Here is what is harder: helping you GET IT. I can’t duplicate the look on these mothers’ faces as they describe how sponsorship has changed their lives. I can’t translate the smells, the songs, the laughter, the hope. I wish you could be here. It is no secret I love this country. Fine…guilty. I am not objective. Lots of reasons, including these two:
But dear reader, this place is magical. Dare I say it is holy ground. It might sound strange to say that amidst such suffering and struggle, but it is true nonetheless. I always plan to sink into the despair of solidarity when I’m here, but Ethiopia jukes me every time into just loving the tarnation out of it, even the hard parts.
Probably because of stories like Seada Nesa.
Seada lost her husband to HIV six years ago. HIV+ herself and without any means to support her three children, her little family skirted the edge of starvation; all three children barely survived. Her oldest son, Siraj, worked 12 hours as a day laborer in place of school, bringing home less than $1 a day. Look at this beautiful boy, trying his hardest to support his family at the age of 8...then 9...still 10.
In January, Help One Now spent weeks in the community, identifying the 150 most vulnerable families in town. Criteria included: widows, HIV+ family members, no income, no outside support, multiple children, mentally or physically disabled family members, and no extended family. Not surprisingly, Seada and her family were selected, and all three children were sponsored beginning this January.
In just nine short months, all three kids are back in school, they eat three times a day instead of once every other day, Seada is on daily ARV’s (HIV meds), their new cow is producing milk, and they are learning to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops on the land they already owned. Siraj told us, “I used to work all day and I was so worried for my mother. Now I am in school and I am not afraid for her anymore.” Amen and hallelujah. That moment alone was worth the entire trip.
This family was starving nine months ago and now they are rising.
HON employs a double-sponsorship model – every child sponsored twice to produce a two-fold result:
- Provide basic stabilization: daily food, school fees, uniforms and supplies, and medical resources for the entire family.
- Develop the family economically: teach modern farming techniques (most Ethiopians have extraordinarily large lots which can be entirely cultivated for food), provide cows, goats, and chickens and the training to raise and resource them, identify existing gifts, skills, and assets of the parents to harness into income-producing outlets, and equip the HIV+ parents to address and overcome social stigma and regain solid footing in their community.
This goes well beyond just getting through the day. We met four families this week that are literally thriving via double sponsorships: they are now small-business owners, farmers and gardeners, and all their children are in school which absolutely isn’t a guarantee in developing countries like Ethiopia.
I can’t tell you how encouraged I was to hear from the HIV+ mamas. Having received support (which translates to honor) from HON, empowering them toward visible sustainability, the neighbors who formerly shunned them have begun welcoming them with open arms. The stigma is turning. The Gunchire community is learning that HIV is no longer a death sentence or contagious by proximity. In turn, more HIV sufferers in secret are coming forward for meds, empowered by these brave survivors who are finding their place in the community again. How exciting! What good news for this town and its people!
Yall, SPONSORSHIP is good news for this town and its people. It absolutely provides the monthly capacity for this long-term development. Locally led and locally managed, the brightest minds in Ethiopia are in charge here. We just provide the impetus for their good work.
Our goal is to double sponsor all 150 identified children; a total of 300 new sponsors. Like I said yesterday, in a small town like Gunchire, with 150 at-risk families stabilized and empowered, this literally has the power to turn the entire community around. Hundreds of children are now in school instead of working, hundreds of families are kept intact instead of devastated by disruption, and ten years from now, hundreds of young adults will contribute to the local economy and take their rightful place as the next generation of local leaders.
Here is what you get, New Sponsor:
- The certain knowledge that you are AN AWESOME PERSON CONTRIBUTING TO AWESOME WORK. High five. This matters so much. It is changing real lives, real families, an entire community. You win. You rule.
- Some goodies: every new sponsor gets a Help One Now sticker, t-shirt, and a copy of Interrupted from yours truly. BOOM. You’re welcome. We love you. Check out your goodies here.
- Access to a private Facebook group hosted by me, Kristen, Korie, and Jillian. We are now friends on our own little group! You’ll get updates, correspondence, and great conversations about our precious community in Gunchire we are helping to raise up together. We are the Gunchire Tribe!
- This is too fun: All 300 new sponsors are entered into a drawing to win a signed guitar by WEEZER (did you know our own Jillian is rockwife to Weezer bass player Scott Shriner in addition to being a little ol’ NY Times bestseller? Overachiever, that one). Brandon said we are sponsoring four kids to be entered four times for the guitar. Good grief.
You don’t need any of that, of course, but we want to do this because we love Gunchire and anyone else who loves Gunchire. We are having Big Loving Feelings about this place and we’ll do anything to rally for it.
It’s easy: go here, pick a darling child, and sponsor them. It is $42 a month. Someone else will pick the same punkin’, and BOOM: that kid is double sponsored. Help is on the way. Gather your own kids around the computer and choose together. Trust me, your babes will be writing a lot of letters and falling in love with this kid. You might even travel here one day to see for yourselves.
I’ll leave you with a few pics because OH ETHIOPIA. Be mine. I want it to be yours too.
Is this your time? Maybe it is. Maybe it is your time to jump in here. If you want to throw your weight behind the Gunchire community, go here, pick a darling (and subsequently his or her whole family), and JOIN US. This is the best thing. Look what we get to do...
Thanks for following along on our trip! Are you sponsoring?? Aren't the pics amazing? Ethiopia is amazing. Get here as quick as you can.
So one day before they arrived each July, he instructed the children to go into the forest, gather dirt and debris, and rub the pristine walls down with muck so the Americans could paint and feel good about their “helpful yearly trip.”
We can do better than this.
We are doing better than this.
I am in Ethiopia, my favorite country on earth, with Help One Now. Dear reader, you must know by now that I would never put a mission or organization in front of you that I have not fully vetted and did not entirely believe in. I would never be that irresponsible. I love you too much for that and I steward my influence too greatly to throw something helter skelter against the wall and hope it sticks.
Help One Now operates out of three primary best practices:
1. Identifying, partnering with, and empowering high-capacity local leaders in vulnerable communities to lead their own countries out of extreme poverty.
Baseline: If HON doesn’t have a top-drawer, highly educated, tested and proven local leader in an at-risk community, they won’t come. In Ethiopia, our in-country leader is Aschalew Abebe, and I have already run out of superlatives to describe his capacity. He has studied in three countries, did his graduate work in regional development planning and management, and absolutely understands how to preserve the most fragile families, develop them economically, and break the cycles of poverty. He is a marvel. I’ve watched him this week with my mouth hanging open. This is a trustworthy leader who loves his country, deeply understands its broken systems, and has developed a clear, sustainable path to family preservation. I can’t think of an international leader I’ve ever believed in more.
2. Care for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Initially, HON’s mission was laser-focused on double-orphaned children (both parents deceased), but last year local Haitian leader Jean-Alix asked Chris to consider sponsoring children living in impoverished Drouin with their parents. When Chris explained that HON only focused on orphaned children, Jean-Alix said, “Oh. Okay. Then just wait one year and most of these children will be orphaned.” Thus, orphaned and vulnerable children now make up the mission of HON. Both worthy. In some cases, we respond to tragedy. In other cases, we help prevent the tragedy. Either way, children destined for orphanhood, poverty, and family disruption are empowered toward family, education, and economic sustainability. Cyclical chains are broken and the next generation is raised up to lead strong.
3.) Order and transform community.
HON comes in with stabilizing resources (primarily through monthly sponsorships), which enable birth parents to regain financial footing without the crushing financial pressure simply feed and educate their children. With that noose off their necks plus the economic empowerment tools also provided through HON, families move from the brink of devastation not just to surviving but thriving. In a small town like Gunchire, for example, with 150 at-risk families stabilized and empowered, this literally has the power to turn the entire community around. Hundreds of children are now in school instead of working, hundreds of families are kept intact instead of devastated by disruption, and ten years from now, hundreds of young adults will contribute to the local economy and take their rightful place as the next generation of local leaders.
Month after month, year after year, these are the tools that lift communities out of poverty. These are the tools that educate young minds and equip them to launch. As Jeffrey Sachs, global economist and author of The End of Poverty says, “People stuck in extreme poverty lack the resources necessary to grab the bottom rung of empowerment. Mind you, once they grab hold of that bottom rung, they will climb…because they are smart, ambitious, and motivated.”
You know what we are? That elusive boost to the bottom rung.
We give the impossible lift to the ladder of health, education, and economic stability, and I am telling you, these good people will climb. They don’t love their families any less; they don’t lack work ethic, resourcefulness, drive. $42 a month? Doesn’t seem like much to us. But it is the boost.
They will climb.
In Gunchire, we are exclusively empowering families who have not yet disrupted. They are so close though. HON went door-to-door and identified the 150 most vulnerable families in the community: widowed, HIV+, impaired, ostracized, single-parents, special-needs children, abused, abandoned. These families have endured more than most of us can even comprehend.
Yet they are still standing, clinging together, hanging on by a thread. Survivors, fighters, these families.
Let’s keep them together and help them not just survive but thrive.
I am going to tell you some stories tomorrow. Inspiring, awesome stories about women and children who dug deep, refused to give up, stuck together with nothing but grit and resolve. HON was the glue. You are going to be so proud of them all.
We have 150 families in line for this glue that binds; the education, nutrition, health care, economic empowerment, financial counseling, recovery resources. HON provides all this. We get to be a part: $42 a month. Honestly? It is too easy. Plus, you get some goodies we put together to say THANK YOU. I’m going to talk more about this tomorrow, but for those of you already convinced, go to www.helponenow/lovehope and sponsor. Every face you see still lives at home. Let’s keep it that way.
This is long-term work, yall. This is coming alongside a struggling community for months, years, and walking them toward stability bit by bit. That is exactly why a monthly sponsorship makes sense. This is not a one-shot fix. It is a privileged community saying, “We are here. This year, next year, the year after that…all the way until you’re regained your footing and preserved your legacy.”
Please come back tomorrow. I want to introduce you to Birkanesh and Seada Nesa and Siraj. You can’t not know about them.
I wrote those words when I first read my friend Nish’s book, Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World.
Let me back up. I first met Nish two years ago under circumstances we chuckle about now: I was speaking at a Lifeway event called dotMOM in the deeeeep south, and Nish was invited as a blogger. Now, I was comfortable and familiar with both LW, a mom conference, and suth-uh-nuhs, but Nish was like what in the actual what? Not her usual jam, yall. I randomly sat by her on the airplane on the way home and she asked do these things wear you out? and I was all way and promptly fell dead asleep because I am an excellent travel companion.
She later wrote this piece: “Alabama, Southern Baptists and a Recovering Cynic”
As you might imagine, we were instant friends.
Not longer after, Nish invited me to contribute to the online writing community she built called A Deeper Story, a diverse, compelling gathering of writers and thinkers discussing weighty spiritual issues in a safe, inclusive environment. At DS, I was introduced to so many fresh voices asking good questions and creating space for struggle. Nish spends most of her time elevating other writers and leaders with incredible generosity and grace. I am exceedingly proud of her for leading this good work. Wrangling a gaggle of Christians with such varied theology, life experiences, and perspectives is no small task, yet the DS community remains fiercely respectful and supportive. It is a marvel.
The success of A Deeper Story is really a touchstone for the message of Speak, proving that it is indeed possible for believers to come together in the name of Jesus and fight for grace and community amid substantial, even profound differences. In the hateful, disgraceful world of internet commenting, Speak tells of a better way, and the mechanism is simple:
Be brave enough to tell your story and courageous enough to listen to others.
It really is that simple to begin. As long as we stay isolated and anonymous, we can tear people down to our hearts content. We can slash and wound and destroy with no consequences, further fragmenting not only the church but our very communities. It’s so easy. We are exempted from the difficult work of reconciliation. No need to dig below the surface to listen or learn; we can make knee-jerk assumptions, rash conclusions, and downright false accusations. We can safely ignore nuance, complexities, and even fragile human feelings. Separated, we are free to fear one another, second guess motives, assume the worst, and spread untruths. (This is working quite nicely. One need only pull up Facebook on any given day to affirm this paradigm.)
What if, according to Speak, we did the hard work of telling our stories? The gritty, complex stories we all have? What if we ventured out bravely and said I am broken in this tender place or I am recovering or I am dreaming a new dream. Rather than firing missives from afar or making assumptions in silence, what if we sat across the table from each other over coffee and listened? As Nish referenced, Ann Voskamp begs: “Give me your story, not your sermon.”
Our cynicism would take a real hit, I’m telling you that right now. Common ground would astound us. Humanity would take a forward position where only criticism once resided. We could build bridges instead of burning them all to the riverbed floor.
And don’t we need some bridges repaired? Our world is literally burning down around us right now. Hate and fear is taking down whole communities. The suspicion of “other” is tearing apart neighbors, races, and even nations. Speak is a manifesto toward peace, and I can’t remember a time when we needed it more. (If you need a character witness on Nish, she spent last week in Ferguson listening to pastors, citizens, and community leaders, learning from them and praying for peace with them. Hopped on an airplane and went where the hurt was. Like Jesus.)
Like Nish discusses in Speak, telling and hearing stories – not our personal sermons – is the front door to healing divides in our culture, church, and world. It is how we release our gifts to the community, invite the kingdom to break through, proclaim God’s work, and advocate for justice. People don’t want our soapboxes; they need flesh and blood.
We need this message desperately.
I want to leave you with a prayer from Nish as she puts Speak into your hands:
“It’s my prayer that this book will encourage and inspire you to explore your own stories – as well as to seek out the stories of others – and to tell them with grace and abandon. It’s my prayer that this book will remind you that your life and experiences have great value and that the world needs to hear about them. Stories can change us, change the hearts of others, and change the world. It’s my prayer that this book gives you the freedom to speak. And when you do speak, I expect the world around you to look a bit more hopeful, bright, and good.”
Amen, good friend. Amen.
I want you to read this and one of you for sure is going to have it. Enter a comment to win a copy of Nish’s book Speak by answering this:
Tell us a time when telling yours or hearing someone else’s story changed your perspective on them, their “group,” or your preconceived ideas. OR: Who have you been afraid of or put off by that you can reach out to in vulnerability and fight for grace?
It has been my great joy to give you Interrupted, and I've read every email, every tweet, every post, every word you've said about it. I am so moved by YOU. I'm trying to think if I've ever been so encouraged in my life to watch God move in our generation. This is so happening. You are out there doing it, starting it, dreaming it, living it.
If I ever felt lonely in the message of Interrupted, that day has passed.
What a thrill to turn our incredible resources and privileges back over to the God who entrusted them to us in the first place and say, "These are yours. Have your way." How beautiful are the feet who bring Good News to the broken, the wayward, the lost and lonely, the suffering. I see a generation saying NO. We will not turn a blind eye to those who grieve. NO, we will not hoard our luxuries while precious people suffer. NO, we will not pretend we don't see. NO, we will not go to the grave in comfortable complacency but will expend our lives for God and people like it is our job.
We welcome every holy interruption that helps us look more like Jesus.
How about some insider info, yes?