Dear Friends & Family,
Sitting in my sunroom on a quiet Saturday morning, I'm a bit sad to be home from Addis Ababa. It was a gift to be with such a great team who nurtured and supported one another and to see such an incredible project. Forgive me for not writing sooner--we didn't have access to the internet during the trip.
I’ll get right down to the good stuff. The project we visited is based out of three different neighborhood communities--Lideta, Bole and Kolfe--the HIV/AIDS home-based care project reaches more than 4000 HIV+ individuals and their families (from "Who We Are"
We were privileged to go with staff members into the homes of many beneficiaries--those HIV+ individuals enrolled in the program who receive medical treatment, economic assistance, family support, nutritional counseling, spiritual support and anti-retroviral treatment.
The most striking thing was the faithfulness and love of the staff there. From each of the centers, staff goes into communities carrying out home visits, and at each center they host Bible studies, community support groups, and medical evaluation & nutritional support, development of micro-business ventures through support groups. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in terms of holistic approach to each individual's needs. They even employ “EPTs” or Expert Patient Trainers, who are patients who have exceptional track record with adherence to the program and who can walk alongside those who receive positive diagnosis and are grappling with the drastic and terrifying implications of this news and say “See, I am doing ok. Let’s walk through this together.”
From conversations with project staff and observations of their daily work, it was evident that they are motivated deeply by compassion and commitment to the individuals and families they have come to know in the program. Many said that their favorite thing to do is to go on home visits, which I can now understand. Being welcomed into the homes of the beneficiaries was incredible. Many of the HIV+ individuals and their families are deeply stigmatized from their communities and families, and most, in spite of their deep struggles, demonstrate love, hospitality, generosity and deep empathy for others.
The beneficiaries shared their struggles with us during individual counseling sessions, group support meetings & Bible studies, and home visits. Their situations are very difficult. Many live in fear of others finding out their positive status. Many live in constant pain from the effects of the disease. Many, if people know of their status, are forced out of their homes by landlords who drastically raise the rent of their corrugated metal and dirt-floored homes each month. Attached to this unstable dynamic is fear of the future—where will they live if this prejudicial treatment continues? How will they care for their children? What will it be like to again try to hide their sickness and eventually be found out and have to be displaced? What happens if their health takes a turn for the worse? Who will be with them and care for them when they are dying? Who will care for their children?
Most of those we met were mothers, most widows who are sick and caring for several children without any other support. But the stories we heard over and over were of God's faithfulness to them through the project--that they can now come to the community center and the support groups and be encouraged, pray with one another, and tell their stories. These healing communities cry with one another and laugh together. Simply beautiful.
During our time, our team carried out home visits with staff, did individual counseling, and led several support groups and community bible studies at the different centers. We were in way over our heads. None of us felt equipped to be counseling or hearing the stories that we were hearing, but that is a good thing. Through our inadequacy and feeling overwhelmed, we saw God working and healing. We were reminded of the healing that takes place when someone is able to tell their story, to share their fears, to be heard and loved and accepted, and to pray to a God who hears. We all need to be reminded of a God who hears.
This is long, so I best end, but in other exciting news, I started a new job last month as assistant in the Missions department at Covenant Seminary. I am excited that this job offers opportunity to push forward in Covenant’s internship program—hopefully allowing other classmates to have the opportunity to carry out their pastoral, counseling and ministry internships alongside people like those we met and learned from in Ethiopia this past week. Another part of the job is planning trips just like this one, enabling students to have the gift of experiences like we have had this past few weeks serving and learning from the faithful in Addis Ababa.
To see God at work throughout the world in individuals and through the faithful world-wide church is a life-changing (and in my opinion best) way to integrate theological training. Our theology should be a lived one-- an understanding of who God is and how he is present in the world experienced through wrestling, suffering, doubt, mourning, joy, seeing faithful saints minister and worship together, failure, grace and conversations in the homes of people drastically different and not so different from us.
I would love to hear how you are doing these days--over a tiny cup of coffee (Ethiopia style), tiny cup of tea (India & Nepal, Kenya & Tanzania style), big cup of coffee or tea (St. Louis style)--and share where you are wrestling or in joy, where you need to see or clearly see God at work.
Also, please take a look at the website
and see what the project is about, and continue to pray with me for the people we met there. Pictures to come.