The first thing I heard, through a friend, when I found out that Luke had arrived safely was that he had met the Seay family, who is over there now bringing home their two precious kids, one of whom was Minte's best friend at the Children's Home. I have corresponded with them via email for months, and I am so jealous that Luke got to meet them. And in Ethiopia during this precious time! So, so fun.
I finally got to talk to Luke for the first time Sunday morning our time. We were texted a phone number as we were on our way to my niece's baptism. I had no idea if my phone would call ET (we usually use Skype from our computer at home, and all of my Africa calling cards were at home also... so who knows how much it cost!) I sat in my car, as people were streaming into the church, soaking up every word and detail. What an interesting day that was, as I took a mental step back and looked at the whole picture. Luke, across the world, having attended a long, loud, charismatic and lively Ethiopian church service (3+ hours long) and so different than our home church. Us, attending a formal, full-length Catholic mass, the boys in coats and ties... also so different than our own church. How God was seeing fit for us to have such completely different worship experiences on the same day... I just love it. Just like heaven. Glory to God.
We had a long day Sunday with a post-baptism family gathering, then doing what Luke usually does to facilitate/coordinate our Awana club at church. All the while missing him and wondering what he was doing, all the while not knowing a time-bomb was ticking in our own family. For it was just 24 hours later after we had returned from the King Tut exhibit at the museum for a school field trip that we were struck with the violent stomach flu virus that has been sweeping through entire schools and communities here lately. That completely knocked us off our feet for Monday and Tuesday. Oh, man. We subsequently found out that 20+ people who were at the family party on Sunday were sick, too, complete with fainting and all manner of illnesses. Not good. But, we are fine now and I think everyone has gotten over it. I kept thinking that I was just glad it was not Luke... that he was well and where he needed to be. And how glad that I was home and not out of the country. I have been that sick in another country and there is just nothing like that. :::shudder:::
So, that, coupled with the fact that time on the internet is very limited and unpredictable in Ethiopia, and Luke doesn't spend time on the computer typing up his thoughts... in fact, many of them are probably still "brewing"- explains why there have been no updates from me during this week. I have talked to him each morning (via Skype) to tell him goodnight and get a short recap of their day, and late at night our time to tell him good morning and pray over their activities for the new day. I have been ever so grateful that we have been able to talk that much, as that is a first. We have never been in such frequent contact when one of us is gone. That was a blessing.
For the most detailed, written-from-the-heart updates, read some posts written by fellow team members here.
As for what I've heard from Luke during the week...
They have visited some different programs, such as a school for street kids, a vocational training center for boys who formerly lived on the streets, a home for former p*rostitutes through the Win Souls For God Ministry. Very touching, very impressive what God is doing through them in these vital areas.
The team visited different orphanages, with children at various stages of the adoption process... those who have yet to be referred, those who have been referred and are awaiting passing court so they can be brought home, those who are simply orphans who may or may not have the necessary paperwork to ever be referred... It's all James 1:27. It's all God-ordained, and it's been an unspeakable privilege for them to be with those precious children. I remember when Minte was still at his orphanage and had been referred to us, but we hadn't passed court yet... he technically had a family, it was just a matter of time, but he was blessed beyond measure by those who came to visit him on mission teams. He still remembers many of them by name: Steve, Josh, Amy and others who have taken the time to email me... They were agents of God's love and grace to him, and his face lights up when he is reminded of them. (In fact, he recognized some faces waiting for him at the airport, and he was so happy to see them again!) For that slice of time there was someone to play hot wheels cars with him, jump rope with him, blow bubbles or run relay races, laugh and love. The minutes that otherwise might have seemed to crawl by for him while he waited for his family could fly by for a time, until we could be united. They were "visiting him in his distress." At that point he was anxiously awaiting his new family, having lost his first family. By definition that is most certainly a time of "distress" and by God's grace there were willing hearts who journeyed to go and be with him during a time when we couldn't. We have always been so thankful for that, and what joy it has been for Luke and the others on the team to be able to do that for other children. I have been praying for all of those children and their future families throughout this week. And, of course, the blessing goes both ways. Our team members have been forever changed.
They were privileged to visit those who are sick and dying of HIV/AIDS. They were profoundly affected by their time with those precious souls, and privileged to pray over them. They were able to visit schools and villages. They met with a top government official (though their meeting with THE top government official didn't happen due to the African Union Summit taking place.) Like I said, TIA= This Is Africa. But, the fact that it was even on the schedule is a testimony to our big God. And it was not for nothing, I just know it. I believe in my heart that it was an open door to something in the future and there is greater glory in the making.
Our organization has made some very good contacts and ministry connections over the course of the week, including bringing someone on board there do continue several facets of our work there. I just love how God brings us together with people. These are precious working relationships.
He got to witness Jill be united with their precious daughter. The photo I received in email last night took my breath away. Amazing. Simply amazing.
He got to visit with Minte's friends who are still waiting for families. He gave them the gift bags that Minte had lovingly prepared, and saw them literally jump up and down when they saw them.
One of the most amazing things happened just this morning. I didn't set my alarm for dark:30 because I am still getting over the bug, but for some reason I bolted awake just after 6:00 AM. I felt the sudden compulsion to go call Luke. I hadn't been able to get him last night at all (sometimes phone connections are tricky.) After several attempts this morning I was able to reach him on his cell which was at around 3:30 PM his time. When he answered I could hear a garbled swarm of voices around him. At that very moment he was standing in front of Minte's former home, surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives who knew and remembered Minte. He had been showing them Minte's photos and taking pictures of them as well. They were so happy to see how Minte is doing and to meet his new Dad. What a precious time! And God saw fit to wake me up so I could be part of it! Amazing, isn't it? A relative took Luke to where Minte's family member/caregiver (prior to his going to the orphanage) worked, and she was so excited to see photos as well, and Luke was able to video a wonderful message from her to Minte. Minte was so excited to learn all of this this morning. These connections are so meaningful to him. The love he has received from his Ethiopian family has really paved the way for him to receive love from us, and most of all his Heavenly Father. There is no such thing as a child having too many people love him. It is wonderful! He has seen that those who loved him there know us who love him here, and we are all connected. He has seen us embrace those who have loved and cared for him in his past, thereby acknowledging the important, God-ordained part they have had in his life and recognizing that his life didn't just begin when he came to our family. All of this is very important for his emotional and spiritual stability, and we are so blessed to have this opportunity to nurture these relationships to his family and culture of origin. We understand that this is a rare blessing, and we don't want to take it for granted or miss chances to foster this connection. God was so good to provide this, just hours before Luke was to go catch his plane to come home.
At this moment he is zipping up his bags and on his way to the airport to begin the long journey home. Thank you, THANK YOU to those of you who have been praying. He has stayed well, which in itself is a miracle. As a Crohn's patient, we never thought he could ever travel like this, and to travel without major health issues is Ephesians 3:20-21. Truly. We don't take that lightly. He will be arriving home tomorrow afternoon to three kids and a wife who can't wait to see his precious face. Speaking of that face, here are two photos that I received from a team member yesterday that blessed my heart:
Visiting with one of Minte's friends at the Children's Home. (I can't show the whole pic, but believe me, this child is precious. Just precious. In fact, when Minte found out Luke was going to ET he asked, "To bring C. home?" Uh, it's not that easy baby...