The Long Way Through Lilongwe: Part 1
Overnight in Ethiopia
By: Josie Ehlers
On the 3rd of January 2020, my father and I exhaled as we settled into our seats on a plane headed for Chicago. I’m Josie, John’s second born and a director for Blessings for El-Shaddaih, Inc. We had been preparing and praying for several months over the plans for our trip to Salima, Malawi. Malawi is a teeny, tiny, little land locked country on the southeast side of Africa. Lilongwe is the capital city and home to one of their two international airports. We were intended to fly through Chicago from Omaha, then on through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and finally into Lilongwe, Malawi. Here we would drive through the countryside for roughly an hour and a half to Salima. I knew that somewhere down a little dirt road, awaited 7 acres of land surrounded by a newly erected cinder block wall, containing 117 beautiful, individual, unique children…. All preparing and anticipating the appearance of “Papa John” (whom they’ve met before on his first trip 3 years ago) and his daughter.
The excitement and nervous operations at the airport were just distracting enough that we hadn’t really considered what would transpire if our flights didn’t connect as expected. Chicago’s flight took off a few hours late and after a long trip across the ocean, we landed late in Addis Ababa and missed our connecting flight to Lilongwe. I knew that Blessings and Joel, the faithful owners and operators of El-Shaddaih Orphanage, had rented a bus and were preparing to transport all of the children up to Lilongwe to welcome us. Now they had to turn around and disappoint the children. Of course, feelings consisted of panic, frustration and fear. We had no idea what we would do for accommodations that night in Ethiopia. Luckily, within an hour, the wonderful airport staff had us all set with a hotel, shuttle and meals until we could catch the next flight at 10am the following morning. Then, occurring to me like a lightning bolt- A free 24 hours in Ethiopia’s capital city? Amazing!!!
We made sure to exchange some currency and took a shuttle to the hotel and then we asked around for a guide to take us to a place for Dad to get a t-shirt and some underwear, as we only had our carry-on bags with us.
One of us thought ahead, one of us didn’t, ha! The guide took us to the Addis Mercato. My eyes had never beheld a more bustling and chaotic atmosphere. From t-shirts to spices all the way to electronics and mattresses. Fabric and lamps and kitchenware stacked and placed and arranged. I acquired a pound of local green Ethiopian coffee beans and some fresh frankincense from the spice merchants.
I quickly determined that Dad and I were the absolute sole white folks in the whole of all the city blocks we circled and circled and circled. Quite a spectacle we were, and as we turned to be lead down a long narrow alleyway, it was apparent that we were one hundred percent vulnerably at the mercy of our guides to get what we needed and get safely back to our hotel. Our time there was not enough for me and someday I hope to return with my husband and dig deeper into the lives and culture of these beautiful Ethiopian people.
The thoughts churning in my mind for most of the journey to Africa revolved around this idea. “I know what Dad is going to the orphanage for. He’s going to work on the budget and meet with the architect for the new school and church. But what is my purpose?” I plan to do a little post-processing here on the website. In the following months, I will be updating the stories section here with experiences, interview videos, child bios, and even some relevant scripture that the Lord has used to lead us to this very moment in time. When God has a mission for a life, I believe he makes no mistake in letting that person in on the mission. We don’t typically have to sit around and wonder, “Does God really want me to feed the orphan, visit the prisoner and help the needy?” When God had a specific mission or calling for a man or woman in the Bible, there was never a time where the person wasn’t sure what God wanted them to do.
“FROM ANY TREE IN THE GARDEN YOU MAY EAT FREELY, BUT FROM THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL YOU SHALL NOT EAT. BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY AND FILL THE EARTH. GO TO NINEVAH. GO TO PHARAOH. LET MY PEOPLE GO. BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. GO FORTH TO ALL NATIONS MAKING DISCIPLES AND BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. PICK UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.”
So, we all are called to do good. To love others in every way that we are able, but how that plays out is totally up to us. “I know that it is good for me to help, Lord, but what can I do? I’m just a hairstylist. I’m just a mom.” I see now that I always knew the “what,” that it is good and right to care for folks that are in need. But God took me to Africa to give me the “why.” I saw all this through wonderful conversation, difficult conversation, listening, walking together, playing together, praying together, eating and singing together, making plans and dreaming of what the most extravagant love and provision of God might look like for these sweet, beautiful, intelligent kids-if we come together as the army of God and do hard things. God wrote on my heart the image of their faces, he put in my memory the smell of sweat and labor. They have many needs. There quite literally will never be enough money. There is always another child outside the gates of El-Shaddaih Orphanage. Always another woman dying in childbirth at the hospital leaving behind a tiny, wee one needing milk, care and love. There are always families who need a little help after one parent dies and the other is left to fill a thousand roles. El-Shaddaih Orphanage doesn’t just care for the 117 children inside the walls, they are living their own mission from the Lord ministering to the city around them. Often times in my life, it seems God provides just enough light, just enough strength for the step that I’m on because maybe I can’t handle the whole picture. What if I knew at the beginning how many prayers I would have to pray, how many days we would have to wait, how many times we would have to ask for money and get turned down? If we knew how many struggles we would have to watch the children walk through and feel powerless we may not even try. We might lose heart and give up before we even begin.
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
As we learn to walk in him, step by step, he collects the glory for himself and we are filled up to the brim, overflowing with purpose and joy. “Praise God.” Blessings and Joel would say. With every bite that they eat, with every need that is filled. “Praise God.”