Tuesday, January 18, 2011

after being away from my students for almost two weeks, i was extremely eager to get back into the classroom and see them all again. i couldn’t help but feel loved and appreciated when i stepped out and saw all my kiddos lined up for the flag raising ceremony—the expressions on their faces radiated with joy—a special moment to say the least ☺ even though i wasn’t away from them that long, i found myself missing them rather frequently, realizing yet again how much i love these kiddos—let’s just say that my last day with them in may will be very emotional.

it was fun coming back and being reminded that i was going to get to experience christmas a second time! here in ethiopia, christmas is celebrated on january 7 so not only did we get that friday off from school, but a half day on thursday as well. having knowledge of all of this, i had my mom bring enough pens with them when they came so that i could give each one of my students a new pen for christmas. although it might seem like a pretty small/boring gift, oh my goodness, these kids were ecstatic! just the simple fact that they were given something to have as their very own meant the world to them and they were super appreciative. after school on thursday, both of my 4th grade classes had christmas parties that i was invited to! basically this is how these parties go down—decorate the classroom with palm branches bordering the chalkboard, grass lines the floor, “Merry Christmas” is written in colored chalk in both amharic and english, and the teacher brings in all these food delicacies such as homemade bread, popcorn, cookies, candy, juice, and coffee (for the other teachers invited to join in the celebration). i had so much fun experiencing this and felt spoiled by my kiddos! when the teacher found out that i had a digital camera, i quickly became the classroom photographer and documented the parties and took pictures of all the students (and am hoping to get prints of the photos in either butajira or addis in the near future).

seventeen students from taylor university, along with two adult sponsors, have been here serving here for the past week (and randall came along as well)! i can’t even begin to describe what an enormous blessing it is having them here. these students are basically doing what i did two years ago, teaching english to 1st-4th graders, playing lots of sports after school, and simply loving on the people here. i am really enjoying interacting with them (i knew a few of them prior to this trip which is exciting), especially sharing in their devotion time every night after dinner. each night a different student or adult leads the devotion and we sing worship songs as well—definitely a highlight for me each day. they are here until january 23 ☺

on christmas eve zondra and i got all the house kids together in the cafeteria, set up the projector, and watched the nativity story! movie night is obviously a big deal around here and it was wonderful seeing how excited the kids were about it. i brought out the mini bags of skittles that my family had sent and gave them a little sugar overload which they thoroughly enjoyed (yay davies family for always knowing how to incorporate some good ol’ sugar!)

on christmas morning there was a worship service held at the church where many of the house kids performed a drama and shared during the service. due to the fact that deme was providing the tu students with a tour of the compound (and zondra and i tagged along), we did not attend the service and i was so sad to hear all that we missed! after they got back from church, we had the opportunity to serve the house kids lunch—injerra and watt, with special potatoes and cheese, and cake for dessert! oh my goodness, they were sooo excited about the cake (i guess i would be too if i ate it like once a year! haha). we had a wonderful day together celebrating our King.

on saturday (jan 8) all twenty-two of us ferenges (aka white people), as well as four awesome house guys, hiked up to the orthodox church and then went a little further to get a better view of the overall area. i had a lot of fun getting to get to know many of the tu students better—such a huge blessing that they are here! along the hike i of course happened to see some of my students and i was blown away to see that one of my little guys lives like 2 hours from school! moments like that put things in perspective for me and remind me how i take soo many things for granted. wow. the descent was really really steep, rocky and narrow, which made for some interesting falls for some people along the way ha.

this past week (jan 10-14) was one full of blessings as well as trials. i gave my 4th graders their 5th test and was extremely excited about the results from one of the classes especially—14 students got 100%!! now that might not seem like a large number of students (14 out of 90 or so kiddos), but for me i’ll take little blessings such as these! i was so proud and made sure to communicate my excitement with them ☺ on tuesday afternoon both of my 3rd grade classes had their belated Christmas parties which again were so much fun to be a part of.

i’m including an excerpt from the song, Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns.

“I was sure by now that God you would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day but once again I say amen and it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls, I barely hear you whisper through the rain “I’m with you” and as your mercy falls I’ll raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away
I’ll praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands, for you are who you are, no matter where I am and every tear I’ve cried you hold in your hand, you’ve never left my side though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm”

a major ‘storm’ has hit the people here at project mercy. on wednesday, january 12, one of the teachers on staff here at project mercy went home to be with the Lord. schwangzo, a young twenty-seven year old, was the P.E. teacher for grades 5-12 and this was his first year teaching here. during our morning break period, one of the teachers went to check on him because he hadn’t been feeling too well and hadn’t shown up to class and ended up discovering his body (we eventually learned from some of the hospital nurses that they think he passed sometime during the night). i was in my room during this break period and as i was looking out my window i noticed that all of the children began running in the direction of the teacher’s apartments and i heard all these loud noises so i went to check things out. someone shared with me that they thought a teacher had died and this ended up being confirmed. when i saw a few students lower the flag to half mast, it was a really tough moment for me, a strong visual emphasizing something so final. ( we later learned that he died of a ruptured ulcer.) when they brought his body out on the stretcher and lifted him into the truck, the sounds and sights i experienced were unlike anything i’ve ever witnessed. the magnitude of the wailing and tears was heart-wrenching, as so many students and staff followed the vehicle as it left the compound.

please be in prayer for the entire community here—fellow teachers, students, other project mercy workers, and of course, shwangzo’s family. he enjoyed playing a lot of volleyball and was helping coach basketball with some of the students here. i did not know him extremely well, but from the conversations and smiles we shared, it was apparent that he was a very kind and gentle guy who loved the kids well. the good that we can cling to in all this is that he loved Jesus and is now free of all discomfort and pain—praise Jesus! our time here on earth truly is a fragile thing and totally in the Lord’s hands.

i pray that God’s name may be lifted high throughout this, and that people can feel the love and peace that stems from Jesus. thank you for your prayers!

we obviously didn’t have school on thursday, so we spent a lot of time comforting the house kids and just being there for them. we ended up doing a major work project together—moving piles of dirt and rocks from one place to another—and it has easily become one of my fondest memories with some of the kiddos. everybody worked so so hard and had a blast in the process. later that afternoon we walked 2 ½ miles to go check out the progress on the new high school. it is such a beautiful building and so wonderful to see the countless ways in which project mercy is enhancing the overall community. on our way back we took a more scenic route as we walked through yards of the yetebon people. what an experience as we were able to see the lives of the people firsthand as they thresh teff (the grain used to make injerra) and eagerly greet us as we approached their tukuls . the highlight of this whole excursion was seeing seventeen of my students along the way—being able to get a better glimpse of their homes and families was amazing and of course i love seeing them outside the context of school. one of my 3rd grade boys walked with me for a long time and as we passed his home he crawled through some thorn bushes to give me two sticks of sugar cane—so adorable and thoughtful ☺

please pray…

- for all of those who were close to schwangzo as they seek answers and comfort

- for continued strength, energy, and peace for marta and deme

- for all of the students here as they prepare to take their semester exams

- for my heart as i continue to strive to know Jesus better—may i serve like Christ and live selflessly

- for wisdom and discernment regarding my future after my time here at project mercy—may God show me where He wants me to go

Saturday, January 8, 2011

happy new year!

these past two weeks have been extremely meaningful and memorable to say the least. being able to surprise my family at the airport in addis was unforgettable—their expressions were priceless and mom definitely squealed (which i of course predicted would be the case ☺ ). despite their traveling setbacks (they had to spend a night in amsterdam on their way here because their flight was cancelled due to the winter storms; and their luggage didn’t arrive in ethiopia until we were leaving for kenya) we couldn’t help but focus on the biggest blessing of them all—the fact that all 5 of us were finally reunited!

we spent the first night together at marta and deme’s beautiful home and stayed up way too late chatting and catching up. the next morning we left addis rather early in order to make it to church in time at project mercy. i was so grateful that my family was able to worship with the amazing ethiopians that i have grown to love, and on this Sunday, we all truly shared in how BIG our God is —praise Jesus for that. some of my most favorite memories with my family took place while we were all together at project mercy:

- introducing my family to the house kiddos and all the other amazing workers here

- having the fam come to all my classes with me (and mom taking oodles of pictures in the process!)and love on all my students

- jack, sam and i singing christmas songs to a couple of my classes—wow was that amusing ☺

- going on a short hike up the mountains to the orthodox church with zondra and matt with gezahegn and adane leading us

- playing basketball and soccer together with the kiddos

- sharing some of my tshirts with dad, jack and sam and some of my other clothes with mom since their luggage didn’t arrive until we were leaving for kenya haha

i loved having my family come to all of my classes. my students had been looking forward to meeting them for weeks and seeing their precious faces light up when my family entered the classroom was definitely something special! i went in to each class with the mindset that i was going to be doing a little reviewing and then teaching them some new content, but with 4 new distractions in the room, that didn’t exactly happen ☺ instead, i just let my family enjoy their brief time with the kiddos, take lots of pictures, and sing silly songs—all of which were equally gratifying. it was great witnessing mom, dad, jack and sam loving on the kids and i love that they can now picture a little bit of what teaching is like for me on a day to day basis.

we headed back to addis after breakfast on tuesday (dec 21) in order to make it for our afternoon flight to nairobi. again, many of my students kept coming up to me and say, “teacher elizabeth no go kenya”, definitely making it hard to say goodbye to them. a few hours later we arrived at the airport, checked our luggage, and waited at our gate, only to find out that we were being bumped from our flight. the airlines had downsized the plane earlier that morning and were only accepting transit passengers, meaning that we were not going to get to leave for nairobi for another twenty-four hours, and meaning that we were going to miss one day of our safari. obviously this wasn’t exactly what you would call ideal, but as always, God has a purpose for each and every situation and wanted to remind us all of the need to exhibit a patient and trusting spirit, knowing that we are not the ones in control. despite another traveling setback for my family, something extremely positive resulted from the situation, as i was able to introduce my family to the incredible Godly man who drives me around addis when i’m in the city. haile has always stood out to me as a warm, gentle man of faith and i was extremely grateful that my family had the privilege of having dinner with him. as we were enjoying some good ol’ pizza, haile shared a story about what it means to pray for something without ceasing. for years, he, his wife and two children had lived in an apartment that did not have a shower, and every sunday he used a few buckets outside to bathe himself before church. this went on and on, so they began to earnestly pray that the Lord would provide them with a shower. they prayed and prayed that God would honor their request, and 8 years later he did. for 8 years this family prayed for a shower, trusting in His timing. i was totally taken aback by this, realizing that i have a long way to go in regards to praying for something so fervently. not only was i challenged by the faith of this family, but i was encouraged by the trust and patience that they displayed. it would have been really easy to just forget about it and think that God wasn’t going to answer their prayers after a few weeks or months, but that wasn’t the case—they continued to trust, continued to pray, and God did in fact answer. it’s during times like these that God helps me put things in perspective, knowing that being bumped from our flight earlier that day was in fact a part of God’s plan. as my younger brother sam put it, “maybe God didn’t want us on that flight so that we could spend this time with haile and be encouraged by his story”—and i like to think that he was exactly right.

a day later we arrived in nairobi (yay for being south of the equator for the first time!) and it took no time for me to notice how much more advanced this city was than addis. with 5 million people living in the city, prosperity and economic development oozed from its center, and the english speaking abilities of the kenyans were far greater than the ethiopians (largely due to the fact that they were colonized by the british for years). thanks to one of those magazines on the airplane, my mom found a restaurant that is widely accredited in the city that we of course had to try out. the name of the restaurant is carnivore, so you can only imagine the main type of food that is served there. super fun atmosphere, excellent staff, and delicious food—what more can you want? so here’s how the whole dining experience went down: they put a little flag at your table and explain that as long as the flag is up, the waiters will continue to bring you meat. once you take the flag down, essentially you are surrendering—fun concept right? so the meat started out rather mild, your typical chicken, beef, lamb, and then things got a little more interesting as they came around with chicken gizzard, ostrich steak, ostrich meatballs, crocodile, and ox balls. if you’re wondering, we all tried all the meat set before us (mainly so we can now say that we’ve eaten strange food like crocodile and ox balls), with some tasting much better than others ha.

the next morning we headed to a smaller airport to depart for our safari adventure! we took a twelve passenger plane to the amboseli national park, about an hour flight southeast of nairobi. our guide from our camp, philip, picked us up at the airport in one of those sweet safari land cruisers, exactly how i pictured it—no windows, no roof, just the fresh air and sunshine beaming through! we made our way to our camp, taking in all the wild animals that were roaming about. this particular park is known for the large amount of elephants that inhabit the area, and oh my goodness what an incredible thing it was to see so many wild elephants for the first time! later that afternoon we had philip take us to see a masaai village, one of the more common tribal people of kenya. to put it nicely, it was an interesting and educational experience and one that we did not feel necessary to repeat. we arrived at our “resort” around dinner time and were extremely impressed by our accommodations and the friendly staff. around 6 the next morning we awoke and unzipped our tent (hardly what you would think of as a tent when you look inside these beautiful lodgings) to see mt. kilimanjaro (the tallest mountain in africa that actually resides in tanzania)—a breathtaking view to say the least. we had a quick breakfast and then were off to the landing strip (yes, a dirt landing strip) to fly to our next national park—samburu.

a bit north of nairobi, samburu turned out to be the hottest out of the 3 parks we visited. again, we were warmly welcomed by a staff member from the place we were staying and made our way to our camp in yet another awesome safari land cruiser. it didn’t take long to notice how drastically different the terrain was at this park compared to amboseli—very dry, rocky, and dusty. we arrived at our place, the elephant bedroom camp, appropriately named this due to the fact that elephants do in fact roam the camp and come up to your bedrooms. because wild elephants and baboons freely move about the camp, we always had to be escorted by a guard whenever we wanted to go somewhere. we had some time to relax a bit before lunch (at this camp, we got to select our meals from the cute chalkboard menu display each day) and then headed out on our game drive. it quickly became obvious that this park had quite the variety of animals—giraffes, antelope, birds, elephants, lions, baboons, zebra—all to which we were very excited to see. on christmas morning (after our 6:30am game drive...definitely the earliest i’ve gotten up for christmas in a looong time haha) mom and dad came into our room singing christmas carols and bringing each of us a decorative gift bag. as instructed, we opened the bags at the same time to find a little stocking ornament that contained a piece of paper. we each opened our paper and jack read aloud its contents, saying that all 5 of us were going to be going on a hot air balloon ride in 2 days! talk about an amazing christmas gift!!! we were totally surprised and beyond excited for the opportunity ahead of us. we enjoyed a delicious christmas brunch, full of fresh fruit, juices, eggs, and cereal (you can only imagine how excited i was to delve into my cereal and cold milk! ha) and then went about relaxing for much of the afternoon. our places had mini pools so we even sunbathed and cooled off in the water which was a new christmas experience for all of us! after dinner that evening, we were greeted by santa claus (yes, i got to see santa while in kenya ha) and then we proceeded to gather by the campfire and enjoy christmas carols sung by a kenyan church choir—definitely a memorable christmas!

we finished our safari adventures at the masa mara national park, southwest of nairobi. with many more animals left to see, we were eager for the game drives that awaited us. masa mara is known for their wide array of animals and the variety and large masses that we saw reinforced that! allow me to name a few of the new animals we saw: cheetah, cape buffalo, oryx, dic dic, hippo, leopard, rhino, male lion (with huge mane!), and hyena! each were incredibly amazing to see, especially the cheetah devouring a gazelle and the male lion walking right by our jeep! it’s evident that God’s artistic hands embody these animals and the landscape they find themselves in, and what a joy it was to share in that for 6 days.

we awoke early monday (dec 27)morning at 4am to head to the site of our balloon takeoff. when we arrived an hour later and found out that there would be sixteen of us in the basket, you can imagine how enormous the balloon turned out to be! it was an amazing sight watching the balloon inflate and before we knew it, we were jumping into the basket and soaring above the tree line with great ease and comfort. we were able to be in the balloon for an entire hour, soaking in all the animals roaming below and watching the sun rise above the horizon. it was extremely serene and peaceful and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. for a while there, i felt like dorothy from the wizard of oz haha ☺ when we were told it was almost time to land, we sat down in the basket and proceeded to be dragged a bit on the ground until the basket tipped over. it was definitely an amusing moment and then we crawled out of the basket and hung out in the bush until a vehicle picked us up to take us to breakfast. breakfast in the bush was amazing—long tables, beautiful linens, and a delicious spread of food. you could say that it was an international breakfast, as people from dubai, greece, france, and america lined the tables. a little while later we made our way back to our camp to rest for a few hours before going on our afternoon game drive. this third and final place we stayed was called the royal mara and the interior of our rooms exuded with beautifully detailed wood carvings, definitely giving the place a lodge-like feel. along the camp was a river, meaning that tons of hippos were always close by. as a result, we again had to be escorted anytime we went from one building to the next and it was super cool getting to see and hear hippos very frequently (they sound a lot like a lawn mower in case you were wondering haha).

all in all, the time i was able to share with my family both in ethiopia and kenya was far greater than i could have asked or imagined. just the simple fact that they were able to come see me here at project mercy gives them a whole new perspective on the lifestyle i am leading and the people i love, better enabling them to pray for me during the duration of my time here. this entire trip, especially our safari, would not have been possible without the generosity and giving spirit of my late grandma who i affectionately called manama. i can’t even begin to put into words the void i still feel without her here on this earth, but i am forever grateful that she loved our family deeply and wanted us to share in these memories together.

it was really difficult saying goodbye to dad, mom, jack and sam (yes, i’ll admit there were many tears on my part), knowing that it will be another 5 months until we are together again. i wouldn’t trade these past 2 weeks for anything and am ever so grateful that they came half way across the world to spend time, encourage, and better know how to pray for me. God’s goodness never ceases to amaze me!

i pray that each one of you were able to celebrate God’s faithfulness this holiday season and that He blessed you with a very merry christmas and a happy new year! ☺