of our outreach to the women and children of Chapa and we do not want to return {February 2016} without new kits and educational materials. Several weeks back I sat chatting this through with my in-laws, now highly involved in Haiti working with the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty, and they mention a woman living nearby who sews kits with her sisters to give to others who will deliver them to women in need. WHAAAT? So I make a call to someone who makes another call and the connection is made.  I give Jean a call and after an hour of sharing our similar hearts for women throughout the world, I am squealing in delight that Jean wants to help us continue the work we have begun at Chapa and beyond.  Just another connection to a woman who will invest in the women of Chapa. Partnership is what it is all about.   Last week Kristi and I had the privilege of traveling only forty-five minutes to meet the one and only Jean. 2015-10-13_0002

She is a jack(ie) of all trades, lover of missions, caretaker of her sisters, collector,  famous pie maker, mother, grandmother and social activist.  She will make you laugh and cry simultaneously as she shares the calling laid on her heart to sew with her sisters, ages 79 and 84. One of her sisters struggles with her memory so the sewing has become an exercise in helping her to remain sharp and focused. They call themselves Three old ladies who sew and sew for others.” As we entered her bright sewing space Jean pulled up two chairs, plopped down atop a box and said, “Ok girls let’s talk.” She asked us what we really needed. I began explaining our journey in taking slow steps to connect with the village women. Then I simply asked for her help with providing us the kits. Could we buy them from her?  Within seconds tears were streaming down all of our faces as Jean stood up, began shifting boxes and started counting and loading the most beautiful menstrual kits created in bold patterns and colors.  Kristi and I sat with jaws hung and tears flowing. The menstrual kit ministry will be called Woven Dignity  and it will continue at Chapa and beyond as many other ministries are also interested in how sexual education can empower women and young ladies, perhaps protecting them from the horrors of child pregnancy, trafficking, forced labor and beyond. Education equals critical thinking and empowerment and empowerment equals standing up to change and the rise out of poverty.

The women of Chapa and Ethiopia in general AMAZE me. They are the backbone of the village, working as gatherers, nuturers, selling at the local markets, rasing children and they do so in conditions many of us cannot begin to imagine. During our visit last year the women shared about their daily lives and how challenging it is to be without skills and resources and that they often have to choose between children when it comes to education or food. Many talked of husbands who have fled or died and they are left to care for and protect large families on their own. During that hour my heart was ripped wide open for their plight.  How could I hear their plea as they humbly asked us to lay hands on them and pray and not be called to action?  How could I not carry their burden back to my community? We have a dream in the works… We want to collaboratively bring skills training to the women of Chapa. What might such women accomplish if they were given an opportunity? Dream with me…

WE NEED YOUR HELP:

Donate Here

Share this post with your community. Maybe you have a way you wish to serve the women of Chapa. We are open to hearing any and all ideas and look forward to creating a retreat for them and teaching them basic skills when we are on the ground in February. This is only the beginning!

Peace and Grace on your Journey,

Melanie

 

On the eve of five years home… {The Best Yes}

I remember so clearly grappling with how we would do it and what it would look like. I can vividly recall the questions people asked, “What about your family?  I mean what if it messes up the family you already have?”   It is amazing to look back on the roadblocks and see God’s hand and voice through it all. I mean there is nothing like it… adoption. Everything in the beginning screams choice and selection until you really get onboard and discover that you have no power in the process in spite of all the initial selections and choices.  There were so many spirtual hoops to navigate. It was quite the mess of emotions before during and after we said yes to the nudgings and I thank God every day that He walked us through the questions, challenges, redirects and doubts. Our life as a family would not be the same without the spirit, trust and awareness that adoption and the arrival of our daughter brought to our family.

I see and hear God so often in the comments of my children. Since the time our boys were very little they would comment on needing a little sister and there were several times our now 15 year old boy would stop doing whatever he was doing, look up and say, “Mom we need a sister. You have always said you would love a girl in our family and I think I am delivering a message from God that we should have a sister.” What on earth? Those words coming from a then six year old sure caused my ears to perk up in a hurry. Afterall, who am I to stand in the way of a message God needed to deliver? Those comments came often and were always goose bump moments.

Lots of crazy stuff happened prior to walking the adoption road and like many of us we were often a mess parenting three little boys within six years.  There were questions and doubts yet we did our level best to listen and act over and over again, one foot and one document signed and stamped after another.  We still live that way today as parents, carefully discerning and putting one foot in front of another day after day.  Fast forward to yesterday and the conversation I shared with our daughter, so perfectly and wonderfully meant to be.

We were up north truly in God’s country. For you Michiganders we were at a darling little camp on Lake Arbutus in Traverse City. Our 13 year old was invited to be an extara in a film written and directed by people we were eager to get to know. We said yes and early in the morning set out on a three hours drive north or adventure as we called it. It was just Carter and Ava and myself which in always dreamy, quality time spent with a few of my kiddos at a time really pouring in.

The day was soggy and very cold, at least 20 degrees colder than normal even for northern Michigan. We zipped up and set out to find Carter and the cast down on the beach shooting several scenes in spite of the weather. While on set Ava opened a bottle of water. Hours later we were headed into the lodge for a break from the wind and the rain when Ava spotted a huge muddy puddle. She raced ahead and stopped dead in her tracks. As I approached she said,

“Mommy, is this the kind of dirty water people in Ethiopia have to drink?” I was stunned. She is five.

“Yes,” I said. People in many places in the world drink whatever water they can find and many times it is very dirty.”

She held up her tattered water bottle and said, “But we have clean water.” I fought back tears.

“Yes Ava, I said. And that is why it is so important not to waste it right?”

 

The next day we arrive home all ready for a hot shower.  While I am helping her condition her mop of hair she says,

“Momma I have an idea.”

“Yes baby,”  I say.

“What if we could make our clean water run down into the pipes and it could go all the way to Ethiopia? Then they could have clean water.”

“Oh Ava,” I say. “I love your idea. You really are thinking about these things aren’t you?  Maybe someday you could go back to Ethiopia or wherever in the world and help with clean water projects. Smart people are always needed to care about others.”

“Maybe Momma,” she mumbles with the water pouring over her little head to rinse her hair and face.

“I want to do what you do Momma. I want to help people.”

Be still my heart. She sees. She knows and she gets it.

From there we moved into an evening of watching her brother play high school soccer, complete with our village of friends, a beautiful pediatric cancer research fundraiser, treats at the concession and a quiet moment after we all returned home when she sweetly shared her ideas with her adoring big brothers.

These are the moments where I feel God lovingly surround and encourage me.  It’s amazing the people plucked from the arms of defeat, destitution or despair only to be redeemed, wrapped in His perfect light and grace often for a grand or educational  purpose.  Sweet Ava is a light, a lamp unto others showing them that miracles are possible and that all throughout the world we need people to say yes. What is your best yes? It can be big or small but where are you saying yes to another? Where are you pouring in when you plate feels full? Who still needs you?  If God calls you He will equip you and what I have come to understand best is that there is almost always the most delicious fruit that comes from the journey no matter the road or the hardship.

Thank you God for the gift of all children everywhere who have so much to teach us. Thank you for the gifts of awareness. So many live a life filled with suffering even in a time of plenty and they need our voice and our community to rise up. Help us to be those who act on behalf of the ones who need us most. Help us to deliver our best yes.

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Providing Strength and Dignity… {orgs you should know}

It’s been weeks since I have had the chance to share and update. There’s always so much I want to share.  I’ve attempted this post for days but all last weekend fought a vicious stomach bug with what appears to be a good five to six days between victims. I’m the third in our home to be hit and thank God is was the weekend so my husband was here to help, and I don’t mean our kids. I spent 30 hours thinking of the film Unbroken and realizing that I am simply a whimp. I think I might have gone swimming with the sharks rather than doing even one more day on that life raft. Stay well people. There is no shame in walking around with dry cracked hands. This bug is worth washing often.

Last week I promised to update the blog to reflect the main ministries our team will be supporting while in Ethiopia very soon.  Last Thursday I shared a special morning with the awesome women of my Moms In Mission group. This group of women are such an encouragement to me and to many they surround themselves with! They are beacons of light and hope in our community.

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We meet twice a month and this year we have focused on encouragement. Every meeting another member of the steering committee shares her story of where or how she was encouraged and it always has me walking away feeling like we can never underestimate the power of the “atta girl” or “job well done sister.”  We need to say it and mean it. We need to say it loudly and often. Women posses such power in their ability  to craft their words to build up another women often struggling with similar daily battles.   And so it was fitting that we created women’s encouragement kits  to take with us on our journey to Ethiopia in just a few weeks, our sisters here in Grand Rapids reaching out to their sisters in Ethiopia. Thank you all for your donations, interest and prayers and I do hope you will follow our journey and learn more about the following organizations we support.

No Ordinary Love is a ministry very near to our hearts. Wait until you read how many children have ended up at NOLM to be restored and eventually reunited with their families who once thought they were sending their young children into the big city to hold down a job. The blog and photos speak for themselves and NOLM has become a beacon of light in a very impoverished area where many women and children are supported weekly with community services.

Next I would invite you to the learn more about Children’s Hopechest and the wonderful connect community model they have successfully implemented in several nations to allow resourced sponsors to fully engage in the lives of children in need of education, prayer and community development. As a Sponsorship Coordinator I love advocating for and visiting the children of the Chapa community. Connecting with the Chapa village, especially the women and children has been one of the great joys of my life. We see the influence of Jesus among the people and we see more women and children feeling honored and empowered through the connections that have been formed and sustained.

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Another ministry very dear to me in Addis Ababa is Women at Risk Ethiopia. What a deserving group of women we spent time with last year and take a quick look at their stunning works of art. The program exists to assist prostituted women ( in Addis Ababa, the capital city it is estimated that 150,00 women end up in prostitution with 74 % becoming HIV positive. ) in getting off the streets and into a holistic environment where they learn how loved and valuable they are in the eyes of God. The program is generally a year of teaching, skills training, nurturing and ministering to the women to aid in keeping them for returning to the streets. The program works and what I understand more fully in the last several years is that all women want to have value and worth. They want to feel respected, chosen and healthy in their life’s purpose.

Lastly, I discussed the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. There is a beautiful film called, A Walk To Beautiful that documents the health risk of fistulas obtained by laboring for many hours even days without any medical help. The film will open your eyes to the plight of many young women who have not been educated to understand their physical selves. They deliver a baby only to soon discover they are leaking urine with no hope of medical attention. They are then shunned by family or villagers who also do not understand, thinking perhaps the condition is a curse. In 1974 the wonderful Dr. Catherine Hamlin founded the hospital to reach the poorest of the poor suffering from labor injuries and you must see what they are doing throughout Africa to educate medical providers and women of child-bearing age about the often repairable condition of the fistula and more.

I can’t wait to share this image of the women here praying for the kits as they enter the hands and hearts of the women we will serve in Ethiopia.

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Of course we do not pretend that such a token is a means to changing much of their pain or challenging circumstance, but we visit and we engage as messengers of peace, hope and dignity restored. We connect because we are called to fight for the health and wellbeing of women everywhere. We are called to the widow and the orphan and we are told to do whatever we can to reach out to the least of these and remind them that in the eyes of God they always matter. Each woman has a story and a voice just waiting to be validated and heard. The world is blessed, people are set free and transformed when they find the courage to tell.

What you do in the present- by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself will last into God’s future. These ways are not simply ways of making life more bearable until the day we leave it behind altogether… They are part of what can be called building for God’s kingdom.     -N.T. Wright-Surprised by Hope 

A bold thanks for all who partner in the work we are doing. We are together on the journey of loving, leading, advocating and connecting.

Peace and Grace,

Melanie