Friday, 28 January 2011


A year ago yesterday I arrived home after spending two weeks in Ethiopia. My trip totally changed my perspective on life. One day shortly after I got home, I was walking around Target when I overhead two teenage girls talking. Their conversation inspired this essay that I wrote for my college composition class.

Not Enough Space
            White. That is the first color I notice as I enter Target. The floors are a gleaming white. The walls are a passive white. The rows of food, makeup, shoes, toys, gadgets, books, movies, music, and clothes are spotlessly white. It is as if Target is boldly proclaiming, “Look how powerful we are – we can keep even the floor perfectly white.” This is not what I am used to. As I walk around in a daze, a few people scuttle around with their heads buried in floorlength shopping lists. No one looks at me; no one smiles. Everyone is too busy. Abruptly, a sharp voice breaks through the quiet. “You know what sucks?” a teenager, huddled in front of the flashy Lady Gaga cd display, complains to her friend. “My iPod is running out of space.” I stare in shock at the girl with her Hollister shorts, glistening hair, and flawless makeup. She notices my stare and frown angrily at me. Ducking down my head, I catch a glance of my fingernails. I notice the Ethiopian dirt still stuck stubbornly underneath my nails. In Ethiopia, it seemed normal to have dirty fingernails, but inside Target next to this girl, I feel strangely out of place. As my gaze lingers on my fingernails, I’m transported back to that mud and straw church in Kore, Ethiopia.
            With a sinking feeling in my chest, I grimly counted the number of Ethiopian children packed into the sweltering, dusty, windowless Sunday school “room.” Perched on the rough wooden benches or on a sibling’s lap, at least thirty had to have been there. I sighed, for we only had twenty-five coloring pages. Reluctantly, I began to pass them out and asked the older ones to share with their younger brothers or sisters. The babies with no precious Adam and Eve coloring page stared up at me in bewilderment as they watched their older siblings viciously attack the unsuspecting mother and father of the world with crayons. Soon, dirty Crayola wrappers littered the packed dirt floor. Someone had tried to make the ground look cozier by covering the sun-baked dirt floor with a blue tarp, but after years of constant use, the edges were frayed and gaping holes had appeared throughout. My eyes traveled from the floor up to the walls of our structure. Like most houses I had seen in Ethiopia, these walls were made of a mixture of mud, straw, and animal waste held together by a weak bamboo frame. Once again, a well-meaning church member had attempted to warm the Sunday school room by hanging up a faded timeline of the Old Testament. The smiling, white, Americanized faces, though a normal sight in Minnesota churches, looked strange and foreign in this dark room. Suddenly, a little girl in a bedraggled, browned tutu started crying. Because we could not speak to each other, she simply pointed to the big boy next to her. At my stern look, he sorrowfully opened his clenched fist to reveal five precious, broken crayons. I motioned for him to give two back to his sister and then returned to the rusty, rickety table I had been sitting on. Guiltily, I thought of our bucket of crayons back at home. No one wanted them but we always forgot to throw them away, so they sat in a dark cupboard collecting dust. Here, the sticks of colored wax were cherished, protected, and fought over.
            My reflection shattered when I felt someone’s inquisitive eyes on me. I glanced up and caught the eye of yet another tiny girl wearing a long black skirt, ragged green t-shirt, and a denim jacket with an optimistic bunch of white cloth flowers sewn on. Her broad forehead accentuated her deep, solemn, wistful eyes. In broken Amharic, I asked for her name. “Semae manow?” I tried to click and gasp like I had heard Ethiopians pronounce it. She giggled timidly and replied, “Sarah. I speak English.” As I took a step toward her, she shrunk back into the giggly group of girls behind her. “How old are you?” I asked slowly. My guess is eight. I thought. She looks the same size as my brother. “Turteen,” she pronounced painfully. I looked at her tiny frame in shock. “Thirteen?!” I gasped. There was no way. She nodded, and I felt tears prick my eyes. With her tiny wrists swallowed up by her sleeves and her shrunken body hidden in her jacket, this thirteen year-old girl was the size of my eight year-old brother. Her thin hand tugged gently at my sleeve. “I want to be a pilot when I grow up!” she whispered proudly. I grinned, thankful to change the topic. “Why?” I inquired. “So I can leave Ethiopia,” she stated matter-of-factly. And as I looked around the room at thirty little kids covered in dust, and recalled the despair of thousands of homeless people I had seen, as well as smelled the cloud of dirt and waste that covered them, and the staggering statistics like five million orphans in Ethiopia, I suddenly realized that Sarah would never leave Ethiopia. She would never be an airline pilot. Even if she did, there would be millions of kids in her country who would not. In two years, when most girls her age are learning how to drive, she will be learning how to parent.
            That is what I remembered as I heard this teenage girl in Target spilling out her many woes to her sympathetic friend. My anger grew as I walked by the school supply section and saw bins filled with boxes and boxes of crayons. No one saw the crayons, and no one cared; there were no boys running around Target, greedily hoarding their precious five crayons. That, for some reason, made me angry. Ethiopia had changed me. That mud and straw hut with thirty dirt-covered and dirt-poor kids had rescued me from a typical self-absorbed life by opening my eyes to the suffering that is so foreign to America. I glanced back one last time at the girl with everything, worried about her sleek, shiny, and now full, iPod. That could have been me.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Favorite Book

     One of the best books I've ever read, and definitely the best book about Ethiopia, is a true story called "There is No Me Without You" by Melissa Fay Greene. It follows the life of an Ethiopia woman who, after the death of her daughter and husband, opens up her home to orphans of AIDS. It is written so captivatingly (is that even a word?) that I couldn't put it down. I finished it in a matter of days.
     To read Melissa Fay Greene's blog, click here.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

My Sisters

    Last February, we brought these two girls home from Ethiopia. Sadie (on the left) is 16 months and Lizzie (right) is three and a half. While in Ethiopia last year, I was able to meet Lizzie and Sadie (then Lemlem and Fikre, respectively) in their orphanage. To read about seeing my sisters, click here.  It's been almost a year since they came home, but it feels like we've had them forever. It's definitely hard sometimes to have seven kids in our family, but most of the time, it's a blast.
     I'm hoping to meet their birth father when I'm in Ethiopia next month.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Coming Home

Last year, I blogged about coming home on my blog, Confessions of a Homeschooler. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The memories of everything I'd experienced and everyone I'd met were so fresh and raw in my mind that I was reminded that I wasn't in Ethiopia almost every second. I knew the only way my depression would end would be as the memories grew dimmer, but I didn't want to forget! I was stuck and it was awful. But God was so faithful and lead me through the first two weeks of being home. Here's what I first wrote after getting home:

Hello America! Emma is now home from Ethiopia. I'm an exhausted, overwhelmed, sobbing mess. I'm not exactly sure why, but I haven't been able to stop crying since coming home. I met some of the most amazing people I've ever met while in Ethiopia and I made some of the best friends I've ever made and spent two weeks serving God in perfect weather and just like that, it's over. Saying goodbye to the Ethiopians was probably harder than saying goodbye to my family because I don't know if I'll ever see them again. I'll be doing something, like opening a bag of chips, and all of a sudden I'll realize that it's over and it's kind of overwhelming. I don't think it's really hit me that I'm back home. Part of me feels like any minute, Helena and his van will pull up and drive me through a dusty city to a church. But he's not.
I think God may be calling me to work in Ethiopia. Before my trip, I prayed that if God wanted me to serve him there, that he'd show me through this trip. And I'm pretty sure he did. I didn't get sick the entire time - not even when I ate "traditional bread" from a woman's cupboard with flies swarming around it, not even when I accidentally stuck my toothbrush under the water, not even when I went swimming in a green pool with little worms stuck to the side! I love the Ethiopians. And not just the ones I met - I could pretty much look at Ethiopians all day and not get tired of them. And the ones I did met were amazing. On the first day, we met the elders of the church we would be partnering with. These men are just beaming from head to toe, obviously men of God. They were so dignified, handsome, and godly. It was a joy just to be around them. Then they would tell us their testimonies and not one of them grew up in a Christian home. All of them had been on drugs, or part of a gang, or been in jail before. Then they encountered Christ and their lives completely and utterly changed. If I hadn't heard the testimonies from their own mouths, I never would have believed them. A man who used to be a "gangaster" (as the Ethiopians say it) and slept with girls now can't even talk in front of a group of people that his fiance is sitting in because he's so conscious that she's watching him and so desperate to say the right thing. It was such a joy and a privilege to hear their testimonies - that was probably my favorite part of the trip.
Like I said, coming home has been rough. I didn't get my usual amount of sleep on the trip, and then I missed an entire night flying home, so right now, I'm exhausted. Plus, after working with kids so much, seeing my sisters, and saying goodbye to my new Ethiopian family, I'm pretty emotionally drained. And lastly, I feel sort of useless all of a sudden and unsure of what to do. What do I do now that I'm back in Minnesota? Unpack? I need to know what to do. So the past two days have been rough. Even though I'm home, please keep praying for me. I miss Ethiopia a lot. This morning, during my devotions, God showed me a verse that I'd never seen before and that has been very encouraging with coming home:
(this was after Jesus healed the demon-possessed man)
"As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled." Mark 5:18-20.
I don't know why God didn't permit me to stay in Ethiopia, but that's okay. Apparently God knows that I'll serve him, and Ethiopia, better from Minnesota. My prayer is that all my stories and pictures and tears will show how much the Lord did for me while I was in Ethiopia and that all who hear and see will marvel.

My Favorite Photos From Last Year

I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


     In exactly twenty-two days, I will be flying to Ethiopia for my second time. I went last year in January with a team from my church and this year I'm going with my church again, but at a different time, with different people, and doing different things! We have a tentative schedule of things we hope to do while we're in Ethiopia, but as we found out last year, plans change. A lot.
     I'm still trying to get used to the fact that I'm doing this again. Not only am I going again, but I'm going soon. Like in three weeks. Once I get this blog more organized, I'll start posting about my thoughts, my news, and my journal entries and photos from last year.