Monday, February 20, 2012

He's HOME!!!

Ben made it home safe and sound. The boys and I are so gald to have him back. Hope you enjoy reading about his journey, if you have any interest or would like to know more don't hesitate to ask. Ben really feels a calling to help the "least of these" and if you would like to be invovled in some way we'd love to help you get started or point you in the right direction.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Can You Help!

Friday morning we went to a government orphanage. It was a very different environment that the other places we've been. The Ethiopian government has decided to focus more on reunification (meaning trying to keep orphans with families) instead of international adoption. Unfortunately, this is slow and often impossible process which means that the orphans suffer. Even more unfortunately, it sometimes means that orphans are placed in back in situations where they are unloved or abused or even worse. I don't want to be overly critical of the Ethiopian government. While I don't agree with some of their practices and policies, they are faced with a HUGE problem and they do a lot of things really well. That said, international adoption is not the perfect solution for every situation. God's plan was for families to stay together and to love and care for one another. Sadly this doesn't happen nearly enough, thus the world's orphan crisis. There is no one solution to the problem. One of the best aspects of this trip has been to see so many different people doing so many different things that really do work and really do make a difference. The fact of the matter is that this probably is the solution--lots of people following their individual callings with love and compassion while seeking justice for the oppressed by trying to meet not only physical needs but more importantly break the "orphan" spirit that tells the least of these that they don't matter, that they aren't valuable, that they are worth loving, that they don't have hope or a future.

After leaving the government orphanage, we ate lunch with Jimmy and Rachel Gross, American missionaries who are getting ready to open a home-based children's care facility. It is similar to what has traditionally been called an orphanage, but it will be smaller in scale to facilitate more of a family environment. They took us to see the facility that they are going to use. It was an incredible place and they were able to rent it for an incredible price. We were the first guests to see it, which was very cool because One Child campaign contributed the first funding to the project. The timing of the gift was far more significant than the amount because Jimmy received it (totally unexpectedly) on the same day that he made the final decision to go ahead with the project. The gift was a wonderful confirmation of their calling.

It is now Saturday morning, and I get to climb on a plane and head back home in about 16 hours. It has been a great trip, but I'm ready to go back to my family. Thanks to all who have followed my adventure and prayed for me along the way. Please don't forget all of the wonderful children and amazing caregivers I've been posting about after this trip is over. If anyone would like to talk about you can make a difference in these people's lives, please talk to me when I get home. Caring for orphans is one of my deepest passions, so I love to talk about. It would be a pleasure for me to discuss with anyone who will listen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

more from ET

We started this morning by going to Compassion Family International (CFI). It is a children's care facility near our guest house. Caleb sponsors a little girl there. There were about 25 kids there this morning. There are about 50 others that CFI care for, but they were off at school. The kids were fun to play with because they were excited to see us, but they all have families so they weren't so starved for affection that they were able to just have fun with us. After that we went to a kindergarten that is provided in a very poor part of Addis by Kids Care (they also run the orphanage where Sam lived for 7 months) to meet with the founder who is named Aster. She is really an amazing woman, but she had something come up so she had to leave before we got there. The kids same some songs for us and performed their letters and numbers in English. The staff then served us a coffee ceremony. In the afternoon we head out to Holetta, wihch is where 4 Tracy Mihnovich's came from. We got to see the orphanage they lived in while the adoption was processed. We walked through the community a little bit and there were some places where you could feel the evil. We got to see the site where a grain mill is going to be installed soon to bring economic opportunity to some of the poorest women in the country. The installation has been on hold since last July because the government has been coming up with excuses not to turn on the power to the building. While we standing the building talking and getting ready to pray about the situation, 2 government officials came in and told us that the electric meter would be installed Monday. They even stayed & prayed with us. After leaving Holetta we drove back to Addis to have supper with Tara Mowen and her 3 boys. Tara has been here about 8 weeks while the adoption of 2 of their sons is finalized. There adoption stories are pretty cool and can be found at It was nice to see Tara, Jacob, Kaleb & Isaiah. We made back to the guest house by about 8:30, so I'm hoping to get to bed a little earlier tonight. Thanks!

More ministries within ET

Yesterday afternoon we went to Hope for the Hopeless, a Children's Hopechest drop-in center for street kids. There are about 15 boys and 2 girls who stay there. One of the girls in named Meron. Part of her story has been documented in a video at Meron is the teenage girl who is the second in the video to share her story. She has one of the most horrible stories I've ever heard, but she is one of the happiest, most magnetic people I have ever met. While her story of redemption is certainly one of the most dramatic on the planet, the sheer number of lives that have been healed here is staggering. Some of the boys at the center shared there stories with us, and common themes from them and most of the other kids we have spoken with are as follows: born in the countryside, one or both parents died, they walked many (sometimes hundreds) of miles to Addis in hope of finding work, once in Addis they find no work, since they have no work & no money they sleep on the streets, it is very cold at night so they sniff glue or gas or drink alcochol or smoke cigarettes or chew chat in order to feel warm or at least forget that they are cold, during the day they beg for money or steal, bigger kids beat them up, they are alone and very afraid. Every single story is heart-breaking, but the great part is that the stories of the kids who get plugged in with the amazing ministries we seen don't end there. For these kids, the story continues often like this: Someone from the ministry found me on the street, he can and talked to me every day, after a while I started to trust him and came to the shelter he offered me, they gave me food and safety and love and sent me to school, when I started I was last in my class but now I am fourth and next year I will be first. I share this generalization to give you an idea of how lives of helpless children go from very bad to much better here. I am hesitant to do this, because every child is a unique person with a unique person and, most importantly, each was created for a unique purpose and is full of unique potential.

After visiting Hope for the Hopeless, we went to dinner with an American missionary couple who are getting ready to launch a ministry called Bring Love In. It is one of most beautiful models for caring for orphans that I've heard. In addition to the millions of orphans in Ethiopia, there are also (at least) thousands of widows with no one to provide for them, protect them, or care for them. Bring Love In will hire widows to live in homes with 6 to 8 orphans. The beauty of this model is threefold: First, it simultaneously helps widows and orphans. Second, it creates a family environment (rather than institutional care) for all involved. Thrid, the project is very scalable. Once one house is full, they only need to find and train another widow and find another small house to rent. Larger care facilities are expensive and hard to find, so relocation or expansion is extremely difficult. Today we are going to another carepoint/sponsorship facility and then we are going to meet Aster, the woman who founded the orphanage where Sam once lived. Aster has started a lot of other projects, so I am excited to see an old acquaintance and to see what she is up to now. Gotta run--thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

more from ET

Tusday monring we went back to the Children's Hopechest care point in Chappa, the same place we had been the day before. We had 2 things on the agenda there. The first was to take pictures of 143 kids that still need to be sponsored. Caleb and I worked on this task while the rest of the team did some activities with the rest of the kids. The culture was a little different there (not as touchy-feely and a little more reserved that the rest of Ethiopia) so it was interesting to see the kids reaction to having their pictures taken. Overall it was fun seeing all of the kids, and we were able to find every kid on the list we were given. The other thing we did was serve the kids a feast. Someone back home had donated funds for the feast. The team bought a small brahma bull (which was referred to as an ox), some injera (a kind of bread unique to Ethiopia) and several cases of soda pop. The bull was walked on to the property Monday afternoon and was then butchered after the kids left. Some of the staff stayed up all night butchering, preparing, and cooking the meal. The main dishes were 2 kinds of stew, one spicy and one not, which were served on top of the injera. We used a bucket-brigade approach to get the plates to the kids once they had been filled. It was a lot of fun and the kids were so excited. Many of them probably only get meat a couple of times a year, so it was a real treat. After they had eaten, each was given a bottle of pop. We weren't sure if it was the best idea, but the local staff insisted. It was the first encounter with pop for many of the kids. Some drank it way too fast and felt bad; other spit it out because the sensation of carbonation was so foreign to them. All of the kids had a blast regardless. The staff then served our team a couple of small but special dishes they had prepared. It was some of the best Ethiopian food I've ever had. The selections included tibs (which is small pieces of marinated beef served on top of injera), a kind of powdery paste made from butter & false banana (which is the root from a tree that look like a banana tree in every way except it doesn't produce bananas), and last but not least pieces of raw fat from the "hump" on the neck of the brahma bull. The Ethiopians told us we didn't have to eat the raw fat, but I thought it would be fun. It was actually really good!

We left Chappa in the early afternoon for the drive (about 5 hours) back to Addis. We stopped on the way and ate a late lunch/early supper at a really nice resort on Lake Langano. The food was pretty good, but they had ice cream which is rare here & was really nice in the middle of a long, hot car ride. Driving is always an adventure here, but it is even more exciting at night. I lost track of how many goats, donkeys, cows, people, cars, trucks, etc we almost hit on the drive. Our driver is a really cool older guy who is really great at what he does. We got back to the guest house about 8:30 and were disppointed to find that the internet wasn't working. It was probably good though because we all went to bed earlier than normal. This morning we went to a couple of different ministries in Korah, one of the poorest slums in Addis that started as a leper colony about 80 years ago. It is next to the city's trash dump from which most of the residents of Korah glean their existence. This first place was called Mission Ethiopa, which was founded by the same guy who owns the guest house we're staying in. Mission Ethiopia rescues women (about 35 at present) from the streets and gives them work makes beads & scarfs which are mostly sold to Westerners. The wages they earn are enough to provide them with housing, food, clothing, and education for their children. The women start each day with an hour or two of praying for one another and their community, singing and dancing. They have truly become a family. It was fabulous to see healing and redemption among a group who had previously been literally some of the most destitute people on the planet. I will be bringing home lots of their handiwork if anyone would like to buy some & support thier ministry. We next went to Empowering Hope which is a day care for single women in Korah. The day care services are provided at no charge to the women so they can go to work. The goal is to try to keep the women from having to give up their children for adoption for no reason other than abject poverty. They have about 60 kids in the program. The children are given 2 meals a day, medical care, some clothing, and some food to support the nourishment of the rest of the family. They also do some microfinance work with some of the mothers to give them greater opportunities to earn a living. This afternoon we are heading to Hope for the Hopeless, which is a Children's Hopechest drop in center for street children in Addis. We are then going to dinner with a couple of missionaries. The trip has been really amazing, but it is starting to get long. I really miss home, especially my beautiful wife and wonderful children. Time goes fast here though, so I know I'll be heading home before I know it. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sponcership Changes Lives

Today we went to a Children's Hopechest care point in Chappa. It was in probably the most beautiful part of ET I've seen. There were about 220 kids there. Only about 1/4 of them are sponsored. One of our team members brought care packages from almost all of the sponsors, so it was really nice to see the kids get a rare treat. We brought soccer balls, t-shirts, etc for the kids as well. The kids were happy, healthy, & well-fed. All of the kids go to school at the care point. Sponsorship truly is changing the lives of these kids, their families, thir communities, and over time will change the entire nation. About the time we left, they brought in a bull that someone back home donated some money to buy fire the kids. It is going to be butchered tonight, and a feast will be given to honor the kids & staff. The kids don't know about the feast yet so tomorrow will be a great surprise for them. We will be back there tomorrow morning and then we will be heading back to Addis in the afternoon. We ate a very late lunch at a really nice hotel on the bank of the Blue Nile. It was beautiful and the river is so big that there was a wonderful breeze coming off it. The project for this evening is to find Tullo who is a little boy in Awassa sponsored by Frances Anson. That's it for now!

Awassa and Shone

I'm at the hotel in awassa. The hotel & city are both nice. We
went to a care point in Shone that Pochi's church has. Caleb raised some
funds for a building project that is now done. They have about 100
sponsored kids, but only about 25 were there today because it was Sunday.
All of the kids we saw driving through the city were extremely poor. It
was great to see how well the sponsored kids were doing nutritionally,
medically, and spiritually. They were visibly better off than the rest of
the kids in Shone. Their pastor talked to us about the difference One
Child has made to their ministry. It is the only outside group that has
ever been there. Caleb and I spoke to the whole group a little and then
we played some duck-duck-goose. It was a lot of fun, and then we all sang
together. We have been to a lot of places on this trip where things are
really getting better for the kids. It is very encouraging. After that,
we went to the look development center to drop off care packages for
Lar,Dan, & Michelle. None of the kids were there, but we met the guy in
charge of sponsorships. He knew Mugaleta & Sisaye. He didn't know
Wubinesh, but he is going to get the care package to Children's Hopechest
so they can get it to her. I was really hoping to meet the kids, but it
didn't work out. The sponsorship guy said Sisaye & Mugaleta were both
doing well. It was a long drive (6 hours?) out to Shone, but it was great
to finally get to see the country side. It is thw dry season, so
everything was very dry. I saw a lot of livestock grazing on corn stalks
though, and everyone who has been here in the rainy season was shocked to
see that everything was now brown instead of green. I am now at the hotel
in Awassa and the power just went out on the whole block. This is not
unusual here. Tomorrow we are going to a Children's Hopechest care point
in Chappa which is near Awassa. On a slightly different note, we were
only a few miles from Kembata this afternoon when we were at Shone.
Kembata is the city where Isaac's birth mother came from. While I didn't
get to see the exact city, it was neat to see the region of his heritage.
The trip has been a lot of fun, and we've met so many amazing people.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

More from Uganda

Hey hey! Yesterday we met with one of the SixtyFeet missionaries--a gal named Kirby from Jacksonville. They have been working with the children's prisons for a while now. Only a small percentage of the kids there have actually committed any crimes. The majority are either abandoned by their parents or guardians or were caught in a round-up of street kids. As you can imagine, the conditions are not good at all. The SixtyFeet team has found favor with the staff and wardens at most of the facilities, but some higher ranking officials don't like the publicity that has been generated. SixtyFeet's license to operate is under "review" so they can't go into the facilities for a couple of months. This is terribly difficult for them to deal with because they know the condition of the children inside. It turns out that the children's prision isn't closed, just closed to visitors for the time being. We also met with an amazing Ugandan woman named Mama Phoebe. She and her husband quit their jobs about 14 years ago to start a school for orphans and destitute children. Uganda was ground zero for the AIDS epidemic, with the better part of a generation being lost. This generated a huge number of orphans. Almost every family has taken in nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, etc, but the burden is simply more than the society can handle. Mama Phoebe and her staff interact with about 1300 kids each day. They provide schooling for about 800 of those, including room & board for about 250. Another One Child team is coming in August, and they are planning to spend a couple of days at Rebecca Sorensen's school (which I mentioned yesterday) and a couple of days with Mama Phoebe. It was really quite amazing to find such incredible ministry partners on our first trip to Uganda.

Our flight landed in Ethiopia about 7:30. It only took about 15 minutes to get our visas and go through customs (which is a miralce), but then we had to wait about an hour for 2 of our bags to make it to the baggage claim. In Africa they have a saying that goes "Americans have the watches, but Africans have the time." We are staying in a new guest house which is really nice & the staff here is unbelievable. Today will be a little bit slower since it is Saturday and not as many places are open. We are planning to visit MARK 10:14 Ministry, a ministry which seeks to lift street kids (and their parents where possible) out of poverty through vocational training, sharing the gospel, and helping meet physical needs while they get back on their feet. I think we are going to hear some of the boys share their stories. We are also planning to visit the America World Transition Home today. This will be an exciting reunion for Caleb and I as we both have two children who were cared for by the wonderful nannies at the transition home. I brought pictures of the boys to share with the nannies. They all remembered Sam (or "Mickey, Mickey, Mickey" as the used to call him) when we came to get Isaac. Tomorrow we are heading out into the country side to go to Children's Hopechest Care Points in Shone and Awassa. We will be gone for 2 or 3 days, so I dont' know if communication will be possible. I'm really excited to finally get out of Addis and see the country side. Such a trip has just never worked out on our previous trips to ET.

If you want to know more about Rebecca Sorensen and her ministry go to her website:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ben is now in ETHIOPIA!

Carnival not Carnivore

I was really disappointed when we pulled up to Carnivore last night, turns out the name is "Carnival". The disappointment didn't last long though. On the walk up to the restaurant we went right past the biggest, most beautiful barbecue pit I've ever seen! There wash a band that played Ugandan music & they did some traditional dances. The waiter set a toy gorilla on the end of the table and told us he would keep bringing meat until we turned it over. It was a dream come true! Before we flipped the monkey we enjoyed chicken gizzards, a couple of different beef dishes, a couple of goat dishes, pork and chicken- a wonderful meat medley! Rebecca and Michael (an awesome Ugandan man who works with Rebecca and has taken in 14 boys) joined us and we had such a fun time. She shared some more about what her girls had been through, some more healings they experienced, and some things that still needed to be healed. We can't even imagine how blessed we are not to have to experience what so many kids if Africa do. It was very encouraging to see what is happening at her school. It gave us all hope that some of the horrible things we'll see in ET can get better. We found out last night that we won't be able to visit the children's prison. Apparently the government has closed many of them, at least the ones close to the capital where we are. My guess is that it is in response to the publicity that SixtyFeet has generated. I can't help but wonder what happened to the kids who were there though. We are meeting with the local pastor who has been ministering to the children, so hopefully we can get some answers. I'm really excited to head back to ET tonight.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

More from Uganda

We just got back from Rebecca's school and it was beyond amazing. They sang and danced and had a big program, partly because today was the 3rd birthday for the school. The kids led worship & I can't a even describe how powerful it was. A little girl named Fatima latched on to me as soon as I got there and never let go. She was either on my lap or holding my hand for about 6 hours. I told Rebecca I wanted to sponsor her. She wasn't one of those kids that you just fall in love with at first sight. She was very solemn but she wanted so desperately for me to hold her that I felt like I needed to take care of her. I met several of reabecca's girls & they were all incredible. She is planning on bringing a kids choir to the states in January & I mentioned coming to indiana, I so hope you get to meet her. We are going to supper at a place called "Carnivore" so im really excited about that. The children's prison trip is tomorrow morning & then we'll be heading to ET tomorrow evening. I can't believe we're almost done here. I don't feel like we've helped at all, but I guess that our contribution really begins when we get home. Uganda has been a great experience, but ET is my calling. I should have good Internet when I get there so I will be able to write more.


Leigha here:
I got an email from Ben today. He's doing well. They are in Uganda, scouting out places to lead future trips. Ben is traveling with a mission group called "One Child", there mission is to lead trips to different places around the world to help others understand "the need" and then those individuals take "the need" back to there local churches etc. and begin to meet "the needs" the saw on their trip. Caleb (founder of One Child) has a church interested in making regular trips to Uganda so this current trip is to access the needs of the Ugandan people and figure out all the logistics.

Here is part of Ben's email, "We met with a local pastor today and it went pretty well. We went to part of his community and talked to some women and played with lots of kids. I am FILTHY from the sweat, dust, and dirty kids. I even ended up with poo all over my arm. Turns out that potty training kids just don't wear anything but a shirt. A girl named Rebecca Sorensen has been taking us around. She is 28 and has been here for 2 years. She has started a school that has 200-400 kids each day. She has also taken in 14 of her own. Very similar to Katy Davis work. I think she really wants Caleb to work with her because she is going to be with us basically the whole time we're here. She sells beads too, so I'll try to bring some home. She said they have beaded purses too. 3 of her girls have been healed from HIV. We are going to her school tomorrow ago celebrate their 3 year anniversary. Someone gave her 8 acres that she plans to clear for farm ground- maybe we can get your dad to come help! I miss you guys. I have slept 4 hours since I work up Monday morning but I feel great. I ate fresh talapia on the banks of the Nile for lunch. We are getting a kicked out of the Internet spot. We are 8 hours ahead of you.

I know Ben is right where God wants him. Please pray for him.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

He Made IT!

Ben is in Uganda.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Africa or Bust

Ben left yesterday for Africa. He's going to Uganda and then on to Ethiopia. He hopes to post more about his trip on the blog so stay tuned. Last I heard they landed in Brussels about 3 am. He is visiting several orphanages, they are hoping to meet some their immediate needs and talk with the directors about how they can better support them in the long term.