Our Last Day in Ethiopia
June 28, 2023. This day happened to be Ted's and my 26th anniversary! These roses you see pictured were in the hotel lobby. I just love all the fresh flowers we saw everywhere!

So...our last wake-up in Ethiopia. So bittersweet! I took my Bible downstairs for my last breakfast time, where I visited with some of my teammates while eating and then had my quiet time. I don't have a photo, but I had a lovely conversation (several talks a few minutes at a time) with one of the servers, Abraham. He is a believer and connected with our team members over the course of the time we were there. He would see one of us reading a Bible and ask if we were a Christian...so by the time I met him, he had already had conversations with just about everyone on the team! My heart was so blessed to listen to his testimony and to share the bond of faith. 

After my final walk by the pastry counter to enjoy a second helping of their delicious donuts (!!!), I reluctantly headed back to my hotel room to start the packing process. BUT FIRST!! I had the incredible privilege of meeting a sweet lady whom I've only known of long-distance for years! She and her family spent years in Mexico as missionaries. We learned about them through the church we attended while we were in Iowa, as their extended family attended Common Ground as well. Over the years we've prayed for each other...Mary and her family prayed for Verity when I was pregnant with her and have followed her journey ever since! Anyway...imagine my surprise when our pastor's wife connected us, saying that Mary's family was now in Addis Ababa! Mary and I began messaging, as I eagerly agreed to help transport some homeschool materials and other items from the States for her and her family. Tobin and I only needed one suitcase a piece, so we pretty much packed a 3rd bag just for Mary's family, ha!

With our full schedule, the only time for us to meet up was this last day, and it was just perfect. Mary and I honestly could spend hours talking together, but we made do with just one! She made this darling little dress for Verity...I'll flash forward and show you a photo of Verity wearing it to church the following Sunday...

It was SO wonderful to visit with each other! Mary's husband now has a job with Samaritan's Purse, so she shared a little bit about their work there. He had been busy with the auditor who had come to do an internal audit...the only reason I mention this is because, small world, I sat NEXT TO the auditor on the way from Ethiopia to Virginia! She's a lovely lady, too! Anyway...I connected Mary with our Cru friend Marc so they could make more ministry connections, and then I really had to get to work packing so I could get all my items out of the hotel room. We used Marc and Evangeline's suite as a holding area for all of our baggage, since our flight home wasn't until 10:40pm that night.

Thankfully Tobin was feeling much better this day! We had a lovely lunch at the hotel with the Ethiopian team. It's crazy how you can spend only one week with folks and yet feel like family...that's the bond of Christ! Here are some photos of our lunch fellowship...

The Ethiopians gave each of us gifts...so sweet! I was delighted to take home Ethiopian coffee and a beautiful shawl! The men also received something that I don't know how to name, but I'm guessing "shawl" isn't quite the word, lol. Here's Tobin sporting his!

Our team had a surprise for them as well. We pitched in and contributed a monetary gift for them to put toward an upcoming team retreat-type of event that they have been saving for for quite some time. I don't know how much we raised altogether, but I'm hopeful they will be able to enjoy that retreat sooner rather than later!

Following our lunch and goodbyes, it was time to meet as a team and debrief. This was a wonderful time of sharing and hopefully helpful to Nate and Loree as they plan to make this an annual "thing" for supporters to be able to get an up-close look at these ministries. We shared what we thought went well, what maybe could improve, and what a highlight was from the trip. 

I won't speak for everyone, but for me, I thought so much went well! We joked several times that "nothing went as planned," and yet "everything went as planned." God's plans are the best, and we all came into this experience holding plans and expectations loosely, wanting to be open to God's leading and purposes rather than our own agenda. Despite so many changes, I think communication amongst us went surprisingly well. 

For future trips, I think there are additional items I would recommend putting on the packing list (or even suggested items to bring). Considering we only knew about this trip 3 weeks in advance, honestly, I'm pleased with what I brought! But personally, I would have loved to have brought special treats for the children (such as bubbles or small toys). Thankfully, Loree and Evangeline had extras for us to give out, but still. I may also have chosen to pack more "comfort" items considering all the stomach issues we had...but really, I survived!

And my highlight? Hands down our weekend in rural Ethiopia! It's hard to say whether the Jesus Film Premieres or the church plant visit and fellowship were more of a highlight; they were both so incredibly special and meaningful. But I'm also very thankful for the opportunity we had to learn more about digital missions and how we can be involved. The whole trip was simply incredible.

We had a light dinner and then headed to the airport about 3 1/2 hours before our departure time.

If you think going through security at American airports is annoying, you should try going through THREE security checkpoints at the Addis Ababa airport! First we went through with ALL of our bags...which meant we had to pull out all of the liquids, electronics, etc. Then we checked in and got to offload our checked baggage. Then it was through another security line. Then through the airport to our final security line, which was right before our gate. AND...no place to purchase water after we went through this last security, where we had to empty out our water bottles. SIGH! We were all pretty thirsty and disgruntled as we waited to get on the airplane! I did have a 16-ounce refillable water bottle (which was filled with water) that I had hidden away in one of my bags, and it did not get flagged at all. So...that was nice, but I wish we had all known that and been prepared!

Anyway, we survived and boarded the plane for our 17-hour journey (8 hours to Dublin, then refueling, then 8 more hours to Dulles). I visited with our seatmate, the auditor for Samaritan's purse, for awhile, slept a bit here and there, and watched a couple of new-to-me movies (Luca, Mary Poppins Returns).

Dulles was a disaster. I'll keep this short, but it was a series of unfortunate events that ended up with us on the plane for 6.5 hours past takeoff time. Then we were in a holding pattern over Denver because of weather. Our flight was originally scheduled to land at 2:23pm, June 29. We landed at about 10:15pm and left the airport at 11pm because Ted had thankfully been able to collect our luggage during the time we were stuck on the ground waiting to pull up to the gate. Honestly...it was exhausting and a huge inconvenience, but considering we had spent time with men who have been persecuted for the sake of the gospel, "inconvenience" was about the worst I can say it was. Not fun or enjoyable to be sure, but...perspective.

In fact, now that we've been home for as long as we were in Ethiopia, I pray that I never lose hold of this perspective. I continue to ask the Lord just how He wants me to use this experience, how I can share with others the needs and opportunities for God's kingdom work. I don't want this to just be a trip full of great memories but rather a life-changing experience.

I will keep pondering and praying over all of these things...
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