One of my neighbors works for the CURE hospital in Addis Ababa and we often marvel at her stories of children’s lives being changed both physically and spiritually at the facility. Many children with club feet, severe burns, and cleft palates are served for free and their quality of life is drastically improved.
A couple of weeks ago, we joined my friend’s family for a visit to CURE. When Sarah heard about our impending trip, she dashed into her room, riffled through a drawer, and turned up with the ten birr she received for her most recent tooth loss. She declared that she wanted to give her birr to the children in the hospital. On the way to the hospital, we stopped at a grocery store to buy candy to give to the patients and their families. Sarah went in and bought three lollipops to give away. Our friends also brought crayons, colored pencils, coloring sheets, bubbles, and baby toys to share.
In the children’s ward, Sarah gave out her lollipops and then sidled up to a ten year-old girl named Salamawit. She diligently colored a stripped kitten picture while the girl colored a picture of a monkey. They greeted one another and occasionally looked up and smile at each other. When Samalawit groaned in pain from her healing surgery, Sarah rubbed her back. She didn’t leave her side until it was time to go. I circulated among the girls and greeted staff and patients. Anna found her niche giving out string bracelets she made herself and collecting pictures and taping to the walls. Lauren enjoyed talking to the babies and giving out teething rings. Our friends’ children blew bubbles for the little ones and Jason used his Amharic to comfort a five year-old boy. I think we were blessed just as much as the children we visited.
My friend tells me that most people who come through CURE thank God and consider it an incredible gift receive such life-changing medical care. I witnessed this first hand when I watched a grateful couple holding their healing toddler. His upper lip was covered with scabs, but he looked well on the way to recovery. They were beaming as the collected their things to leave.
I think I can learn a lot from my children. What if I responded to need with the same enthusiasm as Sarah? What if I patiently stayed with people who were hurting? What if I slowed down and noticed who needed me with more diligence?
Story #2 = Newest Embarrassment
A few weeks ago, I was driving to the market to pick up some fruit and vegetables when I received a frantic phone call. I pulled over and answered. It was Jason.
“Emily, I have an emergency!” he announced. My mind searched for possibilities- Did his car break down? Was he hurt? Was someone else hurt?
“I split my pants,” he said in a hushed tone, “Could you bring me another pair?” I couldn’t help laughing, but I turned around, drove home, and picked out a few pairs of pants, since I wasn’t sure which ones would match.
Later, I got the whole story. Jason was walking through the college library when one of his students slowly stood and placed his hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“Mr. Craig, there is a problem with your pants,” he whispered, “in the back part.” Jason wondered if he had sat in some dirt, but sure enough there was a nine-inch split showing all of London and France. He had actually split them the last time he was wearing them and had mistakenly worn them again. Thinking on his feet, he went to his office and got some scotch tape. After calling me, he went to the bathroom and taped the pants from the inside. Since there is a lot of traffic in Addis, it was going to take some time for me to stop at the house and then get to his school. He might have to start teaching with the split. He pulled down his jacket a bit, because he said it looked like he had a wedgie. He returned to his classroom and started moving desks around. With every lurch, he could hear the tape stretching and crinkling. It did not make a very good fix.
Class started at 9:00 and I arrived at 9:02. Jason gave his class a warm up worksheet and then jogged out to meet me. The first pair of pants he held up had a hole, too. The second pair was a go. He thanked me, changed the pants, and got back to class without anyone else finding out…until he told all of his colleagues at lunch.
Story #3 = Culture Stress
Just as our lungs and legs have had to acclimate to running a mile above sea level, our emotional and spiritual selves have had to adapt to a new way of doing life. We won’t overly spiritualize it–sometimes living in Ethiopia just plain rough. We are so thankful for our fulfilling jobs, our warm home, and the our community of expat and Ethiopian friends. Some days, though, no matter how bright the sun is shining, it can still be stormy. Culture stress is the stutter-stepping of being off balance. No one likes that feeling. For example, driving will never be relaxing as people and animals dart across the streets and diesel-belching wrecks wander from lane to lane— off-balance. Moving away from familiar scenery and a strong network of loved ones creates emotional holes, which are never quite filled in the same way–again, off balance. Not always understanding what the people are saying in the check-out line — off-balance. Living in close community with 10 other families, including our collective 35 kids– sometimes off balance.
My Top 3 Culture Stress Moments Last Week:
1. A big man driving a small pink Toyota Yaris tried to run me off the road.
2. Many things are hard to find and require asking numerous people for directions: i.e. 4 hours to find a wheel barrow tire and 2 days to find a piece of garden hose.
3. The internet was so slow this week, I longed for carrier pigeons.
In the moment these were my intense dramas, but now, just a few days later they are hilarious and ridiculous.
Our Top 3 Reasons Why the Culture Stress is Worth it:
1. This week, I met with students to discuss marriage advice and troubleshoot youth ministry strategies over coffee.
2. On Tuesday, Emily’s students were so enthralled by her story-telling they did not want to go to lunch until she was finished.
3. Yesterday, Wakuma (the student many of us helped to complete his university degree) surprised me in my office with a framed graduation photo (2 poses).
We try to laugh more than cry and pray more than cuss. The leadership axiom is true: a tea’s flavor comes out in hot water. Emily and I are becoming aware of our own soft spots. We are no saints, but are we are trying to embrace moments of stress as a sanctifying process. We can sense God’s presence in it.