Go, Love and Serve: My first trip to Ethiopia
Grab a warm drink and maybe some tissues and take some time to really sit down and read Athena Jarman’s testimony from her first trip to Ethiopia.:
From the time I was 10 yrs of age I have felt called to serve in orphanages. My husband and I have adopted two amazing boys through America World and both from China’s orphanages and yet, I have never had the opportunity to even visit, much less serve, in any orphanages until now, at age 45.
Initially, the opportunity I chose was to go with One Orphan/America World to serve the precious orphans in China. With my boys being from there, my heart will forever be there. Ashley Gosnell had inspired me greatly by helping us adopt our second son through her Storytelling mission’s trips. Because of the powerful influence she had in our adoption and the immense blessing she was, in my heart I longed to be a part of doing the same for others adopting from China. However, God had other things in mind and I am now so glad He did.
I signed up to serve in China on an One Orphan mission trip under Ashley and Melinda with the mentality and hopes of advocating for the children there to be adopted. Shortly after signing up I found out it was likely we would be going to Ethiopia instead, many things were changing and China trips were put on hold for the year. My heart broke, yet there was this annoying peace I had about going to Ethiopia. But why? I had long since forgotten my earlier dreams of going to Africa. China had filled my heart. But I could not deny God was leading this, initiating this change and it intrigued and unnerved me. What could He possibly want me to do there? They have all but shut down adoptions in Ethiopia. Why would we go? What would we do?
With the unknown in front of me, I chose to trust and obey His Spirit’s leading. I would go to Ethiopia.
As always, God’s grace in the matter was abundant. I didn’t think it possible to love Ethiopia compared to China. Fortunately, I was so very wrong. The day we left for Ethiopia, I was so excited and full of the knowing that only God can give, that I was to go. Then arriving in that beautiful land, experiencing the culture and most of all the marvelous people, there was no more doubt. I was most certainly falling in love with Ethiopia.
Our mission was simple. We were to go, love, serve and bless with as many provisions as we could, the precious children in four orphanages. Then we were to also meet with families that are sponsored and supported by America World and provide them with food and provisions to enable them to successfully survive without having to take their children to an orphanage. Every opportunity we had was sacred and I could write about each one individually. God did so, so much in so many powerful ways.
Every child we came in contact with was priceless beyond measure and is worthy of every ounce of love we could possibly give. Our wonderful team poured out every bit of love our precious Lord Jesus has poured into us to every child we came in contact with, We visited 2 orphanages initially and served and loved with great joy though many things were very hard to see. Then we visited the 3rd orphanage and it was absolutely the hardest to see by far.
We had been told this orphanage had the most difficult nannies and that 3 teams before us had had difficult experiences and little access. Knowing little, but having bathed this orphanage, its nannies and director in prayer, we arrived. To our joy and surprise they allowed us all in. We were amazed and so very grateful. We entered the first room which was filled with babies. Most were in cribs, some were being fed by the nannies. The smell was difficult. I trembled, fighting back the compelling urge to sob. Distracting myself to avoid a scene, I picked up the first baby I would hold in this cold. lonely and unforgiving place. This baby was so tiny and lovely. Boy or girl I couldn’t tell. Sadly, seemingly a nameless child. This one, so tiny though he or she was probably around 3-5 months of age, their muscles hadn’t developed enough to enable them to sit. So, they lay and I gladly cuddled. Their hair was caked so thick with what seemed to be cradle cap, but I had never seen it so thick on any child I was unsure.There were sores on her hands and signs of scabies covered this teeny body and she/he was wet. It seemed their diaper was dry, but their clothes were damp and this child’s skin was cold. Perhaps they were wet with spit up, but it was hard to know. In spite of all that, this precious one smiled at me almost immediately. As I held her, sang to her, prayed over her and rocked her, my heart was broken.
I had heard stories of this type of nightmare existing, but seeing it face to face was more than I had imagined.
We held as many babies as we could in that room. Soon we were escorted to the next room. Each room held new conditions, new children or babies to love, more beauty to discover and new horrors to find. Most beds were soaked with urine and or vomit/spit up. There simply was not enough staff to keep up with the demands and needs of so many children. Nevertheless, each time we would reach for or caress these precious teeny ones they almost always responded with a smile very quickly. It seemed they were so thankful to be touched, held and loved. So many babies had thrush and eating was so hard for them. Many, I was told by one of the nurses with us, if not most in the room of around 20 babies, needed to be hospitalized. Many were nothing more than skin and bones. The smell of death was present. Our hearts were broken.
As we continued, we came upon one of the toddler rooms. The children were outside on a porch with one nanny. There were at least 25 toddlers it seemed. There was nothing but a soft 3×5 mat and a chair for the Nanny to sit on. For toys, there was one shoe being passed around that some of the more aggressive children were willing to fight over, but most just ignored. As soon as we walked in the children were trying to get to us. These beautiful little ones with gorgeous piercing eyes reaching out desperately to be held. There were so many, so determined to be noticed, loved, cared for. I tried to fit as many as possible on my lap just as all the other amazing ladies from our team that were visiting that room did. We reached out and touched and sang to every child we could and hugged as many as were interested. After I had sat there for a bit with 4 children on my lap and legs, ravenously eating up any attention I gave and about 5 others standing as close as they could, I looked around hoping to reach out to more. We so wanted to love as many as possible, but being accosted by a very strong few it was so hard to set them down, let them go, knowing to them it felt like they would never get this love again.
Looking around the room, trying to get to as many children as possible, I noticed this precious little boy sitting all alone. He stuck out for many reasons to me mostly, because he looked like a younger version of one of my nephews. Secondly, his eyes seemed so intense and aware just like my son’s, seeming to know of pain, fear and hurt far greater than a child his age should know. He was also so gaunt and thin. Oh, my heart broke. I had to get to this precious one. Finally, I got to him and gently picked him up. I set him on my lap along with 3 others. Holding them precariously, praying none would fall. Hoping the nanny was ok with how I was caring for her sweet group. But my attentions kept coming to this one darling boy. I couldn’t look away. His eyes bore into mine as if he was looking into my soul. I spoke softly to him, telling him of Christ’s great love and ever so gently touching his hand, caressing his arms. Needing to adjust due to the ever growing crowd in my lap, I gently trIed to move him to a more comfortable position. It was at that time, about 10 minutes after first picking him up, I finally noticed it. Both of his legs and feet were gnarled. This darling love didn’t just have eyes like my son, he had legs like my son. It was all I could do to contain myself. He had no idea, of course, but my heart was overwhelmed. This precious one that had stuck out so clearly to me, was like my, now 7 yr old son that we had adopted back in 2012. My son has had a double amputation and other reconstructive surgeries and another major one scheduled for next month. My son, that walks with prostheses. My son, that was alone in an orphanage and received extra neglect and rejection because of his condition…..this precious boy is like my son.
Ethiopia has seemingly closed its doors to international adoption. I pray that is false or God brings a miraculous change, but that appears to be the news today. But if God brought me to Ethiopia only to see this child, to pray for this baby as if he is my very own, I believe to God it is worth it. I grieve for this baby every day, several times a day. I believe and saw God do many incredible things in Ethiopia while we were there and I am forever grateful. But I also believe that it is easy for myself as an American to think, so what? It’s just one life. But what if that were my lawful son or daughter there in those conditions? I would move hell or high water to get to them. I would let NOTHING stop me. Well, this darling love is God’s son. God cares so much about this one little boy that I believe this is the main reason he took me to Ethiopia, just for him! I believe He will bring others to let this darling love know and others like him, that they are LOVED, they are SEEN, THEY ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
Mother Teresa said, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” I told this darling one that I would pray for him every day and that I would never forget him. And that’s what the Father says to us. There isn’t one He forgets. Each one is created by Him and for Him with great love and purpose. He knows us by name. Proverbs 139:15-18 “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!
A note from the Director of Missions, Erica Ho:
Here at One Orphan and America World we unashamedly boast a mission to love children where they are. For us, that means sending teams to SEE children where they are and to tell them how worthy and perfectly created they truly are. Although these methods may be crticized by some we are unapologetic. Our teams are trained to enter situations respectfully and with cultural sensitivity. The call to serve vulnerable children is, in my opionion, one of the greatest in the world. Our teams also bear the responsibility of speaking up and telling these stories once home. We believe that there is great power in stories and that they can be used to create change, to gather sponsors and to increase funding to help more and more children.
If you feel led to help after hearing Athena’s story consider going to Ethiopia to serve. If you can’t go physcially consider becoming a monthly supporter. Alone we can do nothing, together we can do so much.