The Story of Little John

One more update from Ethiopia, and one of the most significant experiences for me personally.  I wrote this on the seventh day of our trip, August 19.

Today is our second to last day in Ethiopia and our last full day with the boys. This morning I asked each member of the team to consider if there was anything they felt they needed to do before we left. There might have been an encouraging word to say to Adam, something to do with one of the boys, whatever.

I needed to spend some time with a young man named Yohannes. There are two Yohanneses in the house, but the Yohannes I was thinking of is called Tinnish Yohannes. Tinnish means little, so his name translates to “Little John.”

His name is fitting as he is not only the smaller of the two Yohanneses but is the smallest boy in the house and, at 13 or 14, the youngest as well.

It’s tough to get his whole story, but Beti, one of the mentors, told me that he had been on and off the streets since he was six or seven years old. Adam says that he’s their most difficult kid. It’s hard to get through to him.

Unsurprisingly, he also gets picked on by the other boys. He can be difficult, and as the smallest there’s not much he can do about it.

I had been trying to spend a bit of time with him over the past day or two, but today I decided I needed to make a focused effort.

I began simply by sitting down next to him while he was watching TV. He got up before too long and ended up playing basketball by himself while a lot of the boys were playing soccer. His isolation seems to be a pattern. He’s one of two boys who don’t sleep with the others.

I went over to play basketball with him and gave him some basic instructions on how to shoot, pass, and dribble. While nearly all of these boys can school me at soccer, as an American, I still have a significant edge in basketball know-how.

We played for quite a while. I would guess an hour to an hour-and-a-half. At one point he said, “Betam thank you.” Betam is a superlative, so he was essentially saying “Thank you very much” or “I really appreciate it.” I think that was a big step for Little John.

I continued to make it a point to be with him. When the boys had to go to collect firewood I went with him and we did it together. When we were sitting around the fire, I had him sit next to me. We ate dinner together, followed by reading a book and then watching a bit of TV.

He really seemed to open up. I think part of what he needs is someone to befriend him and really pay attention to him. Obviously every one of the boys needs that on some level, but I think he requires an extra level of care.

I’m obviously glad that I did what I did, but I also feel like it’s really not enough. There was a moment when I wondered if perhaps Rachel and I could adopt him, which was probably one of those crazy ideas you get when you’re on a missions trip. (Of course, sometimes I wonder if those are actually the best ideas.) Regardless, he still has family near Addis, so that’s not really a workable solution.

I will be praying for you, Little John. I wish I could do more.

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Posted at 1:56 PM on August 29th, 2011
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