Say Yes to Mission Trips!

Apr 15, 2019

By: Guest Blogger Lydia Johnson
Addis Jemari Volunteer and Financial Literacy Curriculum Teacher 

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel with Addis Jemari to Ethiopia, and spend time getting to see what this organization looks like in motion. I’m not going to start by saying that I’ve always wanted to do something like this, because honestly, while I’ve never been opposed to it, the business of our lives doesn’t make this “season” seem ideal for world-wide mission travel.

That doesn’t mean that missions haven’t been a heartbeat of mine, because it always has been. I know from the very bottom of my heart that God calls us to use whatever gifts we have to serve others (I Peter 4:10) and I want to honor and glorify God by putting His words to us in action. It’s just if you would have asked me a few years ago if my plans to serve included travel to the other side of the world…I probably would have told you “no.”

Things changed for me when God began to work in the heart of my friend. In hindsight, it is neat to know that when we make decisions to step out for God, He uses that in the lives of people around us. That was the case with us (me and my friend.)  She made a bold decision that lead her across the ocean and into the capital city of Ethiopia and she came back from that experience wrecked. I remember the months following that trip. She isn’t the kind of girl who “wallows” in whatever is going on. She starts to search. If something doesn’t make sense to her, she pushes through until she finds the thing that DOES make sense. That trip was the first step that opened her eyes to the bigger picture when it comes to orphans and families in generational poverty. It is the step that sent her searching for an organization that was addressing it in Ethiopia head on in a way that made sense to her.

She found Addis Jemari. She got to know the founders, and she started volunteering for them. That lead into us both, along with many other of our friends and family, all working together to do some awareness and fundraising events for AJ. We spent some time with Cindy and Suzanne at an event in their US headquarters in Raleigh, NC, and they spent time here with us in SC at some events where we raised awareness and sold some handmade Ethiopian goods on their behalf. In a small way, we began to give a hand UP to those we purchased from, and began raising funds for the organization.

If you fast-forward to the beginning of this year, I found myself right next to my friend on a flight headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

My time there was everything I wanted it to be. And I have to say that in hindsight because going in, I didn’t have any hopes or expectations. I was just there to do whatever I could in the small amount of time I had on their soil. We did just that. It was hard, and thrilling, and heartbreaking, and joyous all at the same time.

The day I stepped foot back in the United States, I couldn’t really reign my thoughts in, but over time, they began to settle. I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite take-aways.

*Ethiopian coffee is wonderful. It’s strong, and a cup of coffee is much smaller than what you would get here in the US, but there is nothing here that compares to it!

*The AJ home is a sight to behold. It takes some time to get to know these girls, but as that came, the reality of their past set it. They are not just living in a home for once orphaned and vulnerable girls right now, they are THRIVING in a family situation. These girls are being educated, encouraged, counseled, stretched and loved and they are flourishing. Their laughs are contagious, and the way they care for each other and for others around them, comes out in their eyes, their smiles, and in their touches.

*The Ethiopian staff at Addis Jemari are some of the most loving, gracious people I have ever met in my life. AJ not only provides good jobs to its wonderful Ethiopian staff, but through these jobs, the staff are able to take care of their families and loved ones. In return, the AJ in-country staff are offering up the purest love to the girls in the AJ Home and to each other. They take pride in what they do, and the bonds that are being formed with each other, with the girls, and with the American counterparts are phenomenal to see up close. I saw first-hand on this trip that Addis Jemari is a relational-based organization, and that the bonds are strong.

*The AJ Home isn’t all there is…the future looks bright and growth is on the horizon. It’s not just a passion of the founders, but a passion of every person on the ground in Ethiopia to see their Family Empowerment Program (FEP) grow and thrive. There is nothing more these people want to do than give back to their own community and show the world around them that it IS possible to break a generational poverty cycle. Addis Jemari has a staff passionate about it and they have worked tirelessly to see FEP where it is now, and where it is headed in the future!

*Addis Jemari supports and works with other NGOs and artisans on the ground. I have sold the handmade jewelry and leather here in the states, and I know it helps someone far away, but I got to see it with my own eyes. I got to see the relationships that have been forged, and the places where just a few were hired, and now MANY are hired and are working. I got to walk through and hold the hands of these beautiful people and look in their eyes and know that every item I buy is giving them dignified work, and some cases, so much more than that.

*During my time there, I got to laugh with Ethiopian natives…like really laugh. We could not stop laughing when we almost hit a cow on a highway and the driver put on “American music” to make me feel better while he was whipping around carts and cows and people, all at speeds that made a roller coaster seem like an evening stroll!

*I cried with these people, too. Maybe it was more like I cried, but they were there. One of the AJ girls looked over at me one night as we were driving back to their home, and there wasn’t really anything I could do to keep the tears from rolling down my face. I had just experienced too much that day to process it all right then. That morning I saw God up close in a way I never had before. I had been welcomed into the home of someone very impoverished – the kind of poverty I knew existed, but nothing I had ever seen before. I walked away from that night seeing the PEOPLE instead of the poverty and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to get to share some of life’s moments with them. I walked away on the dirt road back to the van feeling like there was nothing around me that was familiar until I looked up in the sky and saw a literal blanket of stars. I saw familiarity. I saw the Big Dipper. It was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of thousands of more stars than I’ve never seen here at home, but I still saw the one thing that tied me back to familiar ground. I got in the van that night and that’s when those tears came. That’s when she looked over and saw me. She reached her hand over and grabbed mine. She never said a word the rest of the way home, but sharing in each other’s emotions was special and something I will hold on to forever.

*I sat in church on Sunday and looked around in awe as I listened to the familiar tunes of hymns being sung. These are songs I’ve known my whole life, but they were being sung on the other side of the world in a language that I never knew existed until that week. They crossed time and space and language, and so did the worship that day.

I went to volunteer and teach, and I did. But I learned more than I was taught. I was loved more than I was able to love, and I left with less fear and more boldness to step out and say “yes” whenever the question is posed to me. I found a small way I can step out and glorify the God who made us all, and for that, I will forever be grateful.