We've been planning this trip for a year. The dates were set in stone at least six months ago. Funds have come pouring in since December, enough to pay for the installation of three water systems plus some. Everything seemed to be going just perfect, and I was sure that we had it all under control.
That was my first mistake: thinking that I had it under control. It's not mine to have under control.
Our first flight out of Louisville was delayed by 7 hours, making it impossible to make our next flight to Frankfurt Germany. We were told that we'd be re-routed through London instead, allowing us to arrive in Ethiopia just a few hours later than originally planned. No worries. We were even promised business class the whole way! When we arrived in Newark, however, we were told that the London flight was not possible, and we were placed back on a flight through Frankfurt the following day. Our luggage had been stopped in Newark already, and we went to retrieve it but were told it was being re-ticketed already for our new flight.
We arrived in Addis Ababa on a Saturday night, 24 hours later than planned, tired from a grueling 48 hours of travel, but still excited to do the work God placed on our hearts. We got through the visa line and exchanged money with no problem. We walked to the baggage claim area and waited for the carousel to begin to move. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.
Ethiopian staff told us that our luggage had indeed made it to Frankfurt, but did not get on the plane to Addis. "It should arrive tomorrow night", we were told.
It did not.
Two days after arrival we had luggage, but Customs held us up and would not allow us to bring in the water systems. After hours of trying to get them through, we were told to leave and come back the next day. We were already supposed to have been gone to Awassa to set up two systems, and this would delay us yet another day. To say that I was frustrated is the understatement of the year. I was angry, indignant, sure that God would show Himself and miraculously let us have them.
The next day, they said "no" again. That story is a whole other blog post for another day. But at that "no", I stopped asking God to give me my way, and just show me Himself. He revealed that He had been doing just that all along, from the very first day that I wore my pink t-shirt and continued to wear it because we had no other luggage. Prior to this trip, God had been dealing with me about the excess in my life- excess food, excess clothing, excess stuff in the house, excess everything. And here I found myself in Ethiopia with no excess at all, just a pair of jeans and a pink t-shirt. What I found was that the mornings were much simpler because I didn't worry over what I was going to wear. Instead, I found myself with time on my hands and in the Word. hmmm, there's a thought!
As I rode through the streets of Addis Ababa, I saw person after person wearing clothing that was torn and tattered and did not fit well. But they weren't concerned about that; they were concerned about the person beside them. Men were shaking hands and holding hands. Women were kissing each other on the cheek. Laughter rang throughout the streets. Smiles were everywhere. You see, they didn't have the distraction of what they wore to keep them from really sinking their teeth into life. They value relationships above all else. They love each other well. And so, I began to dive in and really get to know my teammates. And to my surprise, I found that deep abiding friendships can grow overnight, that there are people you can meet and instantly have a connection with that is beyond understanding. I learned that telling our stories grows our relationships even further, and conversations around a breakfast table or in a dark room with no electricity make eternal impressions.
When our plans changed sometimes more than once in a day, I learned that man's plans are never fool proof, but God is sovereign over all. He has gone ahead of us, straightening the paths before us. Those paths are not always the ones we had highlighted on our GPS, but they are rich in experience and love and fullness and contentment. As I held and prayed over a day-old baby boy named Barnabas who had been dropped off at the government orphanage that very morning, I realized that moment was one that I would never have been able to have had all of our plans gone as we wanted. My heart was full as I stood rocking a 5 day old baby boy, knowing that allowing him human touch was my mission for that moment, not what I had ond my agenda for the day.
When I stepped out of the van at Hope for the Hopeless and immediately saw LemLem for the first time in a year, I knew that God had given me the gift of an afternoon holding her hand, talking and laughing with her, encouraging her, sharing favorite bible passages together, learning Amharic phrases from her. My heart was full because my plans were thwarted and His plans prevailed. Had those systems gotten through Customs when planned, we would not have had that time. We shared about how to know when God wants you to marry a boy, how to trust God for your future, what the bible says about trusting in His plans (how ironic). I got to see a picture of her mother who had passed away 11 years earlier, and I had the honor of hearing her say, "the bible tells me I can trust God has a plan for my life even though I do not have a family". Yes, my sweet friend. You can trust him, and I can too.
I had this great idea in my head of what this trip would look like before we came. None of it included LemLem, Gabriel in the Customs office, Aruul from Canada, Barnabas, Martha the sweet baby girl who captured my heart at the orphanage. It didn't include Nina hugging my neck and whispering, "Stay".
Since being home, people have already started to ask, "How was your trip?" I find that hard to answer. From the outside looking in, one might think this trip was wasted money and time. After all, not one water system was set up. There aren't any more Ethiopians drinking clean water today as a result of this trip. But there are babies who were held for a few hours that otherwise may not have experienced human touch that day. There were prayers prayed over sweet little faces, two or three per crib, while we dropped off donations to help provide for them in a small way. There was laughter and bonding with kids who might have otherwise been overlooked for that day. So many things would not have happened had we been installing water systems. I cannot believe that these things were meant to be missed.
I won't pretend to understand this. To say that I am not at all disappointed that we didn't get to put in the systems would be a bold-faced lie. But I know this: out of all of my trips to Ethiopia thus far, God spoke more clearly and personally to me this time than ever before. I can't explain it; it just is. I'm changed because of my time there. I'm changed because of the hands I held, the faces I kissed, the necks I hugged. I am changed because of the stories of my teammates that are a part of me now. I am changed because God saw fit to speak personally to me. We were chosen for this time, all of us on this trip. And we might get the opportunity to know exactly why things were allowed to work the way they did. We might not, and that is okay too. I trust in the sovereignty of God either way.