Relational Missions

Yesterday as I reflected on our trip to Ethiopia, or perhaps more accurately reflected on our futures now that we have been to Ethiopia, there is one key aspect of mission trips, especially this one, that I failed to mention.

This trip wasn’t about producing a product, and it wasn’t even primarily about building relationships with the boys, although that was a huge part.

A large part of the reason we went, and an especially large part of the reason I went, was to support and encourage Adam. He’s a thirty-something Philly boy living in a foreign culture with fifteen former street boys.  Visitors from home can help soothe the homesickness and provide a much-needed infusion of energy and enthusiasm.

I had also mentioned that we spent most of a day on the trip simply continuing to build the relationship between NCC and Beza. There’s a Kingdom connection there that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Mission trips have the potential to accomplish something that cannot be counted by simple utilitarian measurements.  There’s something powerful about the Body of Christ spread across continents but united in heart and mission.

It was Christ himself who told us that the world would know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

The Potential of a Street Boy – Ethiopia Day 7

Guest post by Jeff Hawley – Post written about the seventh day of the trip, August 19

I once heard someone say that great leaders first identify a gap and then find a way to fill it. After spending a week with The Change Boys I realized the capacity these boys have to become something great and realized the gap that Adam Taylor is trying to fill.

The potential you see in these boys is not something that any of us on this trip saw only once during this week, but it is something you see over and over and over again. I humbly experienced how great these boys can be many times while playing soccer with them today – I was schooled by Lilly, almost falling on my face, and he didn’t even have on shoes while playing on pavement.

As part of our camping trip over the past couple of days, we have been working with the boys on teamwork and problem solving exercises. Today, we split the boys into teams, gave them some materials (popsicle sticks, string, rubber bands, tape, etc.), and asked them to design something that could shoot a ping-pong ball. The teams then competed for the design that could first shoot the ball the farthest and then for accuracy.

I have to admit that I was not sure how well the teams would work collaboratively or what type of contraptions would result from this exercise. I was blown away; these boys did an AMAZING job on this challenge. They thought through their design, communicated to each other their plans, collaborated while building their design, equally participated in the competition, demonstrated great sportsmanship, and worked incredibly hard.

In the end, my team, Team A, won the both parts of the competition; we did have an advantage because Matasebia (ma-ta-say-be-ah) used his experience from the street with a slingshot and dominated the entre competition.

One year ago, these boys did not have very much hope and their potential was limited to selling gum on the streets; now, they have a new hope for in their future. What I learned was to not be so closed minded when looking at someone’s potential. When I look back on my life, I realize that the greatest opportunities presented to me where based on the potential that someone saw in me.

The Change for Change Ministry has completed their first year living with these 15 boys. My prayer for their next year is that they would exceed the limits they have set in their minds and realize their God given potential.

Ethiopia or Bust

Well, the time is upon us.  I’m headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a team of seven guys to work with Beza International Church and Adam Taylor’s ministry to a group of street boys.

There’s a lot I’m excited about, but one of the biggest things is the team of guys I get to go with.  I’m looking forward to seeing how God grows us as a team and changes the trajectory of our lives through this experience.

We’ll be posting updates here when we can.  You’ll get the opportunity to read about the trip through the lens of each one of the guys on the team.

Your prayers are coveted.  See you in Addis!

Just Say Hello

Lily’s father was an alcoholic who beat his mother, and so one day his mother took his sisters and moved back in with her parents, leaving Lily and his older brother with their father.

Mom was the breadwinner so when dad ran out of money he sold their house for cash to purchase booze. At seven years old Lily was homeless, left to fend for himself on the streets.

Eventually, Lily and his brother made their way from their hometown of Dessie to Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.  There Lily connected with a group of street boys who begged, sold, borrowed, and stole to survive.

When Lily was around 13 a young woman began saying “hello” to he and his friends as she walked by.  A simple “hello” led to conversations and conversations led to shared meals.  Birukti, the young woman, began to take them to dinner nearly every week.

One day she brought a group of Ferengi, white people, with her to dinner.  Lily took one of them to see the place where he slept, a drainage sewer in the middle of a busy road.

A few months later that man, Adam, would relocate from America to Ethiopia and help Lily and his friends get off the streets.

Adam is famous around our church. He sold his belongings, left a job with a six-figure income and moved half-way around the globe to serve 20 boys, but he’s not who this story is about.  In fact, this story is not even really about Lily.  This is the story of Birukti.

Birukti felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to say hello to the street boys she walked by every day on her way home from work.  And hello turned into conversations and conversations turned into meals and meals turned into changed lives.

I think so often we hear stories like Adam’s, and we feel like he’s in a totally different world.  He inspires us for a moment, but the thought of moving to Africa or Asia or the inner-city seems so far beyond us. And so instead of moving, we just move on.  We go back to our everyday lives, failing to see the connection between our lives and the life of this incredible person.

But you see, Birukti didn’t move anywhere.  She wasn’t even the one who got the boys off the streets and into homes and schools.  Her first step wasn’t all that remarkable. She began simply by saying “Hello.”  She said hello to the people who no one else had time for.  She said hello to the people society failed to value.

She took small steps and started relationships.

At my church we take a lot of missions trips and we have a monthly day of service where we go out and bless the community. These are great things. They help us understand the issues facing our city and our world and teach us how we can practically love others.

They are great, but they are not enough. If our engagement with the people whom Jesus commanded us to serve is limited to nine days a year or three hours a month, then our impact will be limited as well.

Change happens through relationships and small steps.

The next time you think about someone like Adam Taylor and think, “That could never be me,” remember Birukti and ask yourself, “Who do I need to share a meal with?” “Who do I need to have a conversation with?” or even just, “To whom should I say hello?”

If Birukti hadn’t said “Hello,” there would be no story of Adam Taylor. If Birukti hadn’t said “Hello,” Lily would still be living on the street.

That’s my challenge to you.

Just say “hello.”

The Weirdest Bus in Africa

We’re just a couple of hours away from landing in Washington DC.  We spent the last two days of our trip outside of Addis Ababa at a camp/retreat center.  Adam wanted to get the boys out of the city for a night, so we packed up a bus with with nine Americans, a New Zealander, four Ethiopian adults, and twenty street boys from Addis.  It was the weirdest bus in Africa.

I must say, I was variously excited and apprehensive about the trip.  It sounded like a lot of fun, and then I thought about a two-and-a-half hour bus ride with those twenty boys.  At times I was a bit reticent to engage them, but ultimately doing so was well worth it.

One of my most meaningful times on the trip was giving piano lessons to Gurum.  Those who know me well are astonished to hear I was teaching anyone to play the piano.  In my lifetime, I’ve probably taken a grand total of eight lessons, but between those and a basic music theory course from college, I knew enough to cover finger exercises, chords, and octaves.  It was quite an experience.  One I’m not sure I can do it justice in a few words.

That’s just one of the stories from the night away.  Some of the boys learned to fish and were thrilled with each small catch.  We heard amazing testimonies from two of our team members, and we had the chance to swim in an African lake.

The trip back was less than smooth and provided a bit of worry about missing our flight, but we arrived in Addis in plenty of time to have dinner and have a cake for Jack, our team member who turned twenty-eight on Saturday.

Man, what a trip.  There’s a lot to think about and process, including how to use what we’ve learned and experienced in our lives back home.  Hopefully I’ll find some time to do just that in the next few days.  Until then, ciao!

Day Two in Ethiopia

Today seems like it lasted almost as long as yesterday. We started the day with some delicious oatmeal before heading to church services at Beza. Pastor Zeb preached about the tongue, telling us that it is a rudder that controls the direction of our lives, that when combined with faith, the words we speak are powerful and truly determine our course.

In the afternoon we met with some folks from Youth Impact, an organization that serves orphans and street boys.  We had a great opportunity to hear both from the leaders of the organization as well as some of the people it serves.

Afterwards we had our first opportunity to visit the Change house where Adam, some of his team, and the street boys that they serve are living.  We had gotten the chance to interact with the boys a bit previously, but this was our first opportunity to really begin to engage them in a significant way.  It was a great time of dancing, horseplay, and more importantly, relationship building

At dinner we had the opportunity to hear from Adam about some of the challenges he’s facing, and at night we debriefed and strategized about some ways that we can use the skills God has given us to support Change Ministry.

I apologize for the brevity and lack of insightfulness.  The day is pretty busy around here.  There’s not as much time or energy to write as I would like.

(Written at the end of the day on October 31, 2010.)

A Very Long Day

It’s the end of a very long day.  This morning, really yesterday morning, we left DC for a 15 hour plane ride, winding up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia around 9 AM the next day.  Most of us were only able to grab an hour or two of sleep on the plane, and we had a full day in front of us.

After the team got the chance to meet Adam, Camden, Pastor Z, Pastor Sale, and some others on the Change Ministry team, we got some preparatory info from Adam and unpacked before heading to lunch and then up Entoto mountain to meet the Change Ministry boys and the Entoto kids.

Shortly after we arrived in Addis, I encouraged the team to spend the first couple of days observing, to really notice their surroundings.  We spent the debrief tonight dicussing what the team noticed.  Here are some of the things the team picked up on:

  • There’s a one for all and all for one mentality among Ethiopians.
  • The kids we met had a vibrant, excited attitude in spite of their circumstances, many of whom lacked a meaningful family.
  • The kids competed just to hold your hand.
  • The Change boys don’t know a world other than street life.
  • Some buildings are in such bad shape that it’s hard to tell if they’re being built or being torn down.
  • Ethiopian men were frisked when entering the bank, while women and a white man weren’t.
  • The Entoto kids are a lot like inner-city American kids.
  • There are a lot of government-related problems in Ethiopia.

(This post was written around 10 PM Addis time on Saturday, October 30, but wasn’t published until later due to a lack of Internet access.)

Sometimes People Excel in Spite of your Leadership

Leadership Lesson #10: Sometimes people excel in spite of your leadership.

As I recently mentioned, I’m on my way to Ethiopia to visit Adam Taylor who left a high paying corporate job and sold all of his stuff to move to Addis Ababa to get some boys off the streets.  I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a pretty incredible thing. (And you can and should support him here.)

I led the first small group that Adam joined after coming to National Community Church.  It was an Alpha group that met during the fall of 2006.  I’d love to be able to take credit for where Adam is now. I wish I could say that I was able to make a big impact in his life, to really shepherd and disciple him, that my influence is why he’s where he is now.

The problem is that would be a lie. I wasn’t a very good small group leader.  I mean, I did an adequate job during the group time, but I failed to take the small group and turn it into a community.  I failed to spend the time needed to develop meaningful relationships with my group members.  (I know, you’re wondering how I ever got put in a position to help lead all of the small groups at NCC.)

Sometimes your leadership makes all of the difference in the world; sometimes people excel in spite of the crappy job you did.  I’m glad that Adam’s ultimate success didn’t depend on my leadership but on God’s plan.

Ethiopia Here We Come!

Long time blog readers will remember that about a year and a half ago I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a team of around 20 NCCers to work with an outreach to a community of AIDS victims called the Entoto Project, which was started by some folks at NCC’s sister church, Beza International Ministries.  In the time since Adam Taylor, another NCCer who went to Ethiopia on a short-term mission trip, has relocated to Addis to work with a different Beza outreach called Change Ministry.

Adam and the other folks from Change Ministry were instrumental in getting 22 adolescent boys off the streets and into school.  They also provide teaching and tutoring for the boys.  Basically, the Change Ministry staff and volunteers are their surrogate parents.

I’ve been acquainted with Adam for a few years and have the priveledge of leading another team of seven people from NCC to Addis for eight days to work with and support him.  In fact, I’m writing this from the plane on the way there.

The trip came together on pretty short notice.  NCC’s missions year runs from August to August, meaning that the trip was announced in August, our commitment meeting took place in mid-September, and here we are on the plane at the end of October.

It was a bit hectic getting things together in six weeks, but then, the last trip I was on seemed hectic and we had six months to prepare.  In fact, I kinda like the shorter time frame.  I’m convinced preparation for something like this will fill all of the time you have, be it six weeks or six months, and I don’t think you’re necessarily more prepared if you take six months.

Anyway, I’m excited about the team God has brought together for this trip.  We’ve got an Air Force logistics officer, a consular officer from New Zealand, a culinary expert, a child psychologist, a social worker, a youth worker, and a pastor (that’s me).  Each of these people has very different reasons for coming on this trip, and I think God has them here for very unique reasons.  I’m looking forward to hearing the stories of how he moves in the lives of this team.

I plan to post updates here throughout the week, so be sure to check back often!