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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:

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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

 

Why We Go… {reflections of my time in Ethiopia 2015}

Every year I am overwhelmed by wonderful friends and family, followers of Begin With One and curious others asking, “So how was your trip?” Legitimate question of course but never easy to give a simple answer. Every trip in many ways is fantastic and life altering and every trip in many other ways is filled with moments where I feel like my chest is caving in and I cannot breathe.

For me Ethiopia creates a contrast in my very soul.

While on one hand it is refreshing to be immersed in a very spiritual culture I adore, where we are treated with great kindness and hospitality by generous and grateful people, yet our team journeys into the hard places where the stories of hardship are raw and often without resolve. We see tremendous struggle and suffering, people lost without families, healthcare, justice or their next meal.

We meet many longing for hope.

But still I attempt to answer the questions often wishing I could take those asking on the journey beside me to see what I see.   I am honored and grateful to go, to serve, to learn, to embrace, to mourn, to listen, to support, to create, to laugh, to engage, to avoid, to worship, to partner, to stretch, to cringe, to comfort and most of all to SEE with eyes that dream of solutions, protection, unification and education.  For it is in the going and experiencing not just the breathtaking beauty,warm climate and deep history, but the pain of loss, no resources, survival choices and more. It is the painful moments myself and our team are witness to that lead us to drive change and action.

This year I have returned home burdened in a whole new way. I am burdened to help with the tremendous work I see in several of the organizations and mission families we partner with who have given their lives to serving in Ethiopia and beyond. They are praying and listening for the right direction and the right people to be brought into their fold to allow them to help the last and the least from street children, trafficking victims, prostituted women and the child abandoned due to unimaginable circumstances and or beliefs. I’ve returned burdened to help generate the resources they need to get to the root of the problem and to rescue and restore one child and one women at a time.  Now more than ever I am convinced that God delivers myself and a willing team back to Ethiopia, to further convict us so that I {we} will return home, grateful for the gifts we have been given and ready to be the voice.

Once our eyes have been opened we must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

This year I returned home to a challenging health condition with one of my kids which of course we are all struggling to make sense of. And while there is sometimes nothing gained in comparing our story with the story of another, I will tell you that when the Chapa village women joined us for community time and several shared their stories of raising up to ten children alone due to the death of husbands,  I nearly gasped. Perspective.  As the women shared and then humbly lowered themselves to the ground and our group of women prayed over them individually, I could not help but feel deep gratitude for the sisterhood connection with those women.  So many of us wonder if God sees us in those hard moments. And while it is easy to see our lives as radically different they are really so much the same. We are all just believers wrestling with the story of our lives, searching for purpose and hope.  What happened in those moments of confession of fears and sorrows was a deep connection and as strange as it was to compare a few personal stories of hardship, it felt as if God used some of the words a few of us shared to break the barriers, allowing the women into the daily loss and burdens of our lives.  We were able to begin to express just how much we desire their connection and their prayers. The partnership that began last year was strengthened and we ended our time together committing to pray community to community. The transparency in those moments has carried me this past two weeks and I continue to think back to the raw faith those women shared even while fighting deep and winding battles. They are willing to be filled up, poured back out and filled up again by the light only God can deliver. They have so much to teach us.

I invite you to take a look at what the Holy Spirit did the day we were brought together. After worshipping and sharing they broke out in song and raw celebration.  This is just a glimpse into our journey back to Chapa. I hope it helps explain why we go and why we feel committed to return.   For nine years the community of Chapa began to pray that someone would be sent to help them with education in their village. For nine years they were faithful in their plea. To see the fruit of the Begin With One Children’s Hopechest School/Carepoint is nothing short of a miracle. So thank you for asking, thank you for partnering and thank you for believing with us that listening, learning and engaging with those most vulnerable in Ethiopia will bring solutions, hope and a future.

Now turn up your volume cause this is good stuff! Wish we had captured more.

 

 

 

 

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Trust Without Borders… { The Making of Something New}

The words of the song speak to me so deeply…

“Spirit lead me where your trust is without borders.”

Thank you Hillsong United.

In just a few days the One Child Campaign July team will be on the ground in Ethiopia. This year I am feeling more deeply connected than ever to the mission of the team and watching how God will make something new from the trust and obedience of those going.10555242_10203469983143304_1822386174_n

Just yesterday I ran into a woman I admire who will soon leave her comforts of home and two of her children to lead a team to Guatemala with her husband and two sons. Her words stuck with me, “We are just so unsure about what God is gonna do with this random group.” I smiled and tried to reassure her, realizing how similar I have felt on each mission trip and team I have been a part of.

My conclusion is this. Mission trips are so much more than we can envision before we go and for those of you in question they are far from a vacation.  Mission trips are those uniting to action and learning to take leaps of faith, hope and trust. For me mission trips offer a way to lose myself in order to find myself and allow something new to be revealed. I have watched over and over again as the something new happens to both the one who serves and the one who is served. There is just such beauty and power in it even in the challenging and the unknown.

Afterall it was Jesus who pulled those from broken stories and injected himself into their shoes.  In many ways the same is accomplished as we venture out to the place and the people to whom we are called, to the fields of  the marginalized and those gripped by injustice and needing to survive. We are then injected into their stories,  so that we might connect on a deep and spirit filled level.

Going and inviting others to go is an invitation to experience the stretching required to walk, albeit briefly, in another’s shoes. It is then we might be opened in a rare and contemplative way. Prehaps our own brokenness or our own great strengths and calling are revealed in glorious and life changing new ways. Perhaps we see the Father as He invites us to see Him and maybe we are forced to rely more deeply on Him. Maybe too we see the rare beauty of having less or the total reliance breath after breath on a merciful God.

When we face and really open our eyes to see the brutal and often unending injustice and marginalization we find all over the world are we not forced to reconcile our own freedoms, resources and power of influence? Will we dig deeper and pray for the ways in which we might stand in the gap? This is exactly what Jesus does own our broken behalf and it is an honor to do the same.

God pursues us in so many exciting and unique ways. We are all called to a different mission. Maybe it is a hurting child in your community, your neighbor in need of a listening ear. Maybe you are being pursued to bear the burden of children in need of families through our local foster care system. For us God’s pursuit includes the children and the ministries we have grown to know and trust in Ethiopia. For us it is being their voice and developing lasting relationships by investing in their pain and their stories.  For us it is using their stories to invite others in and asking them to transcend all borders with great hope and trust.  For us it is encouraging others to return home changed and ready to share how we all can change the world one life at a time.

We partner with One Child Campaign and look forward to their big week ahead as 25 people step out and head to Ethiopia for a week of learning and growth.  Follow along as they seek to learn and connect with many organizations and people we love. Here are a few:

Chapa Carepoint- Children’s Hopechest

No Ordinary Love Ministries

Women At Risk Ethiopia

What can we learn by watching them engage, love, honor and serve? What will be the something new?

Grace and Peace in the week ahead,

Melanie

 

 

 

Looking back… {Chapa Sponsorship: one year later and a Holiday Challenge}

It’s been one year since our family became Carepoint Coordinators for the Children’s Hopechest Chapa Carepoint in Ethiopia.  What an adventure it has been! This very weekend one year ago we were diligently working to pull off an event to educate our friends and family about how our community could transform a community far across the globe in a small village south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In this year we have been truly amazed by the outpouring of love for the children of Chapa and we are thrilled to report that 84 children now have sponsors to call their very own. Isn’t that amazing? We are so filled with gratitude for each of you who have opened your eyes and your hearts to change the world for orphans in their distress {James 1:27}. I even have a dear friend, our daughters adopted through the same agency in Ethiopia, who helped spread the word to her church family.  You should see what their small church community has done to love big on the Chapa children. Thank you Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church of Hood River, Oregon and thank you Cheri Rogers for coming alongside me in so many ways. When we all unite to share solutions it’s awesome what can be accomplished!

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving week ahead and move into the holiday season, I want to thank each of you who sponsor a child or children at Chapa and also those who have taken the time to support us as a family as we fundraise and share our dreams for Chapa. I am so excited to see what God has done in the past year  and I am even more excited about the ways in which God is paving the way to do even more for health and wellness in the Chapa community in the near future, but one dream still remains… I want each child to be filled with the pride of knowing that they have been chosen. I want each child to feel God’s love through letters and prayer. I want all the children of Chapa to share with one another the names and cities of their sponsor.  It is that deep feeling of self worth and love that is created when you sign on to call a child from Ethiopia your own. So I ask each of you reading this to not only consider sponsorship but more than anything else, I need help in spreading the word. Please share this post and in doing so help me to find sponsors for 80 more children who wait.  Here is the best news… I have a generous family willing to contribute $500 toward the Clean Water for Chapa Project for each new child sponsorship between now and February 1, 2013 ( the day our team departs for Ethiopia) How cool is that? God is stirring hearts and honoring our work on the behalf of these children. Let’s make this big dream an awesome reality!

This February myself and a team of 12 others {yes there are a few spots remaining} will be returning to Chapa. We will return to spread love and hope among the children. We will seek to be his hands and feet so that they might see God’s mighty love.  We will meet with school and church leaders, listening and planning so we can better meet the needs of the children and surrounding community. We will play, laugh, dance and sing. We will hug, cry and pray with children and we will hand deliver the word that they are cherished by sponsors from around the globe. For many children in Ethiopia sponsorship is everything. See for yourself  below with the look on this sweet girl’s face when we gave her a care package from her sponsor family. So precious!

Again thank you for all of the support we feel for the Chapa children and let’s work together to give the waiting children of Chapa a sponsor of their very own.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

Melanie