Coming Home

I wrote this on the way home, just catching up and thought I would post it now so I can remember what was on my mind those last few days in Africa.

What have I learned here? What will I do with everything I've seen and felt? I'm not sure. I haven't begun to sift through my emotions much less the photos and video I took in the last 10 days. It will take me some time, but I do know that this trip has had a profound impact on my life. 

There were so many things I didn't get a chance to write about,
- how wonderful Nardi from our guest home is (she made smoothies and gluten-free breakfasts)
- how she accepted a bouquet of flowers as if each petal was made of gold
- the sound of morning prayers waking us each morning at 4 or 5 AM, how loud they were!
- how passionate the people are here and how welcoming and how deeply religious
- the way the views from the roadside were different from moment to moment
- about when the power went out and we used flashlights to eat by
- Teff the superfood and how delightful it has been to eat in away that makes my body feel great!
- being affected by the powerful stories of mothers who went from not being able to feed their children to feeling a sense of worth and pride in their jobs
- children who are well-fed but still starved for attention, the need for more help
- the silly jokes and laughing that kept us upbeat in the midst of seeing so much darkness
- how sick I got on the last day, so sick I could barely hold myself together
- how neat it was to learn to say Amesayganalu and Sime Mano? (Thank you and What's your name? in Amharic) and Denje and Befano (good and beautiful in Sidamo)
- the delightful worship and praying together on the rooftop with two girls from Texas who liked me as much as I liked them, and whose love for God made me want to know Him better
- the construction process going on everywhere using long acacia wood beams, and the variety of building structures made from wood and grass and mud
- the barbed wire on every homes' fence in the city, and the outstretched hand of every person without a home and without a protective fence
- the love we felt for a man begging at our window needing to escape his circumstances so badly that he huffed glue while he was speaking with us
- the disparity between those who have and those who do not
- watching a whole busload of people stop for bathroom break in the bush
- holding a scarf as a curtain around each girl in our van who needed to do the sam
- the beauty of the Blue Nile River Gorge, the peacefulness in that mountainous place
- so many more things that are already fading

This is tough, but then there's hope.

I had a tough time writing more after that last update. Each of my last few days in Ethiopia seem more precious after my time at Make Your Mark. Actually, somehow life seems more precious. 

That's what God has been doing in my heart. Reminding me how much he values each of us, and how even in a broken world... He is here. 

He is here in this room, while I'm holding a lap-full of kiddos who are laughing and giggling while seeing themselves on the screen of my camera and He is there when I leave to go home. When my heart hurts for the things I've seen that are hard. My God is big enough to be there and here, and everywhere else too.

We also visited with No Ordinary Love Ministries, they rescue trafficked children and work to reunite them with their families. Incredible. Each child there was a picture of hope to me. Each child was a shining beacon, waiting to be helped, healed and restored. That's what our God does. He restores us to Himself...there is so much freedom and comfort here in the knowledge of that goodness. It's not made-up, or distorted, it is just the truth. The truth of a loving God.

One thing that has really impacted me on this trip is the way each ministry we have visited seeks to solve a different part of one equation.

Ebenezer Shepherding Ministries - Orphanage for Children, for any children who do not have a home, but also specifically ones who were abandoned or believed to be cursed by their community and children with special needs.

Begin With One - provides orphan care and works with the village of Chapa to meet their education needs

Embracing Hope - offers daycare and support to single parents so they can keep their children

Make Your Mark - provides support and rehabilitation for boys who are ready to leave their life on the street

No Ordinary Love Ministries - rescues trafficked children and restores them to their families

Ellilta -  provides jobs with dignity for women who have overcome prostitution

Each of these organizations is doing amazing work to reduce poverty in Ethiopia.

What's helpful? Most of these ministries need sponsorship, providing monthly support by sponsoring families, children, or women helps these organizations plan, knowing they'll have your donation coming in. I've also learned that its so important to support organizations that are searching for the best ways to help without hurting, who know that their involvement carries the weight of creating a potential culture of dependency and who look for ways to minimize that. 

Day 7: Make Your Mark - Addis

This cursor is blinking…blinking…blinking. Daring me to try to tell you about today. I’m not sure I am up to the challenge. Today has been the hardest day here.

The door closed behind Tesfay and I heaved forward and let out a sob. His words ringing in my ears…

My mother could not feed me, so I make her mad. I don’t want to make her mad, so I left.

When I am living on the street people will come and rape me.

I saw three boys taken by a rich person who had a car; they were raped. I think he took their kidneys. I don’t want this to happen to me. I am afraid he will come and take my kidney.

When other boys disappear, I know this thing happened to them and every time it makes me scared.

Ami, our translator tells us that his fear is not unfounded; “this happens here,” she says plainly.

The police beat us. I stay awake all night to make sure that no one will rape me. 
There is no happiness there.

Tesfay is 15, he has lived on the street on and off since he was 10. He speaks to us in Amharic, but occasionally in English, smiling shyly when he does. He tells us proudly that he is now in grade three. The words he spoke during our interview rocked me to my core, but he was just describing his normal.

Make Your Mark reaches out to street boys and works with them to help transition them off of the street. It is not an easy process, often when organizations come here and take boys in, they provide temporary relief but inevitably the boys end up back on the streets unable to make lasting change in their lives. Make Your Mark is devoted to helping these boys get off the street and stay off the street and they have developed a model that they have found to be successful here. Every single boy who has completed their program, has not returned to the street.

The name Tesfay means hope. When asked about his hopes for the future, Tesfay said he wants to get a job and take care of his mother and sister. When asked if he’d like to have a family one day, he laughs gently before saying it would make him happy to have a family.

Read more about Make Your Mark here.

Day 6: Embracing Hope - Addis

How can I even begin to explain the work that Embracing Hope is doing. It's truly incredible. Single moms and dads through this organization are able to bring their children to day care and/or school while they pursue employment. Often in this culture mothers are left with the children - when a father is unable to provide for the family, he may decide to leave rather than watch his family starve. Women die in childbirth or due to HIV-related illness and their husbands are left coping with providing and caring for the children. If the single parent is unable to work, the children starve. If the parent is able to work, the children are abandoned. So single parents are left with impossible choices, much like in our culture. Here though, many are left in this position without family to take them in, with out friends who are doing well enough to take them in. So their choice becomes a matter of life and death.

We heard the story of a mom who has HIV and was working to feed her children, she was not taking the ARV meds to help treat her HIV so she was at risk of developing deadly illnesses every day. Embracing Hope encouraged her to begin treatment, but she resisted. She explained that she had heard that the HIV treatment medications may make you sicker for the first two months of treatment. This is true. She said, if I don't work we all starve so I'll take my chances. Embracing Hope offered to cover her mortgage and feed her family while she began the treatment, she accepted. 30 days later she came back and said thank you I am well enough to return to work. 

For many moms and dads something as simple as the ability to bring their children to day care provides an opportunity for them to go out and get a job. Rather then resort to begging or prostitution they are able to seek work with dignity, like making injera, selling milk, or chiseling cobblestones. Often the work available for women is construction day labor, they carry unbelievable heavy loads of construction materials for miles to deliver them to a work site. They may make as much as a dollar a day doing this type of labor. These circumstances seem impossible to me, faced with these type of decisions, I believe I might give up. Yet these women, by God's grace are delighted - they are thrilled with the opportunity, they are thankful for the work. I heard zero complaints from them as they spoke about their lives. What I did hear was their absolute praise and thankfulness to God! What an amazing example to me, Lord teach me to be like these women.

Day 5: Awassa to Addis

This morning was like a small taste of vacation; we sat for a few hours beside lake awassa editing photos and video, talking, eating, laughing and planning. We took a boat out on the lake to see the hippos and monkeys joined us for lunch.

This team of people is incredible; they're talented, patient, and humble and I respect each of them deeply. I've already learned so much; I'm bursting with ideas and fresh energy.

A dog chasing a rooster, a baby goat bleating as it crosses the road barely in time before we whiz by; a thousandmore things begging to be photographed.

Air whipping into the van's open windows smells like warmth and dry earth... and occasionally fresh onion skins. It's overcast and the road is dusty. We've been in thee van for what feels like days and I find myself continually wondering: are we there yet? Every now and then we pass through a village and the smells are different...diesel and dung, mixed with food being cooked. We compete with livestock and bajaj drivers for a slice of the road. The acacia trees fly by for miles, we're headed back up to lAddis to continue our work with several more organizations. I felt sad leaving awassa...we were there so short a time and yet it somehow became familiar.

The air changes again, suddenly smelling of beer, lots of beer. The van comes to a halt; the roadside is soaked and covered with broken glass. A truckload of beer has dropped some of its cargo, red crates and broken bottles litter the field beside the roadway, and the dirt is dark. Boys are strewn about stooping to collect the unbroken bottles and replacing them in their crates. More boys are running to help. I watch one boy wearing a faded orange t-shirt place half a dozen bottles into a clump of brush before covering them with dry straw. Our driver gets out and clears some glass in our path before climbing back in, we continue on.

The light is fading and we are still in the van. I begin to pray, thanking God for each moment of this trip. There have been so many moments, some captured, others only remembered that I haven't begun to process. There is so much here in this place where it seems like people have so little of the material. They rely on God and on each other for their needs. Though riddled with poverty, people are content, happy, and welcoming. This isn't someplace that needs saving, this is a place that I imagine people lIke me could be saved from themselves. Do I need to be saved? I'm already a believer in Jesus, but what I mean is... Is the way I think about myself and the details of my life something I need to be saved from? Is my way of thinking fundamentally flawed by the experience of living in the first world? Do I think I am more than these people because I have more money, more possessions? Am I believing that I have arrived? and that these people are on their way but not there and need my help? Do I think I know the right way to live? Is community, the way I see it displayed here, a more worthy goal then a bigger house? Probably. If that's the case what does it look like to alleviate poverty? What is needed? Is it restoring brokenness in relationships? God, self, others, and the rest of creation. What does that look like?

The sun finally sinks behind the hills and I feel peaceful despite the turmoil of looming questions on my mind.

Are we there yet? Nope.

Day 4: Chapa

Today I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Lessons I am not sure I could have learned at home.

-       First, though probably least important - Firfir (injera with berbera sauce) for breakfast today and cold pineapple juice = delicious.

-       Coffee service involves roasting the beans over a small tin stove piled with coals. A small tray is set-up and surrounded with scattered flower petals. Coffee is poured into small bowl shaped cups without handles, still scalding hot. It’s key to hold the cup by the rim to avoid burning your fingertips.

-       You know where I didn’t think to spray bug repellent? On my fanny. You know where mosquitos love to hang out? In the squatty potty. Who has bug-bitten lady bits? Yea. Valuable lessons, guys, valuable lessons.

-       Getting pulled over for a routine traffic stop might go smoother if your driver doesn’t get into an argument with the officer. But I wouldn’t know. Because ours did. We were all asked to get out and stand on the curb for several minutes, then told to get back in our seats. I was sitting in the front seat, so I literally had a front row seat to the second portion of the argument, which started as we were pulling away. Our driver made a comment in a certain-tone and then the officer was opening his door again and demanding that he get out for the second time. Which he didn’t, which caused things to escalate, but then in a strange turn of events they both took part in some weird facial touching. I’m not kidding, one minute these two guys are yelling at each other in Amharic and making angry gestures, the next minute our driver is holding the officer’s face, patting his cheeks and neck and they are both chuckling. No explanation given either before or after we drove away from the checkpoint.

-       Power here is kind of thing. Or lack of a thing as I type this I’ve pushed my power cord back into the outlet and propped it with my bible to get it at just the right angle to pull some electricity into my macbook no less than twelve times.

-       The women of Chapa speak a language different then Amharic, they speak Sidomo.  We held a women’s meeting today and invited the women in the town to join. They delighted us with singing and dancing. And told us a little about their lives. I learned one word of Sidamo while they were speaking. I learned it because it was repeated over and over. The word was Megano, which means God. Every sentence was riddled with the word Megano. We had a translator and part way through I told her that based on the women’s stories I would venture to guess that Megano meant God. She said yes. The next moment I realized how amazing this was. I live in a culture that glorifies humanity, we tell each other to do what our heart tells us, to trust ourselves, to hustle, to lean in, to be who we are, to do what is right for us. When we tell a story from our life we begin with “I,” explain “myself,” and close with “me.” What would it sound like if someone were to learn the word God in English from me? Because I spoke of little else but His abundant goodness and mercy. What if my friends her the word God more then the word me. What a rare thing in our culture and how valuable an example that these women have set for me.

So glad to be learning from this place, I truly love it here.

Day 3: Awassa (more)

I need to back up a little . . . I was tired and so I wrote “holding babies for several hours” but that doesn’t really cover it. Maybe this picture will help me explain:


I mean, are you kidding me, gorgeous - right?! There was a set of twins whose mother had died during childbirth, a girl with cerebral palsy who couldn’t quite meet your gaze, but she smiled, and not just a little smile but a big wide grin, when I ran my fingers through her hair and rubbed her head. These babies and special needs kiddos are cared for by sweet, amazing women who the team calls mamas. They gently and patiently feed the children, change them, bathe them, lay them down for naps, and shower them with love. It was hard to leave Lantu’s house, I was the last one out.

When we arrived at Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home, we met about fifty kids, including the 11 mingi children who if not for this team’s rescue would be dead. It was a joy to see them after hearing Argaw speak yesterday with such conviction about doing his best to save as many of these children as possible. I mean how incredible is it to stand in front of someone who would otherwise be dead? And now I know… it’s pretty amazing.

We played with the kids and then took polaroid pictures of them. A gift for them. I had been looking forward to this since I first talked with Alyssa about the trip. She had explained how when you photograph a child and then use that photograph to raise funds it can begin to feel a bit like exploitation because while the child may be helped indirectly through that, it also feels like you’re creating something that they don’t have access to. Instant film turns a child’s image into a gift for them to keep and since it’s the only copy it’s truly just created for them alone. It was magical watching them see their faces develop on the film. Their little heads crowding over the white squares waiting to see an image emerge. Their excitement was palpable and contagious; some proudly waving their photograph around and some so excited that they were even trying to sneak back in line to double dip!

We interviewed Rachel and listened as she described the beautiful way that God brought them to this place and all the prayers He had answered each year since they had begun to venture down this path. She shared her heart for these children and for this ministry. I saw her courage. I felt a twinge of envy mixed in with my admiration - to be so secure and content in what God had provided, though imperfect and often difficult, the life she described as we talked seems close to paradise. Sitting together on the screened porch of their home, a pomegranate tree just on the other side of the screen, cool breezes bringing floral scents through the air and monkeys jumping from branches to enter their walled oasis, it certainly looks a lot like any paradise I’ve imagined. Rachel’s eyes were shining when she told us and our cameras again about Lantu. I let my tears spill out this time when she told us of her early death, I was affected both by Lantu’s story and also by Rachel’s obvious love for this child.  We next talked with Shaun about his work in the ministry and recorded some clips for the videos we’ll create for Ebenezer Shepherding Ministries. This team of four people has built all of this in just a few years while facing many obstacles, yet all you hear when they speak is joy and love and peace in what they are doing. They shared how government officials were often surprised by the way they have included the children in family activities, bringing them over to their houses to bake cookies or taking them out to do an activity for the day. When we said goodbye it felt as if we were leaving dear friends of many months, rather then people we’d met yesterday. 

Back at the hotel I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to type a short update, but I slept so well. In fact, I can’t remember having slept this well in years.

Day 3: Awassa

Injera for breakfast . . .yes, please! Also new to me today was riding in a Bajaj, a common mode of transport here . . . the rest of the team went to Chapa and four of the creatives headed back to Ebenezer Grace to get some footage for a couple of videos that they’ll use to give an overview of what they do. But back to the Bajaj for a second – it’s like a tiny little car on top of a motor bike - but it has three wheels instead of two (motortrike?) they’r blue and white and have rounded tops - the driver sits in front and there’s a bench seat for two or three to squeeze in on the back, it’s fun and also a little scary because they drive quick and take lots of risks that we probably wouldn’t if we were driving.

Back at Ebenezer Grace we talked with Argraw and filmed a bit of interview footage for a short spot to give an overview of their ministry. We visited Lantu’s home, named for Lantu who I mentioned in yesterday’s post. The idea behind Lantu’shome is that both children with and without special needs interact and grow together, each learning from the other. There were tiny infants and toddlers each with their own story of how they came to be in this place.

After filming and playing, and feeding, and holding babies for several hours we went over to the Ebenezer Grace house where we met about fifty children.

More later . . . need to sleep.


Day 2: Addis to Awassa

I pack and repack my things trying to optimize my ability to access anything I might need immediately while minimizing the number of items I need to carry. I am failing miserably at this task– there are so many moving parts to this trip. The items I need for myself, the items I am using to capture the time here, the items I am using to do the work I came to do. I brought too much stuff, it’s always my fear in the packing process: will I carry this thing around with me and never need it vs. if I don’t have this thing and I need it, how will I cope? It’s a difficult balance, I have it on lock for a few days travel at home in the US, but here halfway across the world, I am lost in a sea of belongings.

The sound of Morning Prayer at 4am is unwelcome, though beautiful. I lay awake and listen, drifting in and out of sleep as I have for the last 6 hours. I’m in a room with 5 other creatives, all in bunk beds. I haven’t shared a room with anyone other then Tim or my sister in about 15 years. It’s strange and unfamiliar. When the others begin to stir, someone whispers. Another whisper and then an eruption of giggles. I laugh, it’s strange but also… kind of fun.

After breakfast we pile into the vans and settle in for our 5-hour road trip from Addis down to Awassa. Our driver is skilled but it’s of little comfort as we repeatedly face oncoming traffic and veer around livestock crossing in front of us, we’re also inches from small carts and large trucks on our right and left. We talk, laugh, and stick our cameras out the window trying to capture the unfamiliar sights.


Addis from the rooftop of Holy Savior Guesthouse

Passing through a village on the road from Addis to Awassa, boys driving a donkey-led cart, loaded with water containers.

When we arrive we transition quickly from the hotel to Ebeneezer Grace where we meet Argaw (pronounced Argo) and Rachel, Shaun and Megan. They’ve built an orphanage that accepts children from the community. They share with us about Lantu, the first little girl who came to them. Though blind and in need of a heart transplant she thrived in their care, learning 5 languages and sharing her love with their families before dying from complications of her heart condition at age 9. I am deeply affected by her story.

They also share with us about their connection to a village that abandons or kills children based on a long-held spiritual belief that they are cursed, called Mingi Children. A child can be declared to be mingi if they are born out of wedlock, are a twin, if their parents' marriage or pregnancy was not approved or certified, also children that get their top teeth before their bottom ones, or children who do not pass rites into adulthood, and more. These children are abandoned, suffocted, stangled, thrown to crocodiles in the lake, or killed in other brutal ways. Argaw and Rachel tell us how they have worked to rescue mingi children. My heart aches as they speak. We will come back tomorrow to create videos and photography and content for their website and social media, and materials to help ask families to sponsor one of the children living in their orphanage.

Dinner tonight: Injera and Yebeg Wot & Ambo (sparkling flavored water)
Feeling: exhausted but content, looking forward to tomorrow

Love from Caro

Reading and thinking

What does poverty mean? One of the basic questions, posed to us in our required reading for this trip (When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert) and it has my mind working through ideas that I am not ready for…things that my heart doesn’t want to confront.

My initial answer is this: not being able to nourish your physical body and a lack of the ability to provide for (feed, wash, clothe, shelter) one’s self or dependents.  The author asks us to consider some notations from a large research project that asked homeless people directly about the difficulty of their situations. Their responses detailed their feelings of shame, humiliation, a lack of human connection, of not being heard, and of being cut off from community. This small window into their lives allowed me to recognized that I had described a physical, logistical and material poverty while they identified a deeper emotional and philosophical need. The author asks us to consider that poverty goes beyond the material; that it is actually a brokenness of relationships. A brokenness of foundational relationships; a brokenness in our relationship to our Creator, to ourselves, to others, or to the rest of creation.

If poverty is rooted in the brokenness of relationships, then . . . who are the poor?

This next question allows me to consider this: are we all impoverished? Do I suffer from relational or spiritual poverty? Yes. I know that I do . . . do I look to the poor and believe I am not one of them? I do. Relative to others, I have an abundance of the material, but is their poverty in being economically rich? What does it look like?

We try to help based on our own limited understanding of poverty, but here I learn that it is imperative to step backward to consider the reach of poverty. If we are all suffering from poverty of some form, and I believe that we are indeed suffering from relational brokenness even if we cannot identify it, then the idea of humanitarian work moves from a mindset that we are the well helping the unwell to a whole new way: the unwell and the unwell connecting with each other with compassion. While I have been believing that I was qualified to come here to this place and offer help based on my own material abundance but I have missed something. I also have a deep need for brokenness in my foundational relationships to be restored. I will not be able to truly help anyone until I understand that I am in need of relief from relational brokenness too. I am not okay, you are not okay, but God can help us both. In just two days, the truth of this is made real to me in each interaction I have here.

There is a joy in these people that I have seen but not felt. The incredible level of their reliance on God for their every need, and the joy they express in doing so is astounding. I pray, I place my cares at the foot of the cross. But because I have the means to do otherwise, I often believe that I am the one who solves my worries, that I have worked for what I have rather then seeing that everything I have has been given to me. There is a freedom here, in this place of thought and knowledge that I am desperate to know more deeply.

Day 1: Addis

I'm's beautiful...I'm never coming home. That might be the lack of sleep for the past 36 hours talking but it is incredibly beautiful here in this place.

Things I have seen so far:

-The flight attendant taught the woman across the aisle from me how to use her seat belt, like how to buckle it, she was maybe in her sixties and really was using a seat belt for the first time!

-When we got off the plane the sun was just coming up over the mountains

-The drivers spent almost 40 minutes discussing how to put the suitcases on the top of the vans/minibuses and then like 4 minutes doing it...super fun to listen to their passionate discussion in Amharic with rapid hand gestures many boroughs. As many goats & sheep & people in the streets as cars

-No stoplights - just a whoever-is-most-aggressive system

-Our van driving around a child who was standing in the middle of the street. He was totally unfazed by the direct oncoming traffic

-Men sorting onions (or garlic?) on the sidewalk

-corrugated aluminum is a popular construction material

- a shop owner proudly painting his storefront lime green

I'm feeling grateful, humbled, overwhelmed, exhausted and to be perfectly honest: a bit intimidated by the level of talent here on the creatives team. These folks aren't kidding around.


that moment when . . .

you're up past midnight googling the baggage weight allowance for your AM flight and trying to convert kg to lbs. to see if you can squeeze a few extra ounces in and still make the cut. Yep, that's me right now. 

I started today with visions of posting an adorable time-lapse packing video...I've been packing since's not cute. All of these amazing donations are heavy! I'm trying to cut down my wardrobe & travel snacks & toiletries because I just can't bring myself to reduce the donated supplies - I can't cheat orphans out of construction paper and underpants. But...maybe I can fit this 1-whole-pound of comfort chocolate in my pocket?

Almost Funded

I am so thrilled . . . I've been jumping up and down and thanking you all out loud, I am only $560 away from being fully funded for this trip and I leave tomorrow, so there's still time! It's been humbling to do this because I've always been wary of fundraising, but I am so thankful for all of the donations I've received . . . each and every one has brought me a smile and warm thoughts and most importantly hope. Hope, that this will work. Hope, that God is faithful to answer my desperate prayers. Hope, that I'll be able to go to this place and maybe even be helpful!

Seriously you guys . . . THANK YOU.

Travel Updates

When possible, I'll be posting travel updates + photos + prayer requests here, thanks for following along. It is so encouraging to have your support!

I finish packing on Thursday and then I fly out from DC on Friday morning and will arrive in Addis Ababa the morning of Saturday January, 13th.

And truly, THANK YOU to everyone who has prayed for me + bought art or donated to fund this trip, I literally could not do this without you!