Hope Rising in the Midst of Discouragement

I first met Henok five years ago. Traveling with educators, parents, and students from the Christian school where I teach kindergarten gave me a front row seat to watch God work in and through His people in Ethiopia. As a translator and friend to our team leaders, Henok was helpful, kind, and gracious as he patiently answered our never-ending questions. Our first opportunity to “minister” came when we visited an organization in Korah.  We played with the children who lived around this compound, which employed women living in Korah next to the trash dump.  Children seemed to come out of nowhere and quickly outnumbered our team.  It didn’t take long for shy smiles and hand-holding to break the language barrier.  The children seemed as curious about us as we were eager to meet them. Soon game playing began paving the way to later hugs as we left their circle to join the women inside the compound.

We made our way inside the structure made of mud walls, pausing a moment for our eyes to adjust to the dimly lit space.  More shy smiles greeted us. Beautiful praise and worship songs accompanied skilled fingers rolling clay into beads and weaving thread into scarves. I will never forget the joy radiating from many of the women as they sat working together.

The local pastor began to share stories.  AIDS had created the widowed status of many people living in Korah. One woman later told me through interpretation, she lived “in fear of getting the sickness.” Other stories revealed a life of begging and relying on trash from the dump for survival before the opportunity to earn money to pay rent and buy food for their children. Many were separated from their husbands who’d gone off to find work and they lived with anxiety mixed with hopeful anticipation of their return.

I have been a kindergarten teacher for many years; I love children. But that day God knit my heart to the heart of these mamas. Upon return to the states I shared their stories many times over and prayed for them throughout the year. I was grieved when I learned this ministry had been shut down the next year, but I was overjoyed when I learned Henok had begun Carry 117.

Fast forward three years to when I returned to Ethiopia. It was my first visit to Carry 117. I was beyond excited to enter this new compound and meet the first employees; women whom God had tendered my heart toward three years earlier.  Children greeted us as they had before but only a few. They played games outside the rooms as we visited with their moms. Pretty flowers stood outside to greet us, beckoning us inside for some beautiful God-ordained moments.

My sister and I, along with a few friends, had written notes to encourage the women, letting them know that God continued to bring them to our hearts and minds in prayer. It was an unspeakable privilege to share those notes and pray over them. I couldn’t help but be reminded of when the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…”  The love I had for these women came straight from God’s Spirit and aligned our lives in partnership through prayer.

As we embraced, I noticed that Alem, the cook at Carry 117, was wearing a child on her back. She had requested prayer for her children and I assumed this was one of hers.  I was surprised and humbled to find out later that she was carrying the child of a co-worker so her friend could continue working. This beautiful picture of Alem physically “bearing one another’s burdens” deepened my desire to lift some of their burdens spiritually through prayer.

I have just returned from my third trip, with two years passing between visits.  I’d read about the exciting opportunities God had given Henok and Carry 117 to expand and move to a new compound. We discovered the road leading to the new facility was too rocky for our van to traverse so we parked and finished the way on foot. With each step, I anxiously scanned the path before me and the horizon ahead of me for the first glimpse of God’s faithfulness.

It didn’t take long for the new two-story facility to come into view. Like a beacon of light in the darkness, this structure stood like hope rising in the midst of discouragement. My favorite scripture came to mind, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Henok and his team have brought this scripture to life as they have been obedient to Isaiah 1:17… “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”

Will you join me in championing Henok, these women, and this cause with your prayers?