Friday, June 10, 2011

home is where your heart is

i’ll admit—i have been avoiding sitting down and composing this final blog. i keep putting it off and finding other ways to occupy my time. why? because as i seek to formulate the appropriate words and expressions, my heart and mind must go back to those final memories in the place that my soul yearns for. and with that, journey with me one last time to those final days at project mercy…with my students and the house kids…as i aspire to put into words what my heart was experiencing during those difficult days.

wednesday, may 4---just two days before i had to say goodbye to my students. i was finishing up teaching my 3A class when terefe came up to me. he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “i go to shopkeeper to buy you biscuits.” (biscuits are what we would call cookies) i quickly reply, “oh no terefe, you do not need to do that,” but he insisted as he said, “yes, i go and give you.” and so, a little while later during lunch, i see terefe standing outside waving at me, trying to get my attention to come out and see him. as i make my way over to him, he pulls out a small packet of biscuits from his jacket and hands them to me. “i love you, teacher.” i immediately take him in for a hug and thank him, trying to fight the tears that are welling up inside. once i made it back into my room i begin sobbing. to most of us, receiving a small packet of biscuits from someone isn’t that big of a deal. this is not the case here. it was a huge deal for terefe to buy me something when he and his family have SO LITTLE materially speaking. and yet, this small token of affection demonstrates the generosity and beauty found in this little guy’s heart. in those moments, terefe showed me the sheer splendor of acting out what’s going on inside your heart—i know he has no money, and yet he was willing to make a sacrifice and give something to me that i’ll forever remember and cherish. and to think that the Lord places little 3rd graders in my life to teach me a thing or two about giving and loving—that’s awesome. that packet of biscuits—hands down the best gift i have ever received.

friday, may 6—my last day of school. much thought and prayer went into this monumental day. i knew it was going to be draining on both the students and myself, and that’s putting it mildly. i had been praying a lot about how to wrap up these past 9 months or so in one class period with each of my four sections of students—definitely daunting. in the end, i decided to write a standard note on the chalkboard as i went into each class. i proceeded to have the students write the note in their exercise books, as this would give them something to do (and continue to practice writing english), as well as be a keepsake for them. the note read:

Dear student,
English is fun! I am so proud of you. I will miss you very much when I am in America. I will always remember you.

Teacher Elizabeth

i then attempted to read the note aloud to the class but was quickly stuck down by emotions through the outpouring of tears. there i was, standing in front of my students—the children who have stolen my heart—unable to control myself. as i stood there and tried to regain some composure, the other classroom teacher thankfully began translating what i had written into amharic. it was in those moments that i looked out into the sea of stunning ethiopian faces and am forever struck by the images that were staring back at me—tears streaming down the faces of the boys and girls, sobs breaking the silence, heads down on the desks. it literally felt like someone was ripping out a part of my heart, a part that will forever remain in ethiopia. i hated that i was doing this to them, causing them to hurt like this. and then, i gave it another go at reading the note and made it through without breaking down. i went off the cuff and told them again how proud of them i was, encouraged them to continue working hard in school, and told them i loved them. and with that, i took in their faces one last time, said goodbye, and walked out the door. i proceeded to do this 3 more times, with each time as difficult as the last. oh my goodness, i was beyond the point of exhaustion at the end of the day—more emotionally drained than ever before. it got to the point where i was too tired to cry.

sunday, may 8---the day i left project mercy. it started out as any typical sunday does…breakfast followed by getting ready followed by church followed by lunch. there was a peace and sense of strength that was emanating from me throughout that final day—and undoubtedly that serenity stemmed from the Lord. i anticipated being an emotional wreck as i was on friday, but to my surprise i was composed and so were many of the kids. God was truly in our midst during those last moments, letting the memories be joyous rather than full of so much heartache (although it still existed and continues to, it was shielded then). with marta and deme being present, they don’t like to elongate the goodbyes, as the children are so accustomed to people coming into their lives and then leaving. and so, the goodbyes were short and sweet, probably healthy for all of us. and then feelings of numbness started settling, as i struggled with the notion that all of this was coming to a screeching halt. i could not process it in those final days at project mercy, nor could i as i actually left the country. i got into the white van with marta and deme and we drove out the compound and then the tears surfaced. marta had me come sit with her in the front and just held me as i wept, speaking soft, encouraging words into my heart that blessed me in those moments.

when i first came home, i was drawn back into the busyness that takes a toll so easily on our lives—being reunited with loved ones, visiting college friends, and beginning the real world job search. but shortly thereafter, i became overwhelmed. my parents and dear friends have been incredible: teaching me patience and gentleness. i feel like it was a mistake to wake up for 9 months, asking Jesus to borrow his eyes. i was not meant to see what he sees. the Pain, emptiness and want that i saw, all juxtaposed against those who have plenty, who are known, who are not in need, was all overbearing. but then He told me a story: the precious and powerful story of when he healed the paralytic. He reminded me of how He did it— Jesus said, 'Your sins are forgiven' and then, so they would know my authority to do so, I made him to stand'". He gave me His eyes again, this time not for clarity of sight; but rather, perspective. Jesus Christ is my living and powerful Savior who saved me first from my sin, and now is working on healing me of its effects.

i’ve been away from ethiopia for about a month now and my heart still hurts. i long to see my ethiopian family…my students, the house kids, the staff. i long to hear their voices, to receive their hugs, and to see their beautiful abasha smiles. the journey i shared with these people the past 9 months will forever shape me and forever be a part of my testimony. one of the hardest parts now that i am back home is the separation that i feel—i feel so far away and distant and i don’t like that. i have had my fair share of emotional breakdowns. i find that as of late they come when i am looking at my pictures, as those pictures so quickly spark the memories and ignite the joy that was shared. i know my processing does not end here, but i am ever so grateful for those of you who have reached out to me through encouragement, simply asking me about it all, and praying for me. i’ll take any chance i get to talk about that place and those people who have left hundreds of fingerprints on my heart.

i am slowly beginning to realize that "my journey" was really Jesus. He took me down those rocky, dirt roads, taught me the beauty and value in meaningful relationships. He rocked me to sleep in the cool, rainy days and in the hot, fly-infested ones. He enlightened me on the brevity of life, and that in the beginning, was Father, Son and Spirit: in the beginning was love and relationship. Love and relationship have been at the beginning through the Trinity, and i am invited into this dance, invited to accept as well as offer this love and to accept as well as enter into this relationship.

with sincere and heartfelt gratitude, i thank you for being God’s hand extended to the people of ethiopia.


  1. Elizabeth, this was an extremely powerful message. I fought back many tears reading it and ache with you. I hope to see you soon and give you a hug!

  2. What a beautiful reflection Elizabeth! It is amazing the many lessons you have learned- thanks for sharing them so willingly! your kids no doubt think of you daily just as you do. So proud of you and still saying prayers on your behalf!

  3. Beautiful thoughts Elizabeth! I have learned so much through you and your experiences and I'm so glad you got to have such amazing experiences!! Love you and I'm praying for you! Can't wait to see you so so soonn!