What's Her Motivation?
If you haven't met her already... We would love for you to meet our USA Executive Director, Ashley Bohinc. To help you get to know her a little more, we asked Ashley some questions about why she does what she does with Carry 117, what exactly her role entails with Carry 117, and what her motivation is behind it all. Here's what she said:
What interested you in Ethiopia?
"I actually felt drawn to Africa before I felt a specific draw to Ethiopia. When I was in college, I took a semester class called HIV/AIDS and spent an entire semester learning about it. Of course, we talked about HIV in the USA, but we also talked a lot about the epidemic in Africa, and the theories on where and how it started. Something was birthed in my heart in that classroom. And I knew I wanted to go to this continent one day and meet the people I had spent a lot of the semester learning about. It's funny because growing up I never knew anyone who had been to Africa, I never knew a missionary, and I had no clue how I was going to get there one day. But I knew I wanted to go. Ethiopia just happened to be the opportunity put in front of me first. And I am so glad, because I fell in love with the culture, the people, the landscape... I was captivated by it."
How did you get involved with Carry 117?
"After my first trip to Ethiopia in 2010, I got involved in an organization on the USA side that served in Korah. I was determined to do something with my experience and not just come back to my normal life. That's actually how I met Henok. We served at this other non-profit together for a few years. But then through a series of events the government ended up shutting that organization down. It was really devastating, and confusing. I remember sitting down with a pastor in Ethiopia processing the events, and he said to me "when you serve here in Ethiopia, you have to throw all of yourself into it, but still be willing to keep your hand open, because tomorrow it could be gone." I still remember that, because it was good advice (for life, not just serving in Ethiopia) and exactly what I needed to hear. A year later Henok shared with me that he wanted to start again, but do it different. He wanted it to be an Ethiopian founded and run organization (for a lot of reasons I will have to share about another time). We had learned a lot watching the other organization fall apart, but his vision for the new one was built on all the mistakes and lessons we learned along the way. Once Carry 117 was up and running in Ethiopia, I started focusing on building Carry 117 in the USA to work in partnership with Carry 117 in Ethiopia."
What exactly is your role with Carry 117?
"I am the USA Executive Director for Carry 117, which basically means I lead the USA staff (19 people), who are all volunteer. They are seriously amazing. Carry 117 would not exist on this side of the water without them. My role is a volunteer role as well. I oversee all operations, voicing, and content for any written pieces. I am also a resource for mission teams visiting our compound in Korah, I organize our annual 117 Tour (when Henok comes to the USA and travels around to speak), and the Carry 117 Mission Trips (also referred to as the #117Trip). My job is two fold really, The USA side of Carry 117, but also, my job is to minister to Henok. Encourage him, challenge him, cheer him on... and remind him. Because he forgets things a lot (laughs). Henok felt called to start Carry 117. I felt called to empower, equip, encourage, and mobilize Henok to do it. Ministry is so lonely, and the hardest thing I have ever done. I think the people who are going to reach Ethiopians with the Gospel of Jesus are Ethiopians, not Americans. So I see my role as behind the scenes in Ethiopia by empowering and equipping Henok with whatever he needs to do what he is called to do. And I see my role in the USA as a bridge between the two continents I call "home," so people can walk across in both directions and learn from each other."
Do you plan to move to Ethiopia one day?
"People ask me this all the time (laughs). I actually do NOT plan to move there! Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Ethiopia. But, I'm an American girl with a heart to mobilize people. I feel called to build a bridge for Americans to help people across the world, while in the process gain a bigger perspective of God, themselves, and the world. And honestly, I can help Carry 117 from this side of the water way more than I could from that side of the water. So, unless God tells me otherwise, I am staying put. Plus, I love my other full-time job too much to even consider it."
What's been the most difficult thing for you so far?
"You mean besides an eight hour time difference, the network being down most of the time, and having a completely different personality, gender, and culture than my ministry partner? Ha ha. Everything about this has been difficult. More specifically, it's difficult to work so hard across the world and not be in the daily grind of the ministry. I feel left out sometimes! With the time difference, the terrible network, and the constant dropping of phone calls, working here has exhausted my patience on more than one occasion. Our cultures are so different, and the way Henok and I process things or want things done are really different. I get so frustrated at systems that feel ancient. Everything is automated here, and in Ethiopia, we have to physically take a paper to five different places to get signed, then the place to turn it in doesn't have power or connection to the internet so we have to come back another day. But the next day the city runs out of gas, and the main street is flooded, so nobody can go anywhere. Everything just takes so much longer. God has certainly used this experience to grow my patience and understanding of different ways of doing things. But it's been good. I have learned so much through the difficult things.
Another difficult thing has been managing the tension between being a business and a ministry. When do you extend grace and leave room for growth, yet at the same time how do you set a standard and demand they rise to it, and be accountable if they don't. It's so tricky, because we love the ladies, but part of giving a hand up is giving them an opportunity to earn an income. If they aren't meeting expectations, but still receiving a paycheck, it's really a handout. On the other hand, we all know discipleship isn't a sprint, it's a marathon with lots of setbacks. And when you are learning skills, and growing in confidence, you need coaching along the way. That's been a really hard tension to manage.
Also, I have a full time job in addition to what I do full time with Carry 117. And I love it equally as much. I wish I didn't have to sleep so I could just work on the things I love all the time. The USA staff is all volunteer... so working around the schedules of people who have another full time job to accomplish what needs to be accomplished on this side is very challenging at times. Especially because the team has to stay motivated to keep pushing and keep building when they never get to actually see or be part of the ministry that is happening on the ground in Ethiopia. It's very easy for people to just stop investing because they have to work to stay connected and motivated."
What are some of the things you have learned?
"Cultures are different. But people are the same. We all want to be noticed, have purpose, and have dignity.
I have learned the way Ethiopians view "leaders" is so very different than how we view "leaders" here in America. A leader in Ethiopia isn't really trusted, and often takes advantage of the people they are leading. It's actually been a really big hurdle we have had to overcome because we want the ladies of Carry 117 to know we aren't taking advantage of them or using their poverty for our gain. It's taken a long time to prove to them we actually care about them as a person, not just what they can produce."
I have learned we are all poor. It just looks different in different cultures and contexts. It's easy to walk into another culture and name their poverty. It's a totally different story to identify the poverty within you.
I have learned that efficiency isn't always the most important thing.
I have learned that quality is always better than quantity.
I have learned about Ethiopian culture, but honestly, I have learned about American culture. It's hard to see it when you are in it, but now that I have something to contrast it with, it helps me understand my own culture better.
I have learned about exporting and importing goods to the USA, something I never thought would come out of my mouth.
I have learned that "our" way isn't the "right way," and there is a difference between what is Biblical and what is cultural."
What is the best way people can support Carry 117?
"Buy our bags. Tell our story. Find places to sell our bags. We run the organization based off of the sales we make on bags, not on donations. Yes, we accept donations, but use them towards investing back into the ministry to make it better. The organization runs on sales. When you buy a bag, you carry a story. And for a group of women who have lived their whole life feeling like their voice doesn't matter, carrying a bag that carries their story is a way you give them a voice."
For more on Ashley, visit her website at ashleybohinc.com
To learn more about the Founder & CEO of Carry 117 check out this interview with Henok Berhanu.