Last night, our team of 8 who have traveled to Ethiopia for the week sat around talking about our first full day of time with the children at the Care Point. As we talked, one of our team members shared that she had received the question leading up to the trip several times…
“Why go so far away when the money could be used better here in the U.S.?”
I listened. And I fought the instinct to respond as I have so many times to that question over the years. And I waited for her to follow up with her thoughts.
She grew a little emotional as she recounted our home visits yesterday and said simply…
“It’s not the same.”
This is my seventh time on the continent of Africa. The summer before my senior year of high school, just a few years after the official “end” of Apartheid, I traveled to South Africa for three weeks. Then, with a former church I visited the slums of Nairobi four times. And now, our church plant has been in a partnership with Children’s Hopechest and traveled to Ethiopia twice.
In my mind, there is nothing like the smell and sights and sounds of this continent. Though every country I’ve been to has been different culturally, geographically, economically, and socially, there are also themes that I sense when I come here. To walk through developing countries, third-world communities, urban slums and rural farm villages paints a picture of a land that is far from what constitutes the everyday existence of my own life. I never cease to have a moment here where I catch a glimpse of a child, a mother, or a family that is surviving in the harshest of conditions with the greatest of joy. It is a powerful experience, and one I’ve grown to love.
And yet, there is also a harshness to these trips. Coming off of a very difficult funeral I performed last week, it has taken me about 48 hours to feel as if I’m now “present” here in Ethiopia. There was, in all honesty, a sort of deep breath in knowing what this week would bring–time spent with 90 sweet children living in vulnerable conditions and visits to homes where in our culture we might insist it was unacceptable even for our pets.
This is not easy, but it is beautiful.
This morning, I read in the book of Acts about the church at Antioch. It was composed of prophets and teachers, leaders who constituted a multicultural blend of an African, an aristocratic noble, and Saul the great Jew of Jews. It was an eclectic mix who became the model of the missional church reaching not only their own backyard but sending the Kingdom of God into different parts of the world.
So, about 2 years ago as a young church plant we had a desire to make international missions a core part of the DNA of our faith community. And while we recognized the world is so big and needs are even bigger, we knew the call of the gospel was to do something that would help bring the Kingdom to life in the hearts of those who were vulnerable–physically and spiritually. For us, the question has never been, “Why Ethiopia?” Rather, the question continues to be, “Why ONLY Ethiopia?”
The world is massive. But the Kingdom of God is infinite. It is diverse and forceful and amazing. And it is what we are called to.