A Birthday Wish { for 17 kids}

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.

Click here to see their profiles:

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,

Melanie

 

 

 

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.

 

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:

 

Sponsorship {a bridge to change}

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Working through the on the ground staff of Children’s Hopechest here in Ethiopia we have been blessed to see the fruit of child sponsorship in the village of Chapa. Children are selected and profiled based on vulnerability, risk of not being able to attend school and overall lack of family stability without basic intervention. This is determined by local church leaders who know the families and the children and are highly aware of needs.  If a child is profiled he or she is available for sponsorship which includes the uniform, shoes and learning materials needed to attend school. They become part of the Chapa Carepoint in conjunction with the small village church and the children are carefully monitored and discipled in order to improve success rates in school and so that families might more easily remain together.

Being in school in most developing countries represents protection and gives children a purpose and a place to be each day. While to many this may not sound important it is a vital piece of the overall health and wellness of a child and in many village communities the sponsored child who attends school is protected from early child marriage (often as young as 14). We have been told that those children in school are far less likely to stray from family, become hard laborers at a very early age which often stunts growth or perhaps even leave the family in search of a better opportunity which leads to thousands of street children who ultimately endure years of abuse simply trying to survive. In Ethiopia once a child migrates from the countryside into the large metropolis of Addis Ababa he or she is extremely vulnerable to those who trick children into indentured servitude and prostitution.  In Addis Ababa millions of children live in absolute squalor never able to return to family unless they end up in the hands of someone willing to help.

There is hope in breaking the cycles of extreme poverty and abuse. During our visit to Ethiopia this week our team has been able to see firsthand the models of ministry that work to equip and empower those who so often only need a little hand to become empowered. It is beyond humbling to see the light among the darkness and meet those who are building bridges to allow God’s grace and mercy to shine.  At the Chapa School/Carepoint these are the children still available for sponsorship and we are dreaming big as a team that they will all be sponsored before we leave Ethiopia in just a few days. Sponsorship is just $38 a month and this week it was so evident just how life-giving your gift is to the children and the overall community of Chapa.

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This is Zenabua. She is playful and very smiley, always laughing with her friends.

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Meet Habtamu. He loved the sport portion of our fun together and of course enjoys soccer.

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Could Mesafante have a more engaging smile? He is delightful and spunky.

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This is Yordanose. He is always with his pack of friends and tried several times to speak to me in English. He is eager to learn.

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This is Tilahun. He seems very sweet and has a sparkle in his eyes.

Please visit:

to sponsor a child today.

Thank you!

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

-Galatians 6:2

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

 

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

ArtPrize 2014 {something we all need to know…}

Today here in my beloved hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan a contest begins that most of us who live here know and love. It is a carnival of sorts for those who love art and the winning of cash prizes.  Artprize began in 2009 as an experiment , a community project where any and all artists could create and showcase their work throughout the city at select business locations. It was a quick success allowing those of all walks of life, all ages and all interest levels to freely visit the art pieces, vote for a favorite and engage with others in an often fascinating dialogue of did you see or you must not miss… Today marks the opening of the 6th annual Artprize and it this house we cannot wait.

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Within our family Artprize has bcome a part of our culture and something we all look forward to each fall. The kids have already begun to figure out times we can skip dinner or hours of homework in order to run down and squeeze in certain sections of the contest. They love it and we make our own individual lists of who we believe will win the grand prize.  I am four for five. Just sayin’.

HERE’s the NEED to KNOW…

With the tremendous success and interest of Artprize has come an increased demand for sex. Yes, you read that correctly.  I know your stomach just turned and frankly so does mine the further I become educated on the topic of human sex trafficking. While I wish my message was just excitment and showcasing the beauty of Artprize and community throughout the nest two weeks,  it is vital that I be the voice of those caught in the plight of trafificking.  We cannot turn a blind eye and it is something we need to be discussing and sharing to educate others. With a boom in tourism comes a boom in traffciking. and with upwards of 500,000 people pouring into our city like it or not we see a greater market for traffickers. We find an increased demand and those willing to capitalize on the demand.

Last Saturday night we walked the streets of Grand Rapids alongside several  organizations such as Women At Risk International and the Mennasah Project who work tirelessly to educate and end this ever growing atrocity. We walked to raise awareness. We walked to pray. Take a look here at the work they are doing and see how and where you might fit into the call to action. We can all do something and as you will see as you go deeper there is a great deal of work to be done not just in foreign lands but right here at home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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So if you are still reading and are not hating me for ruining your beloved Artprize here is what I need you to know.  We can take action to help fight this modern day slavery so many women and children have been forced into. We can be the eyes, the ears and the voice of change!

How to Take Action:

1) If your SEE something SAY something.  Plug these numbers into your phone and call. I just plugged them into my phone. Will you do the same?

Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force (U.S. Department of Justice)
1.888.428.7581
Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline (Polaris Project)
1.888.373.7888

There is nothing wrong with being wrong and victims are counting on you and me to speak up on their behalf.

2) Get educated. Go deeper and begin to consider yourself an expert so you can educate others. No matter your age tell others what you are learning and begin to trust that God can use you to teach others. My mother in law in her mid 70’s joined us on the walk downtown to pray over the streets of Grand Rapids. She was a person who did not want to believe this problem was so big right here in West Michigan until she participated in The S.O.A.P Project several weeks ago and we passed out soap to area hotels educating hotel workers and mangers to the dangers of large events and the likelihood that vicitms might be coming and going while hidden in groups.  The soap contains a hotline and in some cases this hotline has allowed women from the missing and exploited women and children’s list to be found. S.O.A.P. stands for ‘Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution’ and is a hands-on outreach to fight sex trafficking at large events & in communities. S.O.A.P. was founded by author, advocate, & survivor- Theresa Flores.

    Learn more here: http://traffickfree.com/S-O-A-P-.html

3) Reserve judgement and instead open your eyes.  While visiting the streets, entering hotels and restaurants to view art be aware.  Without fear or condemnation look for the signs of anything that might seem off or awkard. Watch people and look into the eyes of young people you might encounter along the way. Pray for wisdom and discernment on your journey. Ask God to show you the things He desires you to see.

4) Ask questions. Speak up and speak out if something does not quite make sense.

5) Pray. Pray as you browse and enjoy the art. Pray for our city. Pray for those working behind the scenes already aware of the increases in the numbers of victims coming in and out of the city during this time of high demand. Pray for law enforcement, hotel workers, nurses and doctors. Pray for everyday citizens to be moved to action. Pray. Pray for the Johns and the pimps. Pray for the victims and pray for those yet to be tricked into this lifestyle by a friend or a boyfriend. Yes that is often how this begins… Pray.

6) Support the artists who support the end to the selling of humans. There are several artists who have entered the Artprize competition with a heart and a calling to end such violence. Their pieces are difficult yet it is my great hope and prayer that thousands of people, especially young people will learn from their storytelling and interactive works of art.

Women At Risk International has partnerned this year with Pamela Alderman for her Artprize entry titled The Scarlett Cord.

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420aa3523d8b1faedc5d2385bc300e4c After the prayer walk over the weekend we were able to walk through her artwork housed in a trailer just outside of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  Her art brought us into the victims world of closed doors, dehumanizing words and the ties that bind the defeated women to her victimizer.  Please make it a priority to stop by The Scarlett Cord. Let’s rise up and share Pamela’s work. Let’s help her make the Top 10 list or perhaps win the competition. Imagine the people we could empower to action. Imagine the publicity and the funding that might come if everyone learned  from her work and her message.

ac2bb97bca5608da2e9fa6add5793dcbHere’s to a wonderful Artprize 2014 with eyes and hearts wide open.

Peace and Grace,

Melanie

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It all Began With One… {Dreaming Outloud}

It began with a nudging that I believe was born many years ago out of challenge and loss. When I spoke of adoption it was as if a light was turned on,  a wild flourescent glow that could not be dimmed.  My husband reacted with an openness I still cannot believe considering the chaos of our lives at the time with three little guys four and under.

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 What I can clearly see today, nearly 7 years later is the fingerprint of God as the great connector. What we thought would be one journey to one little girl became more than a thousand connections, signs of wonder and a literally blueprint set before us that we were to further engage to help the one.

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And while many children all over the world are orphaned and need to be brought into forever families I was quickly shown just how many children remain on the streets in deep dark poverty with no place to turn for protection, guidance, food and shelter. Such children might have an ill or struggling family member or perhaps he or she was sent into the city to find work in order to survive. What I saw in the developing world was like nothing I had ever seen before. My life and all the prioroities I had ever known were ripped in two. I was broken and gripped by the one (millions really ) that were left behind all alone in a broken and hurting world. Who would be there for the one?

After four years of seeking, listening, going, adopting, serving, trusting, questioning, sponsoring and learning we believe the time is now to move Begin With One into a nonprofit corporation so we might continue to be the voice of those in need both in Ethiopia and right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We know God has placed in us a passion for the fatherless and the vulnerable and we are eager to serve in whatever way possible to change the world for one.  While we do not have all of this fully defined we do know the  power of yes and the redemptive grace provided when investing in and empowering change in the life of others, one prayer,  one idea and one action at a time.     Sometimes all each of us can do is change the life of one, knowing that the action often produces a domino effect. We must be the change, open to being used as a vessel of hope and love for others.

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Today it is no secret to many of you that God has orchestrated and surrounded us with a network that defys distance or circumstance, creating a vivid masterpiece of brilliant connected strokes. Nearly everyday I feel His power using me to again say yes no matter if it is with the adoptive Mother in the grocery store or the Missions director of a local church. Maybe it is the hurting child in Ethiopia or the team member in need of a life changing wake up call. My job is to say yes and trust where He will lead.

At Begin With One we seek to be  the voice of those already doing great work in Ethiopia. We hope to advocate for their needs and showcase God’s redemptive power in their works.  We seek to connect our high resource communities of family, friends, neighbors, team families, coaches, teachers, church members and more with daily needs that literally impact women and children one life at a time. We want to help others act and advocate for the one.

We seek to help the one. Just as God showed us that we had a daughter waiting in Ethiopia and then later a son, He also showed us the beautiful community of Chapa. He has connected us to ministries such as No Ordinary Love Ministries and Women at Risk Ethiopia just as we have been called to learn more about Family Promise and Wedgwood Christian Services right here in Grand Rapids. Orphans, widows, trafickked and displaced children and of course those who have been abused and neglected deserve our voice. They deserve to know that they are valued and loved.  We are called to be the voice, changing the world one child and one vulnerable person at a time. So many are waiting.

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We cannot do this alone. Get to know us, ask questions and share your ideas.

Stay tuned for more information soon as so many things right now are an exciting work in progress!

Join us. Be the voice. Partner. Change a life.

Begin With One.