Category Archives: Missions

Woven Dignity 2016 {making an impact in the Chapa Village}

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.

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No wonder the room of young girls sat wide-eyed as we unpacked supplies and began educating them with simple drawings on the blackboard.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 

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

When Mountains are Moved… {saying yes even in our mess}

As we drifted off to sleep we were both recalling the last twenty two months and marveling at just how hard it was. There were hurdles,  decisions, paperwork and heartache.  There were outside influences we never considered and the fitting of a round peg into a square hole. Some days {often} we were weak in our faith and feeling so inadequate to handle everything that came along with saying yes! Yet through all the many challenges God was quietly delivering connections and healing . God was there ever so patient, guiding us with unending love. The months of hard clicked by and then just like that the pieces began to fit together like the most gorgeous puzzle you have ever completed. We just keep witnessing one miracle after another and where I struggled with doubt lately God has blown the doors wide open to increasing my faith in ways I could have never imagined.  I could not be more grateful to be a part of such a bold testament to God’s perfect grace through Tadesse’s story.

We were just ordinary people directed to Ethiopia to adopt a little girl who needed a family.  What we could never have predicted was how one yes would lead to another and another and yet another.

God says to ordinary people like me and you that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes we need to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it and bow our whole lives to Him instead.

-Bob Goff

Nearly four years ago we met a 15 year old child in Ethiopia who needed someone to believe in him and to trust that his needs could be helped through sponsorship.  We helped send him to school through sponsorship, lifting him out of the extreme suffering he had known for years and allowing him basic comforts of food, shelter, meals and an education. He took the opportunity by storm and let me just give a little plug here… Sponsorship changes the world literally one child at a time. Sending a child to school provides a purpose and a hope that is lasting. Sponsoring a child is a simple way to share the great resources we have been given with those living in significant poverty. Sponsoring a child shows God’s mandate to serve the least of these through you.

I’m not sure I’ll ever truly understand the connection to this one specific child as I opened the van doors to a sea of needy children. It is still a feeling I cannot truly describe but was very similar to the feeling of our daughter being placed in our arms and realizing that while she did not come from my body she was being given to us to protect and raise her to become a strong citizen of the world. I would return to Ethiopia and spend time with him only to realize he was very special in his integrity, his grit and his drive to climb out of the circumstances he had been dealt. Our connection was instant and deep.

And then the unthinkable happened. I stood watching him serve in Ethiopia and realized that perhaps he could be educated in the USA.  From there it is a long and sordid story of many questions, opinions and doubts. There was the endless paperchase and yes more questions and doubts. Of course I knew the idea was crazy but I was trusting God that having been broken for the orphan and the vulnerable child had brought me to the place of saying yes in a radicial way. We took him on as a student, coming to America to be educated.  What we could not have known was how deeply God was sowing the seeds in our hearts to care for him as our very own child. We became his and he became ours.

There was excitement and beauty but almost imeediately there was also great hardship.  There were misunderstandings, rules he did not know how to follow, educational challenges, many cultural differences and days we all wanted to give up. We made so many mistakes, overwhelming ourselves to the point of shutdown. We pushed hard in times when perhaps we should have been patiently listening and trusting that God was literally lighting the path in times of darkness. It was a wild ride through his first year here in the USA. We pressed on and I can remember hundreds of times asking God why helping a child needed to be so hard for him and for our family. Had I not heard properly back in Ethiopia when God delivered the idea of the student Visa?  Now there was safety and he was living with the basic needs such as clean water, medical care, clothes, three meals a day, an education and a family, but the days were difficult and we were exhausted through it all.  Looking back I can now see God’s plan was to teach me more than to assume that these things were enough, and after all these months I think we are finally starting to get it. The aha moments are flowing and I now see that coming to America, to all the choices, the consumerism, the me attitudes, the constant next best thing and stimulation can create the perfect storm for one who needs calm, community, their native toungue and of course Jesus as their everything. Two cultures and burdened hearts were colliding and the storm needed to rage in order for us to look upward.

So here we are today watching God transform and move mountains in this boy’s life.  Soon Tadesse will graduate from two years at a fabulous high school where he has touched lives and changed hearts. In fact today is his last day of classes. Yahoo!  Recently he needed to create a senior project sharing his testimony and life story. Not an easy thing to do when you have a harrowing history of pain and loss. We prayed and we talked and we prayed some more and then one day while on vacation we watched the words flow as he put his story on paper and came to us ready to share his words along with pictures of his years spent surviving in Ethiopia.  As you might imagine his project was difficult to share but he did it. He presented in front of a few classmates,  family and friends and has been asked to present on the last day of school to his entire graduating class. And there my freinds is where I find God using this boy to open eyes. Tadesse wanted to decline the offer and move on to the next opportunity of a small Christian college where he was recently accepted but as a family we know this is all part of the journey. He will speak to his entire class during chapel just days before he will become a high school graduate. Then there will be a well deserved summer break complete with his first ever job.  Yes he now has a job, another miracle and another mountain moved through tremendous faith and obedience.

Are you inspired yet by the idea that God will give you what you need after you are called to the radical and the hard? The timing will likely not look like the timing I know we were searching for each day but never give up hope.

Say yes to something or someone that needs you. Start small but dream and pray BIG. Don’t wait for the perfect time or the day when your mess is perfectly tucked away. Frnakly that day might never come. Think about it… is there ever really a perfect time for radical change?  Fortunately we are not all called to serve the same people in the same places so think of the impact we could have as a community who says yes with intention and radical faith. For one boy who had nobody our yes mattered. Yes changed his world and certainly ours.  Who might be waiting for you to say yes?

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I’m eager to see what mountains God moves next… Have a wonderful spring weekend.

Peace and Grace,

Melanie