Friday, February 17, 2012

More About Merkato

In June of 2010, I wrote the following blog post about our first visit to the slum area in Addis Ababa. It's the same area that we are now seeking sponsors for. It makes me excited to re-read this. We saw difficult things this day, but we knew that God was touching our hearts for a purpose. We knew he had a plan. Now the lives of 150 kids are going to be radically changed. The entire community will be touched by the work of Children's HopeChest. Praise God!

This afternoon we met our driver Dawit for a difficult and eye-opening excursion. I'm so thankful that God put us together with Dawit. Earlier in the week we had a conversation with him over macchiato's at Kaldi's about what life is really like in Ethiopia. Dawit is an Evangelical Christian, and he has been involved with orphan ministry in several different capacities. We were very interested to hear his insights. He offered to take us to his church and to show us how many people "really live" in Ethiopia. We were very excited to take him up on this.

Us with Dawit at the Guest House

We didn't realize it, but he had made an appointment for us to meet the pastor of his church. He drove us to the slums of the city where the church is located. To say that we went to the slums is saying a lot. The poverty all over Addis is overwhelming. But this was where the poorest of the poor people live. This church was planted there several years ago to reach out to the people who live there. They were going to have a fellowship meeting later that evening, and already people were starting to gather. We stuck out big time. All eyes were on us as we walked through the church. But we were used to that by this point. All eyes were on us the entire time we were in Ethiopia.

The pastor started out by telling us how happy he was that we had come and that he had been praying that God would send us. Then he began to tell us about the work of the church and the huge task they have to reach out to the people all around them who have nothing. Literally nothing. In America we really can't understand what it means to have nothing. We have no context for that. We've never known anyone who really has nothing. Many of the homeless in our cities have more than these people.

Earlier this year the church began a program to raise money from their members to send orphans that live in the surrounding neighborhood to school. There is no such thing as free education in Ethiopia. School is very cheap by our standards, but it is not free. Most of these orphans are living with extended family members, but in Ethiopia the culture dictates that a child who is not your own is treated as a servant. Even if it is your niece or nephew who has lost his parents, still he will never be treated as a full-fledged member of the family. There is no hope for these kids to be able to go to school unless someone outside the family pays their way.

So this pastor has rallied his congregation of people who have almost nothing so that these children can go to school. The individual Christians of this church are paying each month for the education of twenty-five children. One month of school costs 50 Birr - $3.50. Yep that's right, the cost of a latte at Starbucks. Actually I think a latte costs more than that. The cost of (less than) a latte is all that stands between orphaned children having a chance to get an education rather than ending up on the street someday with no way to make a living for themselves.

However for the people of this church who give each month, 50 Birr is a very big deal. To put it in perspective, our driver confided that his monthly salary is 1300 Birr - roughly $100. He sponsors FOUR CHILDREN. He gives 200 of his 1300 Birr, 15% of his income, to those who are poorer than he is.

II Corinthians chapter 8 comes to mind when Paul told a wealthier church about the generosity displayed in a poor church in order to both reprimand them and encourage them:

"Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more in their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift to the poor believers in Jerusalem. They even gave more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord..... Since you excel in so many ways...I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches."

It would be no problem for almost anyone reading this to gather enough money to sponsor the education of 25 children singlehandedly each month. $87.50. That's all it would take to educate all of them.

Now the church is trying to raise money to pay so that each of the 25 kids will have at least one meal per day. One meal. They are going to feed the children while they are at school because if they give the food or the money to the household where they live, there is a good chance that the child that it is intended for will never receive it. It takes about $1/day to do this, so it will take a lot more than the cost of sending a child to school.

We had $200 with us that several friends and family had given us to use as we saw fit while we were in Ethiopia. I had prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted us to do with the money. It couldn't have been any clearer. It seemed like a huge gift to this pastor, but it was so small for us. I want to do more. I can't wait to do more.

We exchanged information with the pastor so that we can keep in touch, and then Daniel went out with a couple of men to visit the households of some of the people who benefit from this program. I was sad to miss it, but I felt it was best to stay behind with Benjamin. Here is what he saw:

The street outside the church

A family receiving support from the church. Ten people live in a home roughly 10 ft. x 10 ft.

This lady was cooking over an wood fire in her tiny hut while Daniel was there.

I'm not sure exactly what the future of our relationship with Emmanuel United Church of Ethiopia Merkato will look like, but I know that it will not end because we have come back to the United States.

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