Sunday, November 20, 2011

All Things New

His face is etched on my heart, this 10 year old boy who lives at the garbage dump in Addis Ababa with his father.  His father, whose wife was murdered leaving him with 6 children he couldn't care for.  His father, who had to send four of his kids to government orphanages.  His father, who loves them all and must weep heavy tears over their separation.  As a parent, I can't imagine what it must take to make those kinds of choices. 

His son, Habtamu has a smile that swallows you up when you're lucky enough to get one. 

He was so shy when we first met at my friend Yemamu's feeding center. I wondered what his life must be like....what it feels like to wake up under a tarp in the city dump and know that this is your life. To watch your father work late into the night scavenging for metals and plastics just so you can have a little food.  He told me how he would walk very far down the road to wait for the garbage truck that was on its way to the dump from the Sheraton Hotel.  He told me how if the driver was nice, he would slow down so that Habtamu and his friends could jump on the back, making them the first ones to have dibs on the freshest garbage...the "best" food. 

I watched the camaraderie between him and his friends from the garbage dump.  I was amazed at his capacity for joy.

One of the board members from the Hands For The Needy center came for a visit one day with his young son.  I watched in fascination two worlds collide.  I watched Habtamu pick up the coveted soccer ball and hand it to this privileged little boy, smiling.

My eyes filled.  This ten year old knows that "happiness is found not in the having, but in the handing over."

And there I sat, learning lessons from a ten year old across the room.  The poor have much to give.  And the rich have much to receive from the poor.  And receive, I did from this little boy over the coming days. 

He was one of the 12 boys we took to buy new clothes and shoes for.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time together in a taxi going from one market to another.  And in that time, we bonded.  He sat beside me holding my arm and tracing the blue of my veins with his finger.  He was fascinated to be able to see what was under my skin. :) I showed him pictures on my iPhone of my family and of snow on the mountains.  I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him close, wondering how long it had been since he had felt a mother's touch. 

We spent a long day together trying to find shoes and clothing for all the boys.  Habtamu laid his head on me and fell asleep for a while.  I just kept thinking how badly he must miss his mother.  I wondered at how easily he let me just love him. 

We took them out to eat a good meal.  On the way home I was sitting behind him in the taxi.  He reached his arm up and pulled my hand over the seat so he could hold it. 

Black and white skin held each other.  I wondered if he knew his veins were blue on the inside too.  I wondered if by now he realized we were far more alike than we were different.  I needed him and he needed me.  He started fingering the diamonds on the wedding ring I had forgotten to leave behind in the States.  I immediately felt ashamed.  I wanted to pry it off my finger and hide the symbol of my wealth.  I thought about how much money I could get if I sold it.  I thought about how little it actually takes to change the trajectory of a little boy's life.  And my tears fell silently as I held his hand.  My heart cried out a repentant prayer. 

By now we were driving in the dark of night.  A garbage truck pulled up in the lane next to us and the boys started yelling out the window at the kids who were riding on top.  It would have been them that night, riding on top of that truck.  The irony was not lost on me.

I smelled the garbage dump before I made it out in the dark.  Habtamu squeezed my hand more tightly.  My heart started to beat a little faster.  Were we really just going to drop these boys off at the garbage dump to go sleep under a tarp?  Everything in me wanted to scream. It wasn't right. The taxi pulled over to the side of the road.  I think I was literally shaking as I stepped out to make way for the boys to exit the taxi.  Habtamu held a bag of left over food to give to his father who was working late into the night.  All twelve beautiful, stinky boys gave me hugs and said thank you.  Habtamu hugged me tightly.  I kissed the top of his head and told him I'd see him tomorrow.  He whispered thank you then wrapped his arm around his friend Zerehun and started walking into the piles of garbage.  I climbed back in the taxi and totally lost it.  Yemamu put his hand on my shoulder and told me they were okay...that they had each other and were happy.  And he was probably right.  But I still couldn't reconcile the fact that we had just dropped kids off to go sleep in the city dump while I went to my nice compound to sleep in my bed.  I wept all the way home. 

The coming days were filled with a lot of activity, but Habtamu and Zerehun started to accompany us wherever we went and just help out.  We took them both to church, which they loved.  I could feel the time ticking quickly away until I had to leave.  On the Sunday we left, we had Habtamu and Zerehun and my friend Lindsey's sponsored child with us at our compound.  Yemamu and Sisay were playing soccer with the boys.  They were running and laughing and tripping over each other.  It felt like a Sunday afternoon at my own house with my kids playing happily.  I smiled as I clicked away with my camera.

That Sunday afternoon was beautiful.  The boys were free to just be boys.  They played, they laughed, they joked around, they let down.  It was a blessing for all of us to just enjoy each other's company and love each other.  Saying good-bye was awful.  But I think all of us learned so much from each other in our two weeks together.  Watching these boys receive love from Yemamu and Sisay filled my heart.  I know that they are looked after and cared for by these two men who are investing their lives in them. 

It was only about one week after I got home from Ethiopia that Yemamu called me and said that Desse, Habtamu's father was gravely ill.  They feared for his life.  He was suffering from severe Hepatitis and had a raging infection that his body was not fighting off.  Yemamu and Sisay had brought him from the garbage dump to the Center and were trying get him medical attention.  Yemamu asked me to pray.  I had an immediate lump in my throat as he told me the news.  All I could think of was this...

I remember literally falling to my knees and begging God to spare this man.  I could not bear the thought of Habtamu losing his father too.  I simply couldn't.  Yemamu sent me this picture of Desse...

I literally asked everyone I knew to join in me in praying for this man.  About a week later, I got a phone call from Yemamu telling me that Desse was completely better.  He was healed. Totally and completely.  I'm pretty sure I was jumping up and down in my bedroom when I got the news. I was reminded of this scripture from Psalm 72:12-13:

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.

And that's exactly what happened.  Desse says that he was as good as dead, but that God reached down and rescued Him and restored his life.  Desse is now working at the Hands for the Needy Center as the gardener, tending to the crops they are growing.  Yemamu is working to secure a house for Desse and Habtamu close to the Center. 



  1. Beautiful! Loved the story, and was so happy when I heard the potential outcome...

  2. Wow! My heart is so full ... Thank you for sharing this story and beautiful images. I felt like I journeyed with you. Habtamu has been honoured so beautifully through your words and prayers. I felt like I wanted to jump up too and rejoice with you when his dad recovered fully. And now he has a job at the Center! I love how God restores with such dignity.

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sharing this story. I have walked those streets and hugged little bodies like theirs. I have had those same feelings of guilt, hopelessness, hopefulness and redemption. You put it all so beautifully.

  4. Thank you for sharing,thank you for caring and thank you for praying! Beauty from Ashes... amazing the capacity for joy and love there isn't it? Truly beautiful!!

  5. Loved this post. Yes, we have much to learn from the poor. Just added as a follower. Love your heart.

  6. Praise Him for your connection with this family...I'll continue to pray that they find a home and know the love of God deeply and fully.

  7. Moved deep... choked up.
    You are soul beautiful... all in Christ.

    The joy isn't in the having but the handing over and your life testifies.

    *Thank you*

  8. Another beautiful post. I felt like I was there with you and held my breath as I read that Habtamu's dad was ill. Thank God for his healing!!

    'I watched the camaraderie between him and his friends from the garbage dump. I was amazed at his capacity for joy.' Wow, we have so much to learn!!

    'On the way home I was sitting behind him in the taxi. He reached his arm up and pulled my hand over the seat so he could hold it. ' Amy, you are very special and this wee boy knows it!

    Bless you!