It’s been nearly a year. Nearly a year since we landed in Addis and emptied suitcases and threw ourselves into making this place our home. It has been nearly a year since we have begun the laborious process of establishing an NGO here, so that we can actually DO what we were called to do. It has been a year of God growing us, changing us, and pursuing us in remarkable and extravagant ways. It has not been a year without hardships and tears and questioning, but looking back it has been one of the best years that we have ever experienced. We have seen Jesus like never before. We have seen his transforming power, and we have witnessed the Kingdom break into daily life.
We came here desperate to put off any arrogance that we had in preconceived ideas about this culture and about the “right way to do things”. We prayed that God would humble us and make us learners in this journey. He answered our prayers over and over. We thought that the “right way” to do missions was to do business as missions. It is such a beautiful idea, and one that we felt compelled to flesh out. It also, honestly, sounds so much safer and comfortable to be able to support our mission with a business and not have to rely on churches and individuals to support us. We were eager and sold-out on this model, and prayed up, certain that this is how God was leading us. Only to have God literally slam every single door to every single business opportunity here in Addis in our faces.
Every time a door slammed, we heard His gentle whisper, trust Me.
It soon became evident that our ministry plan for street children was wildly different and wildly counter-culture, and radically going to take all of our efforts, all of our energy and focus in order to be done in a way that will bring glory to God. And the truth is, we came for the boys not a business. The business was an aside – it was just supposed to support us, but God has very clearly let us know that at this time, He wants us to trust Him for the support. So here we sit, fully reliant on people across the globe from us. To be authentic, that is scary, and it gets scarier as Jesus continues to whisper follow Me, trust Me.
I felt confident that In order to keep support and gain support, we need to tell stories. We need to tell you about the lives that Jesus has touched this past year. The sad stories, the sad photographs, they tug at people’s hearts, and they share the real need that is here, and I really, really bought into the necessity of them. But sometime this year in the midst of the stories and photos, the pause button was jammed on, and I started seeing things differently and questioning my motives with throwing up a photo on social media of a person in a horribly sad, vulnerable position – perhaps even a person we were able to help out of that position. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. My heart was beginning to feel uneasy. It started to feel a little bit like exploitation, and even objectification. But I knew that it worked. I knew that people across the ocean would be more likely to make a financial donation if I shared the photos of people suffering and their sad stories. If I shared about the man who tried to hang himself and about literally cutting down the rope and tucking him safely into family, about the teenage girl who came home so drunk every night that she had to be nearly carried up the stairs and undressed and cleaned up and placed into bed, about the hours upon hours spent in a hospital and then the deafening screams that came with AIDS diagnosis, about the baby who died from AIDS because we were just too late, and the father who refuses to have her brother tested, because he just cannot bare to know. About the woman who mourns for her murdered son. About the teenage boy who never knew his mother and endures beatings from his grandmother and meals at our table because at least then he gets fed. And even sharing this is making me want to delete the whole post. Because these are REAL PEOPLE, and their story is not my story to tell. I have no right.
And then in the midst of this wrestling one day, our son came to us with trembling lips and big eyes and said, “please do not post photos of street kids sleeping on the streets. It is wrong.” We were taken aback. Street kids is who God has called us to, telling their hard stories seemed like a great way to raise awareness and honestly, money, in order to be able to serve them. But this son who came to us that day, so visibly distraught had at one time, for several years, been one of those boys. He had had countless foreigners come and take his photo, photos of him when he was most dejected, most vulnerable, and still very, very much a child. He had been enrolled in numerous NGOs and his photos were distributed and used and profited on. And he never benefitted from it, and even years later it still hurts to have been exploited at the most vulnerable and challenging time in his life. We listen to this child when he speaks of this, because he knows. God has used his voice to mold and shape many of our dreams for our future ministry with street children. His voice is the same reason that we cannot do a drop-in center and feed street kids only to turn them back out onto the streets, because this exact kind of thing hurt our child more than it helped. It is why we have to pursue family-based care starting with a small number. It is why we cannot do behavioral modification but rather passionate pursuit of the heart of children. Although, there are good ministries right here in Addis with very different philosophies and practices that do great things, even the potential of us hurting children, hurting vulnerable people – exploiting them - is just not something we can get comfortable with.
So, we are trying to learn a new way. We are trying to be creative with how we share and what we share. It is why so many of our posts lately just focus on our day-to-day family life here in Ethiopia. It is so NOT because there is nothing to share, or we have not seen Jesus in people’s lives, but rather because we are still trying to figure this out. The use of photos and stories of disadvantaged people and vulnerable children to illustrate what we are doing, and what we need to raise money for risks exploiting humans - humans made in the image of God. For right now, we have decided not to take that risk. This creates quite a tension for us as missionaries. It is important that we share what Jesus is doing. People are supporting us, and they need to know how their support is impacting the Kingdom. But I think that people, whether in poverty, whether vulnerable and in crisis or not, have a right to share or not share their story. It is their choice. It is not mine. It is what we have always clung to with our boys who came to us via adoption. Their story is their story for when and if they are ever ready to share it with the world.