It feels impossible to express the joy the children of Ethiopia gifted me. It feels impossible to express the courage and strength of the women I now call sisters. It feels impossible to tell the story of how I flew across the world with 11 strangers and flew back with the only 11 people who will ever understand why I’ve got the joy down in my heart.
But I’ll try.
The first conversation I eavesdropped on upon my arrival in Ethiopia was between Nathan, our fearless team leader, and Tizita, our sharp-witted and gracious translator. I was delirious from 20+ hours of travel and I definitely did not catch the conversation in its entirety, but what I took away from it was the people’s response to a drought was to pray for rain and to rejoice in a God who was so good as to send rain. They didn’t complain that He waited an entire year to send rain. They simply rejoiced.
In broken places in Africa, God is their only resolve and our brothers and sisters in Christ there see so clearly that every good and perfect thing is from Him.
We, in the western world, are also living in our own broken, impoverished mess. Yet, we attempt to solve problems entirely on our own and take all the credit for doing so. When we run out of natural resources, we use our muscles and money to take someone else’s resources. We buy water. We fly farther and dig deeper in our quest to resolve.
In fixing everything ourselves, we numb our need for an almighty God and we miss out on the joy that comes from resting in Him.
This revelation profoundly impacted the way I processed my experiences in Addis Ababa.
And I experienced a lot.
I experienced incredible food, rich culture and richer coffee, but none of that stacked up to the joy of the Lord experienced through His people.
There was the 2-year-old girl who I carried in my arms for five consecutive days. Not a single word was exchanged between us, but a bond was formed that could only come from a loving God.
There was the 14-year-old boy, left orphaned when his mother died suddenly six months ago. He sang to me in Amharic; I sang to him in English. Those songs and our shared belief in an almighty God who instills joy, was all we needed to form a forever friendship.
There was the unemployed woman living in a broken home with the crushing responsibility of her sick son and a newborn baby. She finds peace that surpasses all understanding in a God who tells us to not be anxious, but rather, to present our requests to him with prayer, petition and thanksgiving. She finds unexplainable joy in her suffering, because she has seen God show up and she trusts that He will continue to do so.
There were the 100+ kids who didn’t care what color my skin was, what language I spoke, how much money I made or whether or not I had a contagious disease.
It was among these people that I became the most joyful version of myself— a version of myself that I know is what God had in mind when He thought me up.
Just days into our trip I thought, I traveled halfway across the world on a mission trip, and I will travel home richer than I left. I will go home with a newfound understanding of what it means to seek God first. I will go home with renewed thanksgiving for all of our Lord’s provisions. I will go home having experienced what it is to be equal with all of humanity at the foot of the cross.
In inventorying all I had been blessed with, I became convinced I had not given them enough. I was certain I had not given them enough merit calling the trip a mission. I was certain I had not given them enough to justify having used other people’s contributions to travel all that way. I was certain I had failed.
And I was certainly wrong.
In addition to being an eavesdropper, I am a compulsive singer of children’s songs. Each day of our trip, I sat on the ground, covered in kids, and sang the same song over and over and over again.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
Down in my heart.
Down in my heart.
I sang a slow exaggerated version, hoping the kids would catch on. Each day, they sang a little louder and with a little more confidence.
On my last day with them, we belted it. We sang I’ve got the joy in English. We sang I’ve got the joy in Amharic. And when I retired from my post as honorary children’s choir director at the CarePoint, they demanded an encore.
It was in that moment I was reminded that I was created by an almighty God and by virtue of that, I am enough. They shared their joy with me and I shared mine with them and this world is a little more like heaven because of the love we shared.
We’ll never know who gave or got more, but when it comes to spreading our love and our joy, I’d like to believe our God isn’t keeping score.
Interested in going on a mission trip with Children’s HopeChest? Learn more through our Get Involved page.