June 25, 2023. Breakfast at the hotel, then loading up the bus again, this time to a remote location so we could visit a church plant for their worship service. I have no idea how long we drove, but eventually we were no longer on pavement of any kind, passing scenes such as this...
Our destination was inaccessible by bus, so at some point we parked and began walking. It wasn't too long, perhaps 20 minutes. Here are some views from the walk...
When we arrived at the church, we heard more from some of the missionaries about the story of how this church body got started. This group has been in existence just a little over 2 months! It is in a community where only 1-2 families were Christians for some time. Then, after the Jesus film was shown, more people came to Christ, and now there's a church! The building and land were donated by a sweet little lady, whom we got to meet and pray for during the service. Here is my view while listening to the story of the church beginnings:
Tobin and I got a quick picture with the church building behind us. Soon the church members came out, bringing the benches outside with them, so that we could get a photo of everyone. Then we all joined in worship together (an utterly Spirit-filled, emotional experience) and listened to Girma, national director of GCM Ethiopia, give a completely impromptu sermon on Ephesians 4:1-6.
We enjoyed some fellowship for some time afterward, and then we walked to a church member's home (perhaps the pastor's?) because we were of course invited for lunch. This was such a treat! "Eat an authentic Ethiopian meal in a Christian's home where everything you eat and drink was produced on the ground around you" was not on our official agenda, but WOW, are we blessed that God orchestrated our schedule for us! It was truly, in my opinion, the BEST food and the BEST coffee I had during my time in Ethiopia! Sharing the time with our brothers in sisters in Christ undoubtedly made it all the more flavorful and memorable!
The host home
The meal: injera (their bread) with FRESHLY made cheese (on the left) and flavorful lentil dishes. "Kocho" is what the square item is: it's basically a flatbread made of fermented "false banana" (enset plant). Kocho is very dense; I could only eat part of mine. But everything else...well, I happily accepted seconds! It was all amazingly delicious!
I was sitting at about the center along one of the walls, so here is a look to my left and right. You can see Dean getting his hands washed after our meal (no utensils typically used).
Getting ready to drink the BEST cup of coffee EVER! (And yes, I did accept 2 spoonsful of sugar!) This coffee was grown right behind the house!
Before we left, I just HAD to talk to the children! My mama's heart was about to burst! With the help of a translator, I spoke blessings on this next generation, that they will be strong and courageous and grow in Jesus, helping others to know about Him as well. My emotions were definitely brimming over, as I was also missing my own little girls back at home plus the rest of my family. My heart longed for all of the Jacobsons to experience fellowship with these believers, but for the time being, I was just so thankful to have this time with Tobin and our team, who were rapidly becoming more like family than a group of near strangers coming together for the first time.
We had a long way to travel, with an event to attend in the city of Addis Ababa that evening, so our leaders began ushering us in the direction of the bus. (Remember it was a 20-minute walk to get back to the bus!) As I reluctantly said goodbye to those precious little girls and their mamas, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a young man with distinctive facial features. I nearly stopped, but we were being tugged along, and so I didn't. My heart was already full...and yet...I longed to connect with one more person...did I really just see someone with Down syndrome?!
I walked with Marc back to the bus, weeping with emotion as I tried to express my heartfelt gratitude that he had invited us to consider coming on this trip in the first place. As we reflected on the events of the day, Marc asked me if I had seen that the young man with Down syndrome was sitting right in front of Tobin and myself when we were worshiping and singing during the church service! I had not! At the time we were standing in the back along the wall of the church, and later we were seated on a bench just in front of the preacher. In all of the happy chaos following the service, I had been blowing bubbles with the children and hanging out with the women. So I had not seen him until that moment just before we had to leave the warmth of the hospitality we had been enjoying.
When we got to the bus, I saw that some of the church leaders were there to send us off. I dashed inside the bus to snag a few Verity's Village brochures, which feature pictures of our sweet Verity. With one of the Ethiopian team members to translate for me, I told the men about our special girl and that I had seen the special young man from their community and wanted them to know how much he is loved and valued! And while I knew they wouldn't read the English explanation about our ministry, I wanted them to have the pictures of Verity and know when they see them that my family and I will be praying for THEIR community and for that precious man, who is obviously loved and accepted just as he is (praise God)!
Mistre, the young lady who was helping me communicate, asked me if I wanted to meet the young man. He had come along with the others to the bus to see us off! Sadly, I never did get his name, but I'm so thankful I could at least meet him and share some words of love and encouragement! Isn't God amazing?!
I spent the bus ride back to the city praying, reading God's Word, and thinking...feeling a bit like Mary who "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
Unfortunately, we missed the conference that we had been planning to attend, a massive celebration of the 51 Days of Digital Outreach. Over 10,000 people attended, and we pulled up to the conference center as attendees were pouring out into the streets. I was disappointed for Sami especially. It was a bit like the disappointment we felt for Dean not being able to see the premiere of the Jesus film in the language he had funded. And yet...we were so very grateful for the incredible opportunity to be with the people in the remote little church. I hope and pray they were even half as blessed and encouraged to be with us as we were to be with them!
Although it seemed as if this one day had already lasted far longer than 24 hours, we returned to our hotel in the early evening, with plenty of time to get into cozy clothes and gather in the meeting suite for a room service dinner and time of debriefing. What a precious time it was, sharing our perspectives and experiences. We were more than ready, though, to tumble into bed for a much-needed night of sleep!
This day, this weekend, was one of the most beautiful times in my life. I pray I never forget it.
I returned to my hotel room to find two dozen roses arranged by my sweet housekeeping attendant.