Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress. James 1:27
The ministry we partnered with, HopEthiopia, uses James 1:27 as the core scripture on which their vision is built. Rather than an institutionalized orphanage, they have what is called a Children’s Village on their property. The village includes several homes where children without parents live with house mamas, in family-like environments, rather than crowded rooms with little supervision as traditional orphanages do. Much of the ministry we did while we were there was visiting the kids or having the kids visit us. The Volunteer House, where we stayed, was just a short walk from where the kids live.
The beautiful thing about “visiting orphans” is that spending time with them doing things families do, like movie night or craft time, was as much a blessing for us as it was for them. Having parents coming from the US to be with their Racers gave a unique opportunity for the kids who live on property to see families in action, as well as to be brought into what it feels like to be loved for who they are.
Playing games, watching movies, drawing, flying paper airplanes, singing songs, all the things kids do, was relational and so very powerful to watch. The amazing thing to see was how these kids are thriving. You can tell the staff there loves them daily. You can tell the teams that come through love them as well. The combination of day in and day out care from their countrymen, as well as occasional special attention from outsiders is a combination which is giving them confidence in who they are. They obviously love each other and function as siblings. One boy, who doesn’t have legs, is carried on the backs of his friends to and from the buildings. Once inside he moves around just like all the others, only he uses his arms. The joy that radiates from his face will melt your heart.
The Ethiopian government shut down foreign adoptions a while back for various reasons. Some of the local orphanages, who were mainly in childcare for the money they could make, have shut down. The local authorities know the leadership of HopEthiopia, and that they care well for their children in a safe and loving environment which uses local women as the caregivers. Recently, they contacted them to ask if they would receive some new children from one of the orphanages that closed its doors. While we were there, each of those children was presented with a special handmade blanket from a woman in Canada makes one for every new child. You could tell it was an honor for the kids to be brought into the fold and added to the family in this way.
People in the village know of this place as well. One of the children showed up at the gate in a comatose state because whoever dropped him off knew he would receive care. It is not always easy to take in every child that comes their way. There is red tape and some with special needs cannot always be accommodated. The reality for those of us from the West is hard to swallow, because the kids are so beautiful we cannot imagine the circumstances which brought them to this place. Yet, the light that shines from their faces is hope in all its glory. They are fed and schooled and loved. You can just feel they have amazing futures ahead of them.
We visited one family of orphans in the village who lost their mom. The oldest sister is caring for all five of the other children. One mom in our group had the same story when she was a child in Romania. Her mother died and she was left with 11 siblings. She was able to speak into the girl’s life in a powerful way. You just never know how God is going to orchestrate things or what things in your life will come back around to help others if you are open to step out of your comfort zone.
HopEthiopia has sponsorships for the children on their property as well as families in the village who have needs, and this family of orphans is one of them. They moved to a better, safer place than where they were living. It is a small room, with one mattress on the floor, but it also has power, which is a luxury. The oldest takes sewing classes at the ministry’s training center (also on the ministry property) so she can have a skill with which to make money. There are other women who have started businesses in the market due to the training they have received at the training center. Small differences add up to be life changing opportunities in this village.
Then there are the widows; women throughout the local village who are there without husbands and some without any family at all. On one of our days visiting the families in the village, my group went to see a woman who has no one. The people from the ministry visit her regularly to check on her. We arrived with our little team to sit and be with her. She told us of her loneliness and how she moved to this village all on her own for health reasons. She spoke of not knowing how she would make it at first.
Once she was introduced to those at Hope, she decided to make it her mission to visit other women in similar situations to keep them from being lonely. She gets up and walks to her church, on the days when she can walk, and visits others who are alone in her area of the village. Her health has improved since she arrived and though she isn’t always able to get out, she is better than she was before she moved here. While we were there she was laying on her pallet on the floor the whole time since she had just gotten back from her daily outing. We sat and visited. We took note of her tablecloth (an old polka dot umbrella cover) and told her how creative it was to use it in that way. We talked to her and prayed with her. It was a special time.
When we all returned to the ministry, we had a bit of a debrief time. It is always heart wrenching to see how little, people in other countries have. Our inclination as westerners is to rush in and fix it. We’d love to find these people homes that are bigger than one room. We want them to have kitchens and bathrooms, as well as reliable power and running safe water. Yet, it isn’t practical nor is it usual to have such things. The places we went are actually the better dwellings in the area, which is hard for us to believe.
The most common response we have is, “What have I been complaining about in my life?! I have NOTHING to complain about! It is ridiculous the things I think are an issue in my life.” Eyes are opened and new vision begins to change hearts. A week of visiting widows and orphans like scripture says, shows us the pure and undefiled religion God is looking for. It humbles us and makes us question things in good ways; ways which break our hearts and cause us to rethink everything we know about real Christainity vs. what we call our faith. It is a challenge to look at these things and it requires an open heart to be willing to face the widows and the orphans and be humbled by God.
Here is the link to HopEthiopia if you are interested in learning more. HopEthiopia