When we were in Ethiopia in February 2015, our seventh trip (Harry Neufeld would have been pleased), we went to Wonji and met with these poor ladies, many of whom had been infected with HIV through no fault of their own. They spoke passionately and persuasively about the fact that their own community, their own neighbours, had turned on them. No one seemed to care; they had been discarded on the human garbage pile. They even thought God had abandoned them, but He hadn’t. He sent Bekelech and Segada to rescue them. They offered microloans and seed money so they could sew, knit, and bake their way out of this hopelessness. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did!
We were also made aware through the very eloquent, sincere inspiring talk that a very bright, 14-year-old orphan boy named Leta Tulema gave. He seemed visibly scared, being in front of the TV cameras and international guests, probably having never done it before. But he was on a mission, on a road he couldn’t fail to travel. He was not speaking for himself; he was poignant and so selfless. He couldn’t be afraid because he was also speaking for 30 or 40 other young people, many living totally alone, left to survive by their own devices.
They say the fear of public speaking for many is greater than the fear of dying! Can you imagine the fear of public speaking if your very survival depended on how good a speech you gave? That’s what this young man was confronted with! That’s why, for me, he is one in a million. He implored us with a most powerful message, to please help!
When you experience something like this, first-hand, you can’t help but love and respect the poor! Truly the meek shall inherit the earth! No wonder God loves them so much; they are much like his son, Jesus. They are the real heroes, retaining their dignity and self-respect while facing life’s storms head-on! That day this young man had drawn water and inspiration and courage from the well of wisdom and knowledge! He wore proudly the belt of righteousness and responsibility. What a great moment that was. I will never forget it.
Our small delegation got the message, loud and clear. We immediately told Bekelech that we were inspired by her intervention and that we wanted to work with her and Segada to alleviate this situation as soon as possible.
A part of this project is to provide additional microloans for the ladies, as well as training in business and health. For the orphans, it’s food and lodging and school fees for the year. Additionally, it includes the construction of a women’s center and café as a location for them to sell their finished products—for many, the difference between life and death. We are also renovating the school, which was in dire need of repairs.
I can only tell you that this is something very real, very special, very powerful that happens occasionally when you are in Ethiopia, when the inner spirits of people touch when they are in close proximity. When you are so close (only a few feet away) that when your eyes meet, it pierces the very private edge of your souls. It’s as if you become one human being, one person, one spirit!
You can’t experience this from reading a book or watching a video or a TV show. You have to physically be there. For a brief moment, their vulnerability lets you in. You become enmeshed, two souls in communion, with God as the conduit. You feel their sadness, their hopelessness, their hurt, their pain, their discouragement, and the unfairness of it all!
From you they sense the empathy, they know you really care, and they feel the love and the security from knowing you will provide a hand up for them. You also see in them the beauty, the courage, the bravery, the strength, the decency, the humility, the politeness, and the dignity of people with a never-give-up attitude! Human beings with a sense of community, sharing everything they have with their neighbours. Their closeness to God. Spiritually, how advanced they are compared to us.
They have all the best human qualities available to man. They just don’t have money! They have something much more important, however. They have spiritual currency, and lots of it! Sometimes, we might be smug and think that the help only flows one way, but nothing could be further from the truth. Others think, and justifiably so, that in the end the African nations might save us! That ultimately they will provide to us the gift of spiritual enlightenment and renewal.