Adventure in ET – Part 1

The journey begins…now!

In a series of ten posts, Katrina and I will share the journal we kept during our trip to Ethiopia in 2008. We are looking back to remember and celebrate the expansion of our family through adoption. Here’s the intro to this series if you missed it.

So sit back, scan the selection of in-flight movies, keep your pillow, blanket and ear plugs close. Oh, and don’t forget to take your malaria meds!

May our story be one that draws us all into a deeper understanding of God’s grace.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

After 30 hours of travel, we touched down in Addis Ababa around 7:30pm local time. We were certainly ready to be off the plane, which had confined us for the better part of 15 hours. We had a brief refueling stop in Rome, but could not leave the plane. I looked hard for any historical points of interest as we landed and departed Rome…but was stymied.

(from Katrina: It was fascinating to go over all these bodies of water and land formations that we have studied for three years in home school. I flew by Ireland, over the island of Crete, the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara Desert.)

Things have been relatively uneventful. We were blessed with great driving to Chicago on Wednesday morning – no delays and plenty of time to get checked-in at the airport and have a restful lunch.
From Chicago we flew to Washington DC. In DC we changed airlines, which required us to return to the main terminal and check in with Ethiopian Air. The scene at the international ticket counter was our first experience of truly feeling like foreigners. Several non-American airlines were crammed into an area about half the size of the ticket counter at GR Ford International. The place was packed with bodies, garbage and luggage. In the end, we got our boarding passes and had our luggage ID numbers linked with our Ethiopian air tickets. So, hoping for the best (for us and our luggage) we went and waited another three hours for our flight to Addis Ababa.

New experiences continued on the flight over. English became the second language and we seemed to have been seated in the middle of an Ethiopian family reunion. Katrina and I tried to learn some Amharic (the primary language of Ethiopia) on our drive to Chicago. Unfortunately, our repertoire is not beyond “ow” (yes) “yikerta” (excuse me) and a few other poor attempts at “hello”, “thank you”, and “fine”. We watched bits and pieces of Prince Caspian 3 or 4 times and caught several unsatisfying but adequate cat naps.

Upon touching-down in Addis, there was thunderous clapping from many on the plane. Not sure whether that was custom or relief, but Katrina and I were totally aligned with them in their gladness to be finished with the flight. After exiting the plane, we followed the crowd to get our temporary Visa. The whole process was organized, but confusing. Our passports were being shuttled around with several others. The organizational side of me was going crazy as my eyes were glued to the ones I knew were ours. We are very grateful that all of our luggage made it – even with a last minute gate and airline change in DC.

The next important task of the evening was to exchange some money. Katrina and I had a friendly debate (we were too tired to argue) about how much to exchange.  We consulted with the three couples we are traveling with, which only added to our confusion. In the end, we all ended up with a huge stack of money since the rate of exchange is about 10 birr = 1 US dollar. Seems strange to tip with a 10 birr bill.

We had a meal tonight at our hotel with the rest of the group. Our contact here, Alemu, gave us a few instructions for the next day or so. Tomorrow we will take a driving tour of Addis. The rest of the day is for recovering after our long trip. Saturday we leave for Awassa, which is 4-5 hours south of Addis. There we will meet with the birth mother of our daughters and any other family.  The roads are reported to be good (at least by Ethiopian standards).

Well, it’s now after midnight local time. I should have gone to bed 20 minutes ago because I just fried my buddy’s power converter while trying to charge my laptop. Yes, I am a degreed electrical engineer so let the jokes begin. I figured all I needed to do was make a series of plug connections that got me from the US plug to the African outlet. Makes sense, right? I also know the voltage here is 240, but that’s why I was using the converter. Things were great for about 10 minutes, but then a hiss and a pop were promptly followed by a thin trail of smoke that rose alongside my desk. I quickly tossed the converter in a sink of water to stop the melting (no, it wasn’t still plugged in) and prayed there were no smoke detectors. All is well…mostly. Katrina is already in bed and doesn’t know yet that due to my inept plugging and converting she may not have a way to dry her hair in the morning.

(from Katrina:  One of the families we were scheduled to travel with received word on Monday that something with their paperwork was amiss so they were not able to come. What a hard shock that would be!)

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th. Culturally, the convergence of a day and date that is unlucky. A 24-hour period to take care with sidewalk cracks, black cats, broken mirrors, walking under ladders and opening umbrellas inside. For our family, Friday the 13th is significant for very non-superstitious reasons.

Friday, June 13, 2008. A day when dreams transformed to reality through the vehicle of a photograph. Four photographs, actually. Images of two little girls destined in eternity past to be our daughters. That Friday was filled with surprise, wonder, anxiety, relief and joy. There was also sorrow as those grainy images revealed two sisters. Orphaned. Waiting, wanting and wondering. Young lives bound by blood, and until that Friday, bound to an uncertain future.

Their story was not one of bad luck. Sure, a shadow from poor choices hounded them. But other choices, made miles away, would offer these girls hope, and a different story. The necessary surrender of a mother was met by the obedient surrender of another mother – and father. A choice to abandon was redeemed by a choice to receive. Accept. Adopt.

A little less than two-months after that Friday the 13th, Katrina and I journeyed to bring our girls home. We captured our thoughts, feelings and experiences during that trip in a journal. Our desire was to document the unique “birthing” of our daughters into our family. Some of what we wrote was serious. Some humorous. Some interesting. Some boring. Some heart-breaking.

Recently, Katrina and I felt a nudge (okay, it was more like a blind-sided push) to go back and replay our story of adoption. To blow the dust of our journal and reconnect, re-focus, re-energize and celebrate the last three years. To rest in God’s crazy plan (a good kind of crazy) to pack five straight-haired Dutch people and two Ethiopian beauties into a 1300 sq. ft. house. A plan that isn’t willy-nilly, fateful or based on luck. Rather, it’s a divine strategy of family making. Intentional. Unbelievable. Radical. Wonderful.

As another June 13th approaches, we hope you’ll join us in a look back. Over the next two weeks we will share our travel journal in this blog. God has taught us much since those first photos of our girls burst into our inbox. Perhaps you’ll learn something of Him through our story as well.

Today, we celebrate our girls anew. We celebrate our boys who have sacrificed much to make room for their sisters. We celebrate family. We celebrate a God who is not bound by our superstitions or whims. A God who allows us to choose, yet moves history according to His mission of redemption, restoration and adoption. He is a good Father. And Friday, June 13th, 2008 was a good day.

This is War

I’m the proverbial “nice guy.” I don’t like conflict. I dislike delivering even slightly disappointing news. I can barely stomach telling cute, semi-toothless school age children that I won’t buy their chocolates, meat products, wrapping paper or magazines. If I wasn’t so Dutch (a.k.a. “Mr. Tight-wad”), I’d succumb every time to their wide-eyed, heart-grabbing salesmanship to avoid hurt feelings.

That said, don’t mistake me for a milquetoast man. I have passions. And convictions. And desire. At present, I’m purposefully engaged in a conflict that has nothing nice about it. In fact, it’s an all-out war. A life and death struggle that incites me to hot, righteous anger. It transforms this non-confrontational “nice guy” into a fierce warrior.

This war is fought over children – orphaned children more specifically. Here’s one author’s perspective: “The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” (Adopted for Life, p.65) Caring for children is spiritual warfare? Absolutely.

This war is raging in my home. It boils in the bedroom next to me where two little girls sleep. Two years ago they slept in an Ethiopian orphanage. Warfare spills into in a bedroom downstairs where three boys are not sleeping (that’s a battle of a different kind). The battle simmers in my heart as I wonder at the wisdom, humor and mystery of God as day-by-day I cling to his sovereign care in melding my family of seven together. In the midst of this melding, the Enemy tirelessly hammers at a wedge, intent on cracking the oneness of my marriage and the unity of my family. I am at war.

This war is fought in hearts and minds. In streets and alleys. In mud huts and two-story homes. It’s a global scourge, with Truth and Love on one side, Lies and Deception the other. The Enemy of Truth seeks to disrupt and destroy families. To multiply fatherless children. To perpetuate suffering. To encourage selfishness. His mission is to keep orphaned children trapped in their plight by insulating and isolating us in perceptions of peace and affluence. He fosters the lie that the problem is “out there” and we can’t make a difference.

But we can. The problem is here. This is war. So I fight.

As I’ve fought, I’ve experienced some unexpected personal consequences. I’ve been led to face the deepest, ugliest, most selfish places of my heart. Over a number of years, God, with a tender fury, has kindly hacked and pulled at roots of pride – pride grown from seeds planted long ago by the Enemy. Roots that have strangled and starved my redeemed heart. The uprooting has been painful. But my Lord is gentle.

As the roots have come up, my heart is breathing again. It has warmed – warmed to risky obedience. Two years ago, obediently and with an anxious hope this riskiness led Katrina and me to a faraway place. There we looked deep and long into the wanting eyes of a fatherless child. Two, actually. Children made in the Creator’s image. Made with purpose, yet left alone. They were hopeless, yet hoping. Wondering, and wonderful. Homeless, but now home. Here.

Still, the spiritual battle continues. And in this battle God is revealing the state of my spiritual contentedness. How? By asking me to give without expectation for reciprocation. Giving exposes my tender soul to abuse and usury. Caring for children, particularly orphans, is high-level soul exposure. There is no immediate payback. No record-keeping. No settling-up. This type of one-way giving is fertile ground for growth in Christ-likeness. It is painful, thankless and sacrificial. It is an expression, in the words of the Apostle James, of “pure religion.” (James 1:27) God is using two abandoned children to bring a greater purity to my religion.

James also says that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Real faith is active. The war to reclaim orphaned children demands warriors who fight with their unique gifting. For some this means giving monetarily. For others it’s providing medical care, building an orphanage or digging a well. Others battle by petitioning our Heavenly Father on behalf of the world’s 140 million orphaned children. And for some, God opens their hearts to adoption.

No matter the weapon we wield, care for the orphan is an outworking of grace and obedience. It’s faith in action. A gracious giving back to God. A reflecting back of His sacrificial love for us. It’s what we must do. Let’s not forget that we all have an orphan’s heritage – lost and hopeless in our sin but for the rescue by Jesus Christ through adoption. (Eph. 1:5)

We are at war. How will you fight? November 7 was Orphan Sunday. November is National Adoption Month. Respond to God’s call to fight for needy children. Do it in through your unique provision, giftedness and circumstance – for His glory.