The museum at the University was once a palace of Emperor Haile Selassie. But I don't remember much about it as I was learning too much about a fascinating young woman named Eyerusalem Haile. Her and the other LDP (Leadership Development Program) students met us at the university and served as our tour guides. LDP students are formally Compassion sponsored children who are then chosen to attend University as a sponsored college student. These kids were definitely the best and the brightest.
Eyerusalem (or Jerry for short) was enrolled in the project as a young girl. Her family practiced Orthodox Christianity, a very prevalent religion in Ethiopia. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ is only one, and equal to, 11 other angels. They view converts to Protestant Christianity as traitors and often persecute them. Jerry told me that she was saved at 13 years old and underwent physical and emotional punishment from her family. But she also praised God when her mother and sister eventually came to realize that Jerry had something they were missing in her love for Christ. When a family member was sick, they would ask Jerry "pray to your Jesus for her." Eventually, her mother and sister converted to Christianity and her father left the home.
Jerry is now a Senior Engineering student. She and 10 other college students use their own funds to rent and supply their own home for street boys. She said they will pray for God to lead them to the right boy and when they find him, usually they are told "I do not have a mother or a father." She said that they then tell the boys -
"You do have a Father and His name is Jesus. And I am your sister and this is your brother. We have come to show you how much your Father loves you."How unbelievably mature and awesome is that!!! Currently they have 7 boys living in their rented home. They supply their school fees, food, and clothing. Recently, the government found out what they were doing and after some initial resistance, they have issued the group their own office to work out of. All 7 of the boys are now Christians!!
So to re-count - Jerry was saved at 13, because she was in Compassion, because she was sponsored by a gentlemen in Canada. She then brought her mother and sister to Christ. And now has helped to bring 7 boys to the Lord. So 1+2+7 = 10 people affected (so far!) because of one sponsorship of $32 a month. And this girl is no where near finished. Her love of Jesus permeates every word, every smile, every touch. She radiates His love and will undoubtedly be bringing a huge family of believers into the Lord's presence with her.
Another LDP student later told us, "To me, Compassion is not about the clothing, or the shoes, or the school supplies. There are other organizations that could have assisted us with that. The greatest gift Compassion gave me was the gift of my salvation and my relationship with Jesus." Over lunch, 4 of the students gave their testimony about where they had come from and where they were now. One of the boys, who had had to drop out of school after 1 year when his parents couldn't afford to contribute any money for a school wall but later re-entered after he was registered with Compassion - told us:
"All of you, when you sponsor one child from any country, you are improving one family. So, you have to never give up. We hear that there is the economic crisis in your country. But we are praying for you. So God bless you, you are doing so many things, please never give up."
We then split up to visit the students homes and projects. My group stopped in to visit Jerry's project and were greeted with a mini-praise band of young men who treated us to Amharic praise songs and then had us join in with our very weak and straggly version of our own English version. Sorry guys, but we were pitiful. The Ethiopian people will be making up the Heavenly choir, that's for sure! Us American's may have dinner dish duty....
So here's where my break-down happened. I'm not known to cry a lot and often hold my emotions until I lay my head down at night. But to see these 20-somethings praising God, knowing where they came from, and seeing where America is. It broke my heart. They have it. They know what is important and it is not what car you are driving or how much you make per hour. And even more powerful was knowing that in all my weakness and my insecurity in myself - God allowed me to be a part of this mission to bring those children to Him. Even in my little sacrifice, He has multiplied it for His glory. And that is amazing.
After leaving the project, we left for Jerry's home where her mother and sisters were waiting and dressed in their traditional Ethiopian wear. They had the coffee beans roasting and the popcorn and bread ready! Jerry's home was situated on the side of a mountain in a little village of several other houses. As we descended down the rock steps to her house, it reminded me of Snow White's little cottage. Her family was so generous and began bringing out injera (the spongy bread you use to eat with), 3 sides, bananas, and oranges. Now after a full lunch, bread at her project, and then bread at her house - I could not eat another bite. And her mom was so funny, just like my Granny "go ahead, eat, eat.... I'm worried about her not eating!" This was a buffet any Southern woman would have been proud of! I asked Jerry if it was a typical meal and she whispered "only on holidays". So these white people in your home counts as a holiday! Very, very humbling to think they had prepared for days for our 2 hour visit.
Earlier in the week, one of the translators had asked me if this is what I thought Ethiopia would be like. I told her no - that we in America are use to seeing poverty. We have all seen the scruffy, homeless bearded man on the park bench. We have seen the soup kitchens. We have even seen snapshots of the poor and hungry African children. So that didn't really shock us. But what shocked me was to see that that snapshot is only a piece in a landscape of poverty. That it just never ends but is repeated over, and over, and over. And it is something they see every day. Not just when they go downtown or flip open a newspaper.
So for these kids to have grown up seeing that poverty with no role models to show them they could be more or have it any other way - Compassion has made a HUGE difference. And what impressed me most is that for each older Compassion student that I met, if they were getting ready for grad. school, or just preparing for a career - when I asked them if they would try to move away or come to America, they ALL said, "There is no way. You have seen it here. I have to stay to do this... or this... or help these people." Compassion prides itself on the integrity of it's organization - and I have seen that not only is the organization doing what it says it does - but it has instilled that same integrity into it's graduates. Integrity, humility, praise. Lessons many Americans would do well to learn.
Snapshots of the landscape of Ethiopia: