I love the power of story. “So tell me your story,” is one of my favorite phrases. This is a message of trusting that God will write a story in your life when you least expect it or feel less than equipped. I am proof that He will take your biggest question and ask you to go far beyond it in order to fully surrender to Him. This is also a clear message that God uses the most ordinary people to be the voice for those who have lost hope in believing his or her story will ever be heard. This is a story of quiet perseverance in the face of wonder and doubt.
It was the smile in their eyes contrasted with the extreme conditions where they sat crouched on the streets gripping babies that immediately drew me to want to know the story of women during my first moments in Ethiopia. As a couple who first visited Ethiopia to meet the child who would become our daughter through adoption, we were quickly faced with the harsh reality that women make the most painful and difficult decisions surrounding survival every day. I returned home after that first trip filled with the notion that I was being called to the plight of the widow and the orphan, the lost and the least in Ethiopia. There were few words to describe it but somehow I knew. I knew that something in me had been changed and been drastically rearranged. We began to pray for clarity asking what was next and soon after our daughter’s arrival home, we were lead to the unique ministry model of Children’s Hopechest as well as One Child Campaign.
The idea was simple, the results beyond extraordinary, but would you believe it if I told you that feet were the catalyst for our initial connection in a rural Ethiopian village? It began with dialogue with my sister about how to connect with the kids of the Chapa carepoint. We would be leading our first sizable team and we brainstormed how we could go beyond borders and language to not only connect but to truly begin to understand their needs.
The idea of washing feet and general foot care started it all… That first year our team knelt removing shoes, soaking feet and checking for health concerns. We watched as puzzled faces melted into smiles and before we knew it many were giggling. Before we knew it we had Ethiopian leaders asking to serve by way of washing the children’s feet. By the third day of play, medical foot checks and some education we decided to invite the local leaders and caregivers to come to the carepoint to meet and to pray.
What we never expected were the warm words of welcome and the praise they gave for our actions as examples of how to care for their children. During that meeting several stood asking us to teach them more about how to parent and love their children. They also openly thanked us for returning. “You came back,” were the words that pierced my heart and from there a vision was born. We needed to say less and listen more to what the people of the Chapa village desired for their families and their lives.
We needed to return in order to be in relationship. That day I knew God was handing me a story to tell. It quickly became clear that my mission was to return home to encourage others to connect and to give, one community partnering with another community to establish sustainable change.
Fast forward to our next annual team trip to the Chapa carepoint and my desire to go deeper with the women. I longed to hear their stories. I wanted to be able to understand how we might support them to allow them to further impact their children toward change and advancement. Understanding the plight of women in the developing world is vital to knowing how we change poverty. We wanted to inspire the women to equip their children to dream, create and advance through education.
It seemed to take forever but we were slowly gaining momentum in getting the Chapa children sponsored yet still I asked how we might do a better job of empowering their caregivers? We invited the village women for a conference of sorts. I sat speechless, nervously unsure what to say as they sat smiling at me from the grass. Finally the words came to me. “Tell them they are seen.”
In those moments shared together our team of women did our best to enter into their daily lives by simply asking questions and carefully listening. We reminded them that God sees their pain and he knows their hearts for their children. Our exchange that day was powerful as we stumbled through honoring their hardships with our time and prayer. The women shared their losses of husbands and children. They told of days without food during pregnancy. They explained the choices they are forced to make daily when they cannot send all of their children to a doctor or to school.
One woman stood and bravely shared that for nine years the women met as a community of believers praying for God to send someone to help them help their children. Next, several described their deep desire to be educated, skilled in something that would allow them even a simple job. The tears of our team members flowed and deep inside I was celebrating a great God who I knew would use our time to convict us toward advocating on their behalf. That day we closed our time together promising nothing except the simple idea that we would return home to share their story. They needed jobs and many people willing to pray for a door to open.
We are certain our connection to Mallory Brown did not happen by accident. She was looking to return to her favorite African nation to conduct a Crowdrise fundraiser for her 30th birthday and I was introduced to her Father who upon asking about my work , suggested I read about his daughter’s work. I was intrigued and decided to reach out, asking if she thought of returning to Ethiopia. The timing was ordained and with little hesitation she messaged me back agreeing to work with us in Ethiopia.
I would love to say the rest was simple but next came the arduous task of determining how the Crowdrise style and fundraising platform could work within the parameters of Children’s Hopechest. While our new organization, Begin With One, was finally in place, I knew the struggles of trying to implement jobs without our exceptional team of Hopechest experts on the ground. We needed to all be in agreement, partnering in the development plan of how best to educate and implement to support the most needy women in the village. How could we move forward without false promises or exploitation? Mallory was needing to determine her in-country plans and I was battling daily to secure final funds for our classroom project to move into the next phase of income generating for the women. Simply put, there were so many questions and concerns I could not address and I found myself asking, “God, is this really the plan for Chapa and the plan for our family to travel back to Ethiopia to share the story of the women of Chapa?” There were just so many doubts related to details and how to’s and even when I could not see it God was overseeing it all and showing us the need to surrender to our own ideas so that we could best understand His provision, purpose and timing.
Just days ago we returned home from the adventure and the story of a lifetime. Myself, my husband and two children were joined by fundraising expert, Mallory Brown and talented videographer, Ryan Doyle, as we journeyed back to the Chapa Carepoint for her surprise fundraising campaign to allow us to create 30 jobs for 30 women by raising 30K.
The experience was far more than we could have dreamed and I invite you to read all about it here. Mallory and her fundraising platform are brilliant. Ryan’s storytelling is stunning, but what I want to share is where God stretched us as a family. There were many lessons learned in surrendering ourselves to allow Mallory to do her thing. She has a strategy and a template for creating a video to showcase the need and then creating a video which shares how the dollars raised will be implemented to meet the need. She is the storyteller, a celebrity of sorts, the main character to quickly share the mission and ask people to donate for a big impact. This meant we as a family needed to step way back, not sharing our connection to the village and the women, but instead allowing Mallory to share her new experience in meeting the women with the world via the crowd rise campaign.
The week in Chapa provided deep conviction that God has richly blessed our call to share the powerful stories of those living in difficult places throughout the world. Life is messy. People are flawed, desperate and broken. Some of us have been asked to enter in to the messy in order to be a conduit of change. If you are one of those people stay the course, find your tribe and work together, keep speaking up and out and keeping asking God for provision. Even when it feels like forever before the dawn trust that God is in the details even when we cannot see or understand. Thank you to so many who supported our journey and the crazy idea that we could raise 30K for the women of Chapa. You did it and you did it well donating 41K and counting! You blew us all away! There is more to the story so please follow along as the women of Chapa are trained and their new jobs unfold.
Peace on the journey…
*photo credit: Ryan Doyle