Wednesday, February 16, 2011

much has transpired over the past couple of weeks, so i will seek to share with you the journeys i have found myself in—both the joyful ones and the ones covered in heartache.

zondra and i are back from our week-long excursion to northern ethiopia, reveling in the beauty and history of this part of the country. we began by flying from addis north to bahar-dar, thoroughly enjoying seeing a large body of water for the first time in many months. lake tana resides here and happens to be the largest lake in ethiopia. our hotel was right on the water where we were able to enjoy many moments of serenity overlooking the water, delighting in reading and relaxation in a peaceful surrounding. we also had the opportunity to take a boat ride to a couple of the monasteries, as well as admire some hippos that can be found throughout the lake. one morning we took a drive to a nearby town and began hiking to see the tissisat falls, also known as the blue nile falls. as its name suggests, the blue nile feeds out of lake tana, joins with the white nile, and eventually becomes the nile river found in egypt. the view of the blue nile falls was absolutely breathtaking and such a pleasure to be able to see.

from bahar-dar we drove about 3 hours northeast to gondar, which was the capital of ethiopia from 1632-1868. the city is famous for its many medieval castles, as well as gondar university, home to some 40,000 students. we had the privilege of touring the many churches, castles and palaces of the city, taking note of the long-standing history and beauty of this city. from gondar we drove an additional 4 hours (on EXTREMELY bumpy, rough roads...haha) northeast to the semien mountains national park, the highest mountain range in the country. i can’t even begin to describe the grandeur of these mountains—it truly is the grand canyon of africa. the mere vastness of these mountains was a sight in itself, and the ruggedness of the terrain is drastically different from what i see here in yetebon. we had a scout and a guide take us on a hike for the day, marveling at both the mountains and the many baboons we saw along the way! it was a lot of fun being so close to these animals and a part of God’s magnificent creation. it is during times like these, being in the midst of the sheer majesty of our Lord, that you can’t do anything but believe and admire our Creator.

from gondar we flew southeast to lalibela, a legendary city carved from rock. king lalibela is credited with the creation of 11 rock-hewn churches in the 12th century. these churches are unlike any i have ever seen—carved inside and outside from solid rock. they were simply beautiful and extremely varied in their architecture. and the mountains here—all i can say is WOW. magnificent, grand, vast, rugged, glorious, breathtaking, all-encompassing. i felt extremely blessed to be in the midst of such beauty.

with these journeys to other parts of the country, i have been creating powerpoint lessons that i will share with my students (using zondra’s projector in the cafeteria) to further educate and give them insight into parts of their history that they may never experience for themselves. we will talk about the similarities and differences from yetebon to each of these places we visited. i am looking forward to dedicating one day a week for the next 7 or 8 weeks to all that i learned on this trip, adding both variety and new technology into my teaching.

upon the conclusion of our trip, zondra and i learned of some heartbreaking news from yetebon. i am including my journal entry from feb 8:

it is with a heavy and burdened heart that i write down what i have learned today. i received word from one of the office workers at project mercy –one of the house kids has gone home to be with the Lord. i was in complete shock hearing this, definitely thinking i had heard the woman wrong. a house kid died? this was in fact confirmed, sweet little nathaniel (affectionately called nati) is in the arms of his Heavenly Father right now. goosebumps immediately covered my body and i couldn’t fight back the tears. and then the questions began filling my head—how had this happened? was he sick? did they take him to the hospital? why did Jesus take him home when he still had so much life to live? how is precious sarah doing, his little sister? and what about his buddies tesfu, ceci, abenezer, and samuel? and the rest of the children and house moms? my heart goes out to the children and community, and oh how i wish i was there with them right now. zondra and i are finishing up our traveling throughout northern ethiopia and fly back to addis and hopefully will be able to get back to yetebon as soon as possible. in the mean time, we have been told not to share this news with anyone, even our family members. this is and will be very difficult, as i desire to talk this out with mom and dad, cry with them, and be able to ask more specifically for prayers. we have been told to keep this quiet because marta and deme are in the u.s. dealing with a medical emergency for marta’s eye and they aren’t yet informed of this news. in addition, there is a family in the u.s. who is planning on adopting nati and sarah, so they too need to hear of this tragedy. my heart aches and aches for so many who are affected by this precious loss of life. my heart takes me to the scripture in ecclesiastes 3 as it reads, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance...” i do not doubt God’s presence and purpose throughout all of this—He remains sovereign and in control. He is the God of healing, peace and comfort. i simply pray that His children of yetebon are in fact feeling His love and mercies despite the pain and hurt that is in their hearts. i pray that zondra and i are able to get back to those we love quickly, that we sense His presence in knowing how to respond and simply be there for them in whatever ways we are to be used.

thankfully a few days later i was able to tell of nati’s passing to my mom and dad, and oh how therapeutic it was talking things through, as well as letting the tears flow. as always, my parents were true sources of comfort and prayer which blessed me in countless ways. in addition, i have learned a few more specifics as to his cause of death that i will share with you. nati apparently had fallen sometime monday (feb 7) evening and scraped up his leg. that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the way his body responded to the fall was what caused the worry. his whole body went limp and unresponsive, so they took him to the hospital just up the road. dr. abraham was able to see him and tried to revive him, but he was already home with Jesus. although an official autopsy was not done, dr. abraham was able to conclude that nati had a congenital heart disorder, this being the ultimate cause of his death. nati was precious—often a quiet little kindergarten guy, but had an adorable grin and love for soccer. he gave me hugs and smiles ever so willingly and his presence here is greatly missed.

it was truly something special arriving back in yetebon after being away for 3 weeks...big hugs, embraces and smiles from the kids. it was evident that they weren’t as spunky and full of life as they normally are, but that was definitely expected. being able to go around to each kid and worker and simply share in an embrace and a few words of comfort was all i had wanted for days—goodness it felt good to come “home”. as i saw sarah for the first time, both my heart and eyes immediately welled up, my heart going out to this lovable little girl who will grow up without her big brother. although she is usually one of the first to lend a hand to hold or give hugs, she has been extremely affectionate with me lately, and the same can be said of lydia (2 years). i see more charisma coming from little lydia, as she continues to grow and learn what it means to receive and give love openly. just the other day i was able to share in a moment that will forever be etched into my heart. zondra had her computer and she, victoria (22 year-old from Ft. Wayne, IN who is hear volunteering until mid-march...a true joy and blessing!) and i were sitting outside with little sarah, selam and lydia looking at pictures we had taken of the house kids. they were having so much fun saying the names of all the kids on the screen, and then we came across a picture of nati. without hesitation, sarah and selam started saying his name and blew kisses to him on the screen over and over. i was in awe of this moment we were sharing in, as it was a gift to all of us in our healing process. it was in fact a precious moment and i’m so blessed to have been able to share in that, as well as be able to be there to comfort these little ones. it’s still hard for me to grasp that nati is actually gone. i keep thinking i will see him walk up from the house or see him on the soccer field. i know it will continue to take time as we all seek healing.

and so, we begin this new semester with grief as its backdrop, reflecting on the life that has been lost, and yet the new life that is now in heaven. i am beyond eager to get back into the classroom to love on and educate my hundreds of students (school actually began on monday, feb 14 but i was home sick with the flu...blahhh and tuesday is a muslim holiday so it looks like wed will be my 1st day back!).

as i was recently listening to a worship song, i was reminded of this simple statement, one that i hold dear and firmly believe, “...the voice of Truth says this is for my glory”. may i better sense God’s glory all around me, and may all the people here, both young and old, feel His presence and cling to Him now more than ever. may we unite under Him as we seek to find comfort, joy, and much laughter throughout my last 3 months here.

i cherish your notes of encouragement and ultimately your prayers. again i am reminded of how special it is to be a part of the body of Christ. thank you for loving me and praying for me and the people i love here.

i will leave you with this excerpt that my mom shared with me from Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love,
“If life were stable, I’d never need God’s help. Since it’s not, I reach out for Him regularly. I am thankful for the unknowns and that I don’t have control, because it makes me run to God.”

may we never stop running to God. ever.


  1. grant and i are praying for you and the Project Mercy community. it is so encouraging to see you find joy and purpose in the midst of this pain. we love you!

  2. Hi Elizabeth -
    We're the family who was planning to adopt Nathaniel and Sarah, and obviously the last two weeks have been filled with a lot of emotion and a lot of questions. Randall forwarded the link to your blog, and it has made a world of difference to read this post, not only for the information, but for the heartfelt and personal stories. We feel like we know Nathaniel and Sarah a little better. We're not sure what the next few weeks will bring, but please know that this post has added a dimension and depth to our own story that it had been missing. Thank you so much for sharing. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to meet soon.
    Tim, Jen, Jack & Natalie Whitney